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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5779

Ask the Rabbi: Kaddish Rights According to the Deceased or Mourners?

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I am in the midst of the year of Kaddish/chazanut for a parent. Two brothers have been davening due to shloshim. After they finish shloshim, should we have a rotation of three or, considering that our recitations are to bring merit for the deceased, should I be chazan half the time? (We will not fight over it but would like to do the correct thing.)

Answer: Indeed, the most important principle is to avoid machloket on such matters, as quarreling is antithetical to the merit one is trying to bring to the deceased (P’nei Baruch 34:48).

The Rama (YD 376:4) rules that it is proper for sons of the deceased to bring parents merit by saying Kaddish and being chazan during the 11 months after death. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 53:20) says that the congregation may choose another chazan over a mourner if they so desire. A mourner’s absolute right applies only to the Kaddeishim designed for them (Mishna Berura 53:60). However, the congregation has a mitzva to allow the mourner to be chazan under normal circumstances.

Those who are not able to be chazan were allotted Kaddeishim to aid them in bringing merit to their parents. Halachically preferably and originally practiced, one mourner alone recites each Kaddish. To deal with cases of too many mourners, the Acharonim arrived at detailed rules of kedimut (prioritization). Over the last few hundred years, to ward off quarreling, the minhag has spread almost universally to allow multiple people to say Kaddish together. Thus, the rules of kedimut are limited now to choice of chazan, about which you are asking.

The earliest source on your question is the Maharam Mintz (Shut 80), accepted by the Rama (ibid.), written as part of guidelines to nip potential disputes in the bud. He posits that each mourner has equal rights in receiving turns, even if his parent is “represented” in the shul by multiple siblings. The Maharam Mintz is clear about the reason. The rights of reciting Kaddish relate to the avel, who is acting in fulfillment of the mitzva of kibbud av va’em. Although ultimately it benefits the parent, the rights relate to the live son(s).

This approach has many ramifications. One brother can demand of another to share chazanut equitably, allowing each to honor their parent, even if there is no net gain for the deceased. Much of the discussion on the matter relates to the minhag of some communities to give precedence to an avel who is a local and/or a dues payer over a guest. In such a place, how do we view an avel who is a visitor in the deceased’s shul? The Maharam Mintz (ibid.) and the Shach (YD 376:12) say that the son’s own status is the deciding factor, i.e., he is a visitor, and not treated as the “agent” of the newly deceased community member.

The Avodat Hagershuni (63) says that while everyone agrees that each brother has full, not shared, rights, there is another opinion regarding the reason. He cites the Maharil as saying that the parent is the determinant, but that a deceased with multiple sons has been merited by Hashem with having the advantage of multiple “Kaddish reciters.” This extra privilege should not be taken away from him by having it evened out with other deceased.

While it seems strange to attribute extra rights to one deceased over another, consider the following perspective. If five brothers lived separately, a fellow mourner could not tell any of them: “I am an only child; you should let me be chazan any day that any of your brothers is chazan in his community.” Rather, on many days, that parent would be getting multiple tefilla merits. Why, then, should the deceased be deprived of that just because his sons daven in the same shul? Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Shut II:4) says that the Maharam Mintz and Maharil’s reasons are both true, and therefore one can have rights as a local either through the parent or through the son. If there is a conflict between an avel with one “right” and one with both, the one with both should daven two thirds of the time.

In your case, though, all agree that you should be chazan one third of the time.

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