Thursday, August 20, 2020

He Says I Was Wrong

In my article on what one can do for someone who has passed away, I told the following story:

"A friend of mine told me that when he was studying in the yeshivah of Rav Tzvi Kushlefsky in Jerusalem, a student once asked if Rav Kushlevsky could dedicate that day’s lecture to elevate the soul of his grandmother. Rav Kushlevsky replied that this was impossible; while his delivering the lecture would be a credit to his own grandmother, there was simply no way by which to transfer that credit to someone else’s grandmother, who had no role in enabling the lecture to take place!"

A few weeks ago, Rav Tzvi Kushlefsky's yeshivah, Heichal HaTorah, ran a 1.2 million dollar fundraising campaign. It promised that if you donate $500 or more, they will "arrange for a masechta to be learned as a zechus/l'iluy nishmas the person of your choice."

Now, obviously nobody wants their $1.2 million campaign to lose its appeal. But surely this a direct contradiction to the clear position of the Rishonim that there is simply no way of transferring reward to a random person who did not earn it. And the Rosh Yeshivah himself acknowledged that it doesn't work! So I was convinced that whoever created this fundraising campaign had not discussed it with Rav Tzvi.

I don't know Rav Tzvi personally, but his late brother was one of my late father's oldest friends, and his late sister was Rebbetzen of my childhood shul. And I do know one of the rabbis in his yeshivah. So I reached out to this person for clarification. Eventually I received the following response:

"I spoke to Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky this Shabbos. Just to make sure that there was no misunderstanding I asked 3 times using different wordings. He said that if someone gives tzedaka or learns in someone else's memory it definitely helps the neshamah of the deceased. Since this would not have came about without the impetus from that person – it is considered a zechus for them. The confusion probably comes from the case where you quote - where someone was already giving a shiur. In such a case it does not help to do it in their memory since they were not the cause."

So, I can no longer claim that Rav Tzvi Kushlevsky supports the traditional position of the Rishonim (which is also seen in Chazal). I must also explain why, in my view, the Rishonim did not allow for such a possibility. If you are paying for Torah study (assuming that this is considered charity), then it is *you* that is the cause of the good deed, not the random person that you nominate to receive the reward! It might be that your grandmother inspired you to be charitable, and it could be that she gets credited for that - but she didn't inspire a complete stranger to learn Torah! (And if you're going to claim that a person gets the credit for anything that results from them, even if they didn't inspire it, it would mean that Haman gets credit for all the mitzvos of Purim!)

I will conclude by again quoting the Rishonim, whose words are unambiguous, and who rejected any possibility of arranging to transfer reward to someone else. Since the statements of the Rishonim are omitted from all contemporary yeshivish discussion of this topic, and are ignored by everyone, they can't be quoted often enough.

"There is no doubt that what one person does for another after their passing is of no benefit or aid, for each person is judged according to what they are at the time of their death. In accordance with the person’s level and attainments at the time that his soul departs from his body, so will he attain elevations and merit light with the Light of Life, and there is no additional elevation or benefit in that which others do afterwards to benefit him…" (Maharam Chalavah, Responsa, #17)

"A person cannot merit someone else with reward; his elevation and greatness and pleasure from the radiance of the Divine Presence is only in accordance with his deeds. Even if all the righteous people in the world were to seek mercy for him, and all the righteous acts were to be done in his merit, it would be of no help to him…" (Rashba, Responsa, Vol. 7 #539)

"These concepts are nonsense and one should not rely upon them. How can one entertain the notion that the reward of good deeds performed by one person should go to another person? Surely the verse states, “The righteousness of a righteous person is on him,” (Ezek. 18:20) and likewise it states, “And the wickedness of a wicked person is upon him.” Just as nobody can be punished on account of somebody else’s sin, so too nobody can merit the reward of someone else. How could one think that the reward for mitzvot is something that a person can carry around with him, such that he can transfer it to another person?" (Rav Hai Gaon cited by Maharam Alashkar, Responsa #101)

"How can the merits of Reuven be of benefit to his brothers Shimon and Levi? What could his mitzvot do for them?!" (Responsa Binyamin Ze'ev 202)

I think that the truth of what the Rishonim write is obvious. But, as I wrote in yesterday's post, there are both noble and less-noble reasons for people to convince themselves otherwise. And unfortunately, while it can lead to benefits in terms of fundraising for important projects, it can also lead to negative consequences.


