Jewish prayers to/for the dead


#1

Have Jews ever or do they still pray to/ for the dead?


#2

Jews pray what is known as the Mourner’s Kaddish. I think the tradition is to do it for one day less than a month, with the rationale that it is direspectful to assume the deceased was so sinful that they need to be prayed for for a whole month.

This is useful to point out to anti-Catholics who say it does no good to pray for the dead, i.e., for those in Purgatory, and that Catholics invented the practice. The Jews have always done it.


#3

On the other hand, the Kaddish actually doesn’t mention the dead person at all–it’s a prayer asking that God’s name be glorified. Clearly many Jews (and I think this is the more traditional view) do see it as a prayer for the dead person, but some Jews would argue that it really doesn’t make any request for the dead person or imply anything at all about the nature of the afterlife.

Edwin


#4

I was wrong on some of the details and what you say is essentially correct. But here’s a little more info:

There are also a few particularly significant prayers. The most important is the Kaddish, the only prayer in Aramaic to my knowledge, which praises G-d. Here’s a small piece of it, in English:

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire family of Israel, swiftly and soon. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty…

There are several variations on it for different times in the service. One variation is set aside for mourners to recite, the congregation only providing the required responses. Many people think of the Kaddish as a mourner’s prayer, because the oldest son is obligated to recite it for a certain period after a parent’s death, but in fact it is much broader than that. Someone once told me it separates each portion of the service, and a quick glance at any siddur (daily prayer book) shows that it is recited between each section, but I don’t know if that is its purpose.

Judaism 101
jewfaq.org/index.htm

One source gives the rationale for reciting this prayer:

Kaddish is only recited for only 11 months of the 12 month mourning period. According to Jewish tradition, the soul must spend some time purifying itself before it can enter the World to Come. The maximum time required for purification is 12 months, for the most evil person. To recite Kaddish for 12 months would imply that the parent was the type who needed 12 months of purification! To avoid this implication, the Sages decreed that a son should recite Kaddish for only eleven months.

From the website of the Jackson Row Synagogue
jacksonsrow.topcities.com/index.html


#5

I had the privilege of working in a predominantly Jewish area of Cleveland for many years, and in addition to Kaddish and other mourning rituals and prayers, children of the deceased visit the synagogue to pray for their parent on the anniversary of their death.


#6

The Jewish Funeral–A Celebration of Life

By David Techner

… Jewish tradition has developed a complete and sometimes technical response to death, from the prayers recited to the preparation of the body for the funeral, the comfort offered the survivors and to the memory of the deceased.

The most well known, outside Jewish circles, is “Shiva.” The seven-day mourning period (Shiva mean seven in Hebrew) begins after burial. Survivors concentrate on their inner feelings to begin the healing process and take the first step into re-entering normal life without the deceased.

During the time between death and burial, known as the period of Aninut, everything Jews do is designed to celebrate and appreciate life.

Every prayer recited speaks of life, gratitude and appreciation. Even the prayer “Kaddish,” recited in memory of the dead, does not mention the word death.
Jewish funeral customs include: [INDENT]*Mitzvot of Bikur Cholim, the act of kindness of visiting sick
*Kavod Ha-Met, honoring the dead
*Shomer, religious watchman praying over the deceased
*Chevra Kadisha, Holy Society who prepares the body for burial
*Taharah, purification
*Takhirkhin, burial shrouds
*Service and Prayers
*Eretz Yisroel, earth from Israel
*Shiva and Yahrzeit, remembrance
The process generally follows along these lines: Before death, the primary focus is on the needs of the infirmed (Bikur Cholim). When death occurs, the focus turns to honoring the deceased (Kavod Ha-Met). Judaism equates a dead body with that of a damaged Torah scroll, no longer fit for its intended use, but still deserving reverence for the holy purpose it once served.

This is why, from death to burial, the body is never left unattended and the soul is prayed for by a religious watchman (Shomer). This ancient custom has provided invaluable comfort to survivors. Also in ancient days, the family immediately contacted members of a Holy Society (Chevra Kadisha) when a death was confirmed.

The Holy Society’s role was to prepare the body for burial according to traditional Jewish practices. These individuals were truly performing an act of kindness (Mitzvot), because their actions were performed out of the kindness of their heart, with no concern or regard for reciprocation. This was the ultimate act of unselfishness, doing something for another without any ulterior motive.

The Chevra Kadisha also performed the meaningful task of purifying the body, usually on the morning of burial, with a ritual bath (Taharah). Ecclesiastes stated, “As he came, so shall he go.” Just as a newborn child is immediately washed and enters this world clean and pure, so shall a person who departs this world be cleansed and made pure.

In addition to the physical cleansing and preparation of the body for burial, the Chevra Kadisha also recite required prayers asking God for forgiveness for any sins that may have been committed by the person who died. Prayers are also asked for God to receive the soul of the deceased, guard the person and grant them eternal peace.

