Parasha Inspiration – Emor

And the Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people except for his relative who is close to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, and for his virgin sister who is close to him, who was not [yet] with a man for her, he shall defile himself.

Leviticus 21:1-3

            Parashat Emor begins with rules for Kohayns regarding funerals and burials. Since being in the presence of a dead body makes a person Tuma, unclean, Kohayns have very stringent rules with regard to being around dead bodies. The parasha makes it clear that Kohayns may only make themselves Tuma for the burial or funeral of a close relative.

            Who is a close relative? Torah outlines this definition very strictly. A close relative is a father, a mother, a child, a brother, or an unmarried sister. Only these relatives are defined as being close relatives. And only for these close relatives may a Kohayn become Tuma by attending their burial or funeral.

            The Kaddish is a Jewish prayer that dates back to antiquity. It is referenced in the Lord’s prayer, and is an integral part of every synagogue service. In fact, in a traditional Shacharit/Mussaf service, various forms of Kaddish are recited as many as thirteen times. The most recent form of the Kaddish adopted into the synagogue service is the Mourner’s Kaddish.

            Earliest references to the Mourner’s Kaddish date back to the twelfth century CE. More recently, the Mourner’s Kaddish has become understood to be THE Kaddish of the synagogue and the synagogue service. Mourners stand to recite the Kaddish at every synagogue service for a year after the passing of a close relative, and on the anniversary of their passing each and every year. They also stand to recite the Kaddish on the Shabbat following the anniversary of the passing of the close relative.

            Who should stand for the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish? The answer to this question lies in the Torah’s definition of a close relative. Leviticus 21:1-3 defines a close relative to a Kohayn, and the rabbis took this definition and applied it to the Mourner’s Kaddish. Consequently, if a close relative, that is, a father, mother, brother, son, daughter, or unmarried sister, has passed away, one stands for the Kaddish. Anyone else passing, no matter how beloved, does not require standing for the Mourner’s Kaddish. In this way, all attendees at the synagogue know that everyone that is standing for the Mourner’s Kaddish is recognizing the passing of a close relative. Furthermore, the attendees at the synagogue know the definition of a close relative.

            If one is not a close relative of the deceased, but the deceased held a special place in one’s heart, one may quietly recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, along with the close relatives, but remain seated. Standing is for the recognition of the deceased’s close relatives only. Another method of recognizing the deceased when one is not a close relative, is to recite the responses within the Mourner’s Kaddish loudly and clearly. But, under no circumstances should one masquerade as a close relative by standing for the Mourner’s Kaddish if one is not a close relative.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.