(Again: My study of this topic can be downloaded at


  1. The Beis Yosef actually brings explicitly from the Rokeach that one can give tzedakah for the merit of a dead person! The Mordechai learns it from a Sifri.

    1. Come on. Did you really think that I (or the Rishonim) were unaware of this source? See my essay for several reasons why it does not remotely justify the modern practice.

    2. From your essay: "Nevertheless, others accepted that charity, if not other mitzvos, are of benefit. Rashba, for example, says that anyone can pray or do charity to help the deceased". Is your main contention because the campaign uses the word "l'ilui nishmas", and you haven't found anybody who says that even a non-relative could cause an "aliyah", vs. a "kaparah", which some do allow?

  2. Rabbi Slifkin, what do you believe kaddish does for the deceased?

    1. From my forthcoming book:

      R. Benjamin Ze'ev ben Mattitya of Arta states that kaddish serves to provide a merit for the deceased. Accordingly, he says, there is indeed no purpose in it being recited by anyone other than the descendants.
      A more expansive discussion of this topic is given by Rav Ben-Zion Uzziel, who incorporates the concepts that we have discussed. He notes that kaddish potentially fulfills several functions. One is to provide a merit for the deceased. This is accomplished via the deceased’s descendant reciting a prayer which sanctifies God, especially since it is recited in public and leads the entire congregation to endorse it (via responding Yehei Shemei…). This function of kaddish can indeed only be fulfilled by a descendant of the deceased, since only such a person is a credit to the deceased. Any other person is not able to effect a merit for the deceased.
      However, Rav Uzziel lists two other functions of reciting kaddish. One is tzidduk ha-din—declaring loyalty to the concept of Divine justice even in the face of suffering. This is a duty that specifically befalls those who have personally suffered as a result of the loss of the person who has passed away. This also applies to relatives other than children.
      Another function of kaddish is to honor the deceased, in this world. Since the obligation to provide honor falls upon the children, they should be the ones to recite kaddish. But such honor can be provided by anyone. Accordingly, if, for whatever reason, the children are unable to do so, others can provide this honor. (Though presumably this would require it being known that whoever is reciting kaddish is doing so on behalf of the deceased.)

    2. Very interesting, I'd never heard of R. Benjamin Ze'ev ben Mattitya of Arta, although Wiki would suggest he wasn't exactly mainstream. (

      We also have the widespread practice for kaddish to be said for less than twelve months, based on the idea that kaddish saves the soul from Gehinom (and only a complete Rasha requires twelve months). Would it be reasonable to assume the reason for this salvation is the public kiddush Hashem of the kaddish? Would it follow that communal learning could also be a kiddush Hashem that will also bring some form of merit (or lessening of Gehinom) to the deceased?

    3. The custom of saying kaddish for the deceased is a relatively new practice - it's not even mentioned in the shulchan aruch (though it does have a source in the gemara). Before about 600 years ago, few people said it; and certainly not everyone together as we do today.

      For some reason (probably because it has come to be therapeutic to the mourner), its importance has become vastly inflated over the years, to the point where mourners lead davening to get "extra kaddishes". I always find it amusing when I overhear someone saying that they "have a chiyuv". Of course they don't!

    4. @Weaver, the kaddish is a prayer that praises G-d. There is no reference to death in the kaddish. Yes, it is true that the kaddish prayer developed into five different kinds of kaddishim over the years. Indeed, different kaddishim would be recited by different mourners. But the truth of the matter is that no matter how passionately the prayer is recited, the deceased is judged for his or her behavior, not mine. No current behavior or charity of the descendant can alter or change their status in the heavenly court, no matter how pious the prayer. In short, you cannot bargain with G-d to change the divine decree. When a person dies, he or she is judged by their own merits or behavior, as deserving at the time of their deaths. G-d is good, just, all-powerful, and all-knowing, and does not [and cannot] make mistakes. Whatever the decree, it must be just.

    5. Even worse is when the rabbi gives an extra dvar halacha at the end of davening, noones really listening but it's an excuse to say r'channabya Ben akasha etc followed by yet another Kaddish.
      It's time we evoked the rambam and put a stop to this

    6. Plenty of people do listen. It's to keep the dictate of chazal from going from tefillah to torah. Nothing to do with kaddiah.