The prayers also express a sense of gratitude for the life of the deceased and all the good that has come as a result of this person’s life.[/INDENT]

More …


#7

continued …

The Catholic Church maintains the Jewish tradition that the living should pray for the dead, and that the living should beseech God for the forgiveness of the sins of the deceased (which is why Catholics have a doctrine of Purgatory). The Orthodox also maintain the Jewish tradition of the living beseeching God to forgive the prayers of the deceased in their Trisagion Memorial Prayer for the departed:"O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down Death and overthrown the Devil, and given life unto thy world, give, we beseech thee, eternal rest to the soul of thy departed servant, in a place of brightness, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, and sighing, have fled away.

Pardon, we beseech Thee, every transgression which may have been committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For there is no man who lives and does not commit a sin.


#8

Besides the prayers for the dead in the Kadeesh usually loved ones.
Which usually is 11 months.
Jews practice something else that is so catholic you scratch your head that few people think about it.
They pray to the OT prophets at their celebrated tombs.
Kinda like praying to the saints ain’t it?
For exaample at the Tomb of David the Jews who visit there pray to King David. Of course the differnce with us is that we think Saint Peter can hear us whether we are at the Vatican or not since he is supernatually in the Body of Christ.


#9

[quote=mark a]Have Jews ever or do they still pray to/ for the dead?
[/quote]

They don’t have anything like Catholic prayers for the dead. It is simply not how they view things. Kaddish is not primarily a prayer for the dead it is a prayer about the dead, by mourners, to God. This I know first hand. My father was a Jew and we prayed the Kaddish when he died as well as for many other relatives in my family, unfortunately. Further there is no Jewish prayers to or for the dead in a way similar to Catholic or Orthodox prayers to and for the dead. After the shiva (7 days of mourning) all such prayers are not said. The prayers of the mourning have a very specific time limit. You will not find a practicing Jew praying for a dead relative 5 years after their death, the concept is foreign to the Jewish ethos, an ethos I have experienced my entire life.

The only Jews that have any type of prayer to the dead are the mystical Kabbalists (like Madonna :rolleyes: ). And they are as far from Orthodox or Conservative Jewery as Mormons are from Catholics. Traditional Judaism does not tolerate prayers to anyone but God. And they are pretty clear in their belief that the dead no nothing that goes on on earth. They take Ecclesiastes quite literally in this respect.

Mel


#10

Maddona is Catholic, Esther is the Kabbalists Jew,
Cybil it the athiest:rotfl:


#11

[quote=Melchior] Kaddish is not primarily a prayer for the dead it is a prayer about the dead, by mourners, to God.
[/quote]

Would you expand on this since it seems to oppose the viewpoints of the other posts?


#12

Hi all!

Our prayer, the Mourner’s Kaddish, is for the benefit of the soul of the deceased & is believed to ease the spiritual status of the deceased’s soul as it goes through whatever trials & tribulations it may be subject to. Yes, we do believe in something akin to the Roman Catholic notion of Purgatory & thus saying the Mourner’s Kaddish would be similar to the Roman Catholic idea of praying for the souls in Purgatory.

Look at ou.org/yerushalayim/kadish.htm#Meaning .

The text there is the (5 clause) Mourner’s Kaddish in Hebrew, transliterated English & English (you can also listen to it in RealAudio).

As I understand it, a soul that has sinned in this world has to pay for its actions/inactions in the next world. We do not automatically & necessarily divide souls into the entirely righteous who will therefore enjoy enternal bliss and the entirely evil who will therefore suffer eternal damnation. The degrees in between are infinite & we believe that God rewards/punishes each soul according to its good/not good actions. As I said, the recitation of the Kaddish prayer is believed to benefit the soul of the deceased as it goes through whatever trials and tribulations it has to endure in the next world.

In addition to the aforementioned Kaddish prayer (which is usually said by a son for a departed parent for 11 months after the day of burial, but which can also be said for 30 days for a spouse, child or sibling, particularly if none of these have children to say the Kaddish; the Kaddish is also recited on the anniversary of the burial), there are the Yizkor (literally: “He will remember”) and E-l Maleh Rahamim (literally: “God Full of Mercy”) prayers (see ou.org/yerushalayim/yizkor/) which are recited 4 times a year on Yom Kippur, the last day of Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret (see jewfaq.org/toc.htm for links to all of these holydays).

(cont.) :wave:


#13

font=Arial

I submit the following excerpt (from jewfaq.org/death.htm):

After the avelut [mourning] period is complete, the family of the deceased is not permitted to continue formal mourning; however, there are a few continuing acknowledgments of the decedent. Every year, on the anniversary of the death, family members observe the deceased’s Yahrzeit (Yiddish, lit. “anniversary”). On the Yahrzeit, sons recite Kaddish and take an aliyah (bless the Torah reading) in synagogue if possible, and all mourners light a candle in honor of the decedent that burns for 24 hours. In addition, during services on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and Shavu’ot, after the haftarah reading in synagogue, close relatives recite the mourner’s prayer, Yizkor (“May He remember…”) in synagogue. Yahrzeit candles are also lit on those days.

