RR 162-165

Kaddish for First Wife

A widower in the congregation has remarried. He wants to know whether he should say Kaddish for his first wife. (From Rabbi Leon Kronish, Miami Beach, Florida)

First, there is the basic question whether, in the opinion of Jewish law, any bond is deemed to exist between a remarried husband and his deceased wife. Upon the answer to this question depends the decision as to where the husband when he dies should be buried, whether beside his first wife or his second. So also, when a widow who has remarried dies, where should she be buried, beside her first husband or her second?

I have discussed this question of burial in Reform Jewish Practice (I, 146-48). There is no need to rediscuss here the specific question of burial; it is sufficient to recall the basic question as to whether there is still a legal bond between a remarried husband or wife and the deceased spouse. On that question there are two opinions. Moses Sofer (“Chasam Sofer,” Yore Deah 55) decides that there is no longer any such bond. But a later opinion, that of Wolf Leiter (in his “Bays Dovid,” #134), declares that the bond of the first marriage still exists. The basic question may therefore be considered as still undecided, and the specific question of burial is thus made to depend upon whether a remarried wife, for example, had children by the first or the second husband. (See references quoted by Leiter.)

Therefore our present question as to whether a remarried husband should say Kaddish for his deceased wife cannot be decided upon the basis of general principle, since the principle itself is still undecided. However, as a specific question it has received considerable discussion.

The basis for the discussion is in the Talmud (b. Moed Katan 21b). The question there concerns the greeting and the consolation of mourners. Greetings (She’elas Sholom) are forbidden in the early stages of mourning. This prohibition is gradually relaxed as time passes. So, too, with the prohibition of words of consolation (Divre Nichumim); this also is graduated downward as the period of mourning lengthens. In its discussion, the Talmud brings up the question of a man recently widowed who marries again. In such a case, the Talmud declares, one may not enter his house (where, of course, he is living with his new wife) to utter words of consolation (for his bereavement of his first wife). If, however, one meets the man on the street, he may console him in a whisper (since his second wife is not present). All of this is codified as law in the Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 385 : 2).

Rashi to the Talmudic passage explains the reason for the prohibition against entering the house to console the remarried man. He says it is because it would cause grief to the second wife. Upon this Talmudic statement and Rashi’s explanation, all the later scholars base their opinion. Moses Junggreis (1834-1889), in his “Menuchas Moshe,” # 114, discusses the situation when a man has remarried, and his sons by his first wife are setting up a tombstone for their mother. He may not utter any eulogy for his first wife on that occasion, even though his second wife is not present at the cemetery, for his second wife will say that just as in so doing he is still thinking of his first wife, he will always continue to do so.

Elazar Deutsch (1850-1916), in his “Duda’ay Ha-sodeh,” # 14, is asked whether a remarried man may recite Yizkor for his first wife. Deutsch bases his opinion upon the above Talmudic passage in deciding that he should not do so. If, however, it is the custom in the synagogue, as in some communities, for the cantor to read a list of all the names memorialized, there is no objection to the remarried man being present. But if, as is usually the case, each person reads the paragraph himself and mentions the name memorialized, this man may not do so. Deutsch also explains (in his “Peri Ha-sodeh,” #54) why it is necessary for a bereaved man to wait for the passing of three major festivals before he may remarry. The reason is that he should no longer be grieving for his first wife when he is married to the second.

The latest scholar to discuss the question is the recently deceased Elijah Posek, of Tel Aviv. In his magazine HaPosek (for Tammuz, 5707, No. 85), he is asked whether a man who is remarried may say Yizkor for, or keep the Yahrzeit of, his first wife. He quotes the material mentioned above and answers in a firm negative, as do his predecessors. He says:

In order that peace may reign in the house, it is necessary to dispense with all customs such as Yizkor, eulogies [at tombstones], and visits to the grave. Let the children fulfill all these tasks. For all these reasons I have forbidden him [the enquirer] to observe Yahrzeit and I have ordered him to remove her [the first wife’s] picture from the walls of his house.

In the spirit of the unanimous tendency of all the above, the conclusion we should come to is clear. The remarried husband should not observe any memorial rites (Kaddish, Yizkor, et cetera) for his first wife. If, however, his first wife had no children and there is no one to say Kaddish for her, then the husband may say Kaddish in the absence of his second wife, but may have no Yahrzeit light in the house.