      And I must confess that sadly on some days its the only 'learning' I can manage.

    7. Great joke on this: a Sefardi says to an Ashkenazi, "you know, you don't need to say Rav Chananya ben Akasha after every shiur." Asks the Ashkenazi "Is that a halacha?" to which the Sefardi says yes. Immediately, the Ashkanazi starts going "Rav Chananya ben Akasha omer..."

    8. (ד"ר יואל ב' וולוולסקי במאמרו "קדיש יתומה", (צוהר, גיליון ח, סתיו תשס"ב

      כותב בעמ' 16-19 על דעותיהם של הגרי"ד סולובייצי'ק, ר"מ פיינשטין, והגרי"א הנקין, שהתירו לאשה לומר קדיש.

      למקורות הדנים באמירת קדיש ע"י נשים ראו כאן

      מאמרים רבים נכתבו בנושא זה, ותוכלו למצוא אותם ע"י חיפוש בגוגל, (הקישורים מקוצרים):

      "קדיש נשים":

      "או "קדיש יתומה:

  3. This function of kaddish can indeed only be fulfilled by a descendant of the deceased, since only such a person is a credit to the deceased.
    Even if the descendant feels he was not inspired by the deceased (e.g. given up for adoption and only found out at death of natural parent?)

    1. And what about children the deceased adopted? Students of a teacher? Neighbors who saw the example of an inspirational individual?

      And if someone's decision to help a stranger is shaped by thousands of things in his past, one of which was hearing in shul about something nice the deceased did, isn't that a sliver of inspiration on their account?

      I agree with the basic principle. I also heard RMTendler explain the value of saying Qaddish this way during the shiv'ah of a neighbor who is a talmid of his.

      But I think this limited application "only ... by a descendant of the deceased" is unnecessarily restrictive.


      My father-in-law died with no one to say Qaddish for him. Three daughters, no sons, and my parents forbade my saying Qaddish while they're both still around. To settle my wife's mind, we paid a yeshiva we have a connection to for someone else to say Qaddish for him. But, we made a point of giving the kind of money we wouldn't have otherwise. So that my father-in-law, who was a very generous (but not very wealthy) giver, has the zekhus of our tzedaqah. As I said, I see the resulting saying of Qaddish as more a psychological boon for the aveilim.

    2. The daughters could have said kaddish. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik ruled that women could recite kaddish, even if she has brothers or if she was the sole mourner, of course, all given that she was in the presence of a minyan.

      And the basic question is: if the deceased person has no descendants, are they doomed to exist in a “lower level”!? 

    3. The function of saying Kaddish is to lead the tzibbur in calling them to sanctify Hashem's name, which is inappropriate for a woman. The Rabbis who allow it, have, in my opinion, totally lost perspective as to what Kaddish is about, an unfortunate byproduct of the typical practice in most shuls of allowing multiple people to lead kaddish at once, a practice opposed by virtually all Ashkenazi authorities up through the Mishna Berurah and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. A woman should not be leading Kaddish any more than being pores al sh'ma.

      And yes, a person with no descendants does come in for a strong disadvantage vis a vis someone who is zoche to children. There are many statements in Koheles, the rest of tanach, and Chazal about the upsides of pirya v'rivya and the downsides of not fulfilling it. Of course, the deficit can be overcome, see e.g. the haftara of Dirshu we read on fast days.

    4. Not correct. Kaddish has no connection with 'leading the tzibur'. It has to be said b'tzibbur, but you made up the 'leading' bit.

      I don't have sources handy, but I do believe several 'approved' acharonim have no problem with a woman saying kaddish.

    5. Or we could all just concede that not having kaddish said doesn't really matter and avoid all these silly fights : )

    6. @Shmooli, again, Rabbi Soloveitchik ruled that women could say kaddish.

      To Weaver, yes, we agree.

    7. "And the basic question is: if the deceased person has no descendants, are they doomed to exist in a “lower level”!?"

      "Of course, the deficit can be overcome, see e.g. the haftara of Dirshu we read on fast days."

      The CC wrote an entire small sefer on this called "Shem Olam."