(…).

Kaddish
Kaddish is commonly known as a mourner’s prayer, but in fact, variations on the Kaddish prayer are routinely recited at many other times, and the prayer itself has nothing to do with death or mourning. The prayer begins “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days …” and continues in much that vein. The real mourner’s prayer is E-l Maleh Rachamim, which is recited at grave sites and during funerals.

Why, then, is Kaddish recited by mourners?

After a great loss like the death of a parent, you might expect a person to lose faith in G-d, or to cry out against G-d’s injustice. Instead, Judaism requires a mourner to stand up every day, publicly (i.e., in front of a minyan, a quorum of 10 adult men), and reaffirm faith in G-d despite this loss. To do so inures to the merit of the deceased in the eyes of G-d, because the deceased must have been a very good parent to raise a child who could express such faith in the face of personal loss.

Then why is Kaddish recited for only 11 months, when the mourning period is 12 months? According to Jewish tradition, the soul must spend some time purifying itself before it can enter the World to Come. The maximum time required for purification is 12 months, for the most evil person. To recite Kaddish for 12 months would imply that the parent was the type who needed 12 months of purification! To avoid this implication, the Sages decreed that a son should recite Kaddish for only eleven months.

In addition to the Kaddish. it is believed that the recitation of the Yizkor and E-l Maleh Rahamim prayers are beneficial to the soul of the departed. On the anniversary of the burial, it is common to study some chapter of the Talmud or the Tanakh (what we call what Christians call the “Old Testament”), read a selection of Psalms, give to charity, etc. in honor/memory of the departed. This is also believed to be beneficial.

(cont.) :wave:

[/font]


#14

(cont.)

Maccabees, I respectfully submit that you are not entirely correct. We do not pray to the dead. That would be a terrible sin. Our very great medieval sage, Moses Maimonedes (tinyurl.com/6xatv; St. Thomas Aquinas referred to him as “Rabbi Moses”) wrote 13 articles of belief for Judaism (ou.org/torah/rambam.htm). Article #5 says:

I believe with perfect faith that it is only proper to pray to G-d. One may not pray to anyone or anything else.

We pray for the dead but not to them. When we visit the tombs of holy men/women, we certainly don’t/shouldn’t pray to them. Rather, we pray to God and beseech Him to count the merit of the particular holy man/woman in our favor, we ask Him to remember us in their merit. When DW & I were plowing through fertility treatment way back, we prayed at Rachel’s Tomb (rachelstomb.org/main.html) & at Samuel’s Tomb; we certainly didn’t pray to Rachel our Mother or to Samuel.

Madonna is a clown. This tinyurl.com/58xo7 was in Sunday’s Toronto Star. I think that the author’s views are something else that we orthodox Jews & Roman Catholics can agree on. That chain of “Kabbalah Centers” that she associates with are anathema to orthodox Jews & orthodox rabbinical authorities; the Kabbalah taught there has about as much to do with real Kabbalah (see jewfaq.org/kabbalah.htm for a very good introductory read) as a Twinkie has to do with real pastry.

Howzat?

Be well!

stillsmallvoice :wave:


#15

[quote=stillsmallvoice]We pray for the dead but not to them.
[/quote]

Interesting. Thanks for the info. Has this ever been different?

[quote=stillsmallvoice]Madonna is a clown.
[/quote]

Once in a while we’re glad someone jumps ship.

[quote=stillsmallvoice]Howzat?
[/quote]

Just what I was looking for. Thanks again.


#16

Hi mark a!

You posted:

Thanks for the info.

You’re welcome!

Has this ever been different?

Taking into account the fact that there’s always some difference between what believers (Jewish, Catholic, whatever) do and what their faith says/teaches, the answer is no. Traditional, normative (i.e. orthodox) Judaism has always taught that praying to anyone or anything other than God alone is wrong.

Be well!

ssv :wave:


#17

quote=stillsmallvoice

Maccabees, I respectfully submit that you are not entirely correct. We do not pray to the dead. That would be a terrible sin.
Howzat?

Be well!

stillsmallvoice :wave:
[/quote]

I would certainly agree in the post temple Judaism of which the Jewish Christians are not apart the Rabbis stopped this practice and currently you don’t ask for angels, prophets, ancestors to pray for you however after the diaspora this wasnt the case.
At the anniversary of a loved ones death Jews would visit the graves and ask their loved ones to pray for them also in the book of Tobit we see the husabnd and wifte Tobit and Sarah pray to the angel Raphael to intercede for them. This book was canonical for the Jewish Christians, Alexandrian Jews and the Essenes and Ehtopