QUESTION: Is it permissible to include titles for individuals listed on the weekly Kaddish list read at the Shabbat service? (Rabbi Stephen Pinsky, Temple Sinai of Bergen County, Tenafly, New Jersey)
ANSWER: The origin of reading names of deceased individuals at services seems to lie in the period immediately following the Crusades. The martyrs of that dreaded period in the Rhineland were memorialized on the anniversary date of their death by the entire community. Subsequently, similar memorial lists were created for the Black Death, as well as other tragedies in the Rhineland and neighboring communities. In addition, it became customary to remember those who had been generous to the synagogue, especially during the concluding day of the Shalosh Regalim, as the reading from Deuteronomy 16:17 stated, "Everyone shall give in accordance with the gift of his hand." Solomon B. Freehof, in his article on "Hazkarat Neshamot" (Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 36, 1965) has theorized, along with others, that the custom of praising those individuals on the festival soon spread to the Shabbat with the saying of a "Mi Sheberach" when some member of the family, yet alive, was called to the Torah. Isserles has noted a custom similar to this in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 284.6): "It is customary, after the reading of the Torah, to mention those who have departed and to bless those who support the congregation." Here we do not have lists, but individuals arranging to have the names of dear departed read. After a while, the custom became oppressive, especially as a "Mi Sheberach" was recited for each individual and the list could be long. This has been discussed by Ephraim Margolis in Sha-ar Efrayim, and also by Samuel Lipschitz, in his commentary Sha-arei Rachamim. The Reform Movement has moved the reading of the names of deceased members from the Torah service to the conclusion of the service when our mourner's Kaddish is recited.
None of these discussions deals with titles of individuals, nor does Gruenwald's Kol Bo Al Avelut. We must, therefore, treat this subject by analogy with customs connected with the tombstone. In past centuries, tombstones were often very elaborate, and virtually an entire eulogy was inscribed on them. For example, the tombstone of Meir of Rothenburg reported all the details of his capture by bandits, who then turned him over to King Rudolf, who imprisoned him while seeking ransom from the Jewish community; and of his eventual death in prison, as well as of the ransom paid for his body by a pious follower. Other tombstones listed all the accomplishments or offices held by individuals. By contrast, nowadays our tombstones rarely do more than provide the name of the deceased, dates of birth and death, and perhaps a verse which suitably characterizes his or her life. In other words, our period has become democratic and rather reticent about excessive use of praise or titles. That mood is probably appropriate for the memorial lists of the congregation. On the other hand, if a strongly fixed local tradition of reading names with titles exists, it would be proper to continue it.