    8. @Weaver, Actually saying the Mourner's Kaddish is important. Although there is no reference to death in the kaddish prayer, and although the oldest text of Kaddish, written in Aramaic, dates almost back to a thousand years, from a siddur of R. Amram Gaon, and to say nothing that Maimonides does not even mention this practice, confirming to the view that it was developed; it is nevertheless, the process of sanctifying G-d's name, a קדוש השם, which is actually a mitzvah!

      And this leads to my point with Shmooli. Shmooli writes that it is "inappropriate" for women to sanctify Hashem. First, this is hardly the case, and far from it. Because its more than a mitzvah, its incumbent to both genders and thereby exempts mitzvot aseh shehazman grama since sanctifying the name of G-d isn't a time-bound mitzvah. In other words, to restrict women from saying Kaddish is actually a violation of לפני עבר and; thus is a violation of the Torah!

      Besides, it would be a Kiddush Hashem and in the presence of a minyan. Besides, Rabbi Soloveitchik ruled that women could recite the kaddish, thus respecting departed loved ones.

    9. Not to mention that the Mourner's Kaddish is a minhag (custom), and not biblically mandated per se, means that women can take part.

  4. RNS
    I believe this topic a little more complicated than it appears.
    In your essay you mention Maseches kalo that R Akiva asked the son of a deceased to say a Brocho in Shul on his behalf. You understand that to be for a son only. However Rabeinu Bachye in Devarim (21:8) says that although it is superior when a son does it others can also say kadish or Donate to charity. R Chaim Valozin in Ruach Chayim also says the Taz once dedicated a shiur to someone who wasn't well.We also say Av Harachamim every Shabbos on behalf of the deceased. For this reason R Tzvi Kushelevski explanation seems to hold water. The Rishonim who say you cant transfer a good deed to others is where he would of done it anyway.

    1. Sigh. I guess you didn't read my in-depth article.
      First of all, regarding the Midrash quoted by Rabeinu Bachye, several authorities point out that charity is only being mentioned here as a way to save a person from punishment, not as a way to actively provide reward to someone in the next world.
      Second, that even according to those Rishonim who are of the view that charity benefits the deceased, it is the exception that proves the rule. It is specifically and only charity and prayer that are mentioned as being done in order to atone for those who passed away. No other mitzvos are said to be of benefit in this regard.
      Finally, your claim that "the Rishonim who say you cant transfer a good deed to others is where he would of (sic) done it anyway" is simply not true. They are explicitly stating that there is simply no way to transfer it to others - it's not that you can transfer it by deciding to do it for them!

    2. Thank You for your reply.
      I am a little confused as to your position:
      In your previous post you seem to be unhappy with the christian view that one can give charity for the deceased, you now say that some Rishonim were in fact of the view that one can do exactly that.
      With regards to the view of R Tzvi Kushelevski I understand this be be based on the fact that a Talmid learning benefits the deceased (As you already mention from R Yaacov Skili) so too can one benefit the deceased by learning if he wouldn't of learned otherwise ,after all the deceased is the direct influence for him learning. I ones heard from R Chayim Kanievsky that he felt the same to be true. I have never heard anyone say he will put on tefilin on behalf of the deceased as this would clearly be against the view of the Rishonim that one cannot tranfer merit of Mitzvos.

  5. There actually ARE sources that Haman gets some credit, and that is why the goal is getting drunk on Purim until you say "Baruch Haman."
    See Note 55 here:

  6. The Rabbaim are nogeiah b'dvar. Find a Rav who is not nehene from the tzibbur and see what he says...

    Good luck finding him.

  7. I think you are erring by making the opposing position more emphatic than it is. All I have ever heard people claim is that by inspiring good deeds, it is a credit to the deceased, but not that the actual schar mitzvah transfers. The idea that inspiring one to do a mitzvah leads to reward is a gemara in Bava Basra: גדול המעשה יותר מן העושה. And since the inspiration comes from the deceased's time on earth, they are being rewarded for the secondary effect that came from their earthly actions.

  8. I wonder how R' Kushelevsky would respond if asked explicitly about the anecdote you like you to cite.

    Would he say he doesn't recall it? It didn't happen (the way your friend remembers it)? Or has he changed his position?


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