TRR 99-102



At a burial that I recently attended, at the close of the funeral ceremonies, the rabbi omitted reciting the qadish. I asked him why and he answered that the Hebrew prayer which he did recite would serve as a substitute for the qadish. Why was the qadish omitted? (Asked by a member)


The prayer which the rabbi recited in place of the garfish was in all likelihood the el malei rahamim, “0 God of mercy,” but just why the rabbi omitted saying the qadish at the close of the funeral involves a rather many-sided question in Jewish law.

Whether the qadish at the close of the funeral is recited or not depends essentially on the mode of the final disposal of the body. As to that question, the Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 376:4, is quite definite. It states that after the grave has been filled with earth, the mourners recite the qadish. Orthodox scholars take this to be a sine qua non: in other words, if the body is not lowered into the grave and the grave not filled with earth, it is taken as law by Orthodox scholars that the qadish may not be recited.

This brings Orthodoxy into confrontation with many new modern practices. A number of these disapproved modern practices are dealt with by Greenwald, in his compendium, Kol Bo Al Avelut. On page 213, note 10, he is asked by a colleague concerning the following practice. He says that a custom of the Reformers has been adopted by some Orthodox Jews in his community (Hartford, Connecticut) according to which the coffin is placed over the grave, covered with a blanket of flowers, the coffin is then somewhat lowered, and qadish is recited. Greenwald directs his colleague to be firm, not to yield to this Reform custom, and that since the grave has not been filled with earth, as the Shulhan Arukh directs, he should send the mourners home and not recite the qadish at all.

Another modernist practice to which Greenwald objects is the encasing of the wooden coffin in a concrete outer coffin and that lowered into the grave. He believes that even if the grave is then filled, qadish should not be recited because the concrete is meant to keep the body from decaying, thus violating the commandment: “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19).

A third modern practice to which Orthodox authorities object is discussed by Abraham Yudelevitch, in his smaller work, Av Behohmah. (It is the last responsum in the book.) The modem practice here objected to is placing the body permanently in a niche in a mausoleum. In discussing the reason for the prohibition, Yudelevitch cites the classic discussion in Sanhedrin 46b as to atonement for all sins being achieved by the burial of the body, and he cites Rashi to the passage that it is to bring atonement. Of course, Yudelevitch must deal with the fact that the Talmud speaks of a “built-up” or erected grave (kever shel binyan). This, he says, does not mean anything like the mausoleum built like a house above the ground, but meant a deep excavation lined with masonry in the ground. Of course, one might call attention to the fact that in ancient times in Palestine, bodies were generally buried in niches in caves, but of course the cave was a natural part of the earth.

It was learned that the funeral mentioned in the question was a cremation; and cremation, too, was a modem practice which has aroused Orthodox objection, leading undoubtedly in this case to the omission of the qadish. Nevertheless, while Orthodox law objects to cremation altogether, Orthodox opinion is not quite clear as to the disposal of the ashes and the burial of them in the cemetery. David Hoffmann, in his Melamed CHoil, Yoreh Deah 113, says that while it is not obligatory to bury the ashes in the cemetery, it is not forbidden to do so. As a matter of fact, the Rabbi of Leghorn, Italy, Elijah ben Amozegh, in his work, Ya-anei Vaesh, declares that it is in fact a duty to bury the ashes of the cremated (see the full discussion in Current Reform Responsa, p. 145). Of course if (as some people do) the ashes are kept in an urn and not buried, that would further complicate the question.

To sum up: The strict law in the Shulhan Arukh requires earth burial and the grave filled up before qadish is recited. Hence strict Orthodox authorities will disapprove of reciting qadish if the coffin is merely hidden under a blanket of flowers; or if the coffin is put in a concrete casing, or if it is placed in a niche in a mausoleum or if the body has been cremated. But of course Reform congregations and other modernist congregations have established a custom of saying qadish at the close of every type of funeral.