CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

122. Reciting Qaddish for a Convicted Criminal

QUESTION: Is it appropriate to recite qaddish for a convicted criminal even if the crime was heinous? (J. Brown, Long Beach, CA)

ANSWER: The background of the qaddish and those for whom it is obligatory has been provided elsewhere. Although sons are generally obligated to recite qaddish for their parents, if we are dealing with a convicted criminal, matters may be somewhat different. Let us begin with the question of burial for convicted criminals.

It is clear from the statement in Deuteronomy (21.23) that those who are executed should be buried even though the body may have been left to lie for a few hours. In Mishnaic times, it often occurred that a special place was set aside for the temporary burial of those executed (M. San 4.5), but after his flesh had decayed in atonement, the bones were interred in the family cemetery (M. San. 4.6). Later those who had committed a crime were simply buried in a Jewish cemetery, however, at some distance from individuals who were considered righteous (San. 47a; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 362.52; Hatam Sofer, Responsa, Yoreh Deah 333). This practice was also followed for those under the ban. If they had committed a serious crime, then funeral honors were withheld, otherwise the coffin might be stoned by the bet din, or they placed a single stone on it. Yet, even for serious offenders, takhrihim were permitted (Solomon Aderet, Responsa, Vol. 5, #236), and his grave was placed in the cemetery in the normal fashion (Caro in Bayit Hadash to Tur Yoreh Deah 334; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 334.3). This pattern was followed for criminals, apostates and individuals of doubtful character. Therefore, any Jew who committed a crime, no matter how grave, must be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The normal honors like eulogy, cutting one's garment, etc. are, however, withheld.

It remains the responsibility for the son to recite qaddish for such an individual as for a righteous father or mother. For a division of opinion on this matter see "Incest and Parental Responsibility." This thought is reinforced by the fact that death is considered to bring atonement (San. 44a, 56a); the recital of qaddish is traditionally considered as a way of furthering such atonement through one's own good deeds (San 104a). Qaddish should, therefore, be recited for an executed or deceased criminal by those normally obligated to do so. The obligations of children do not change through any act committed by the parent.

February 1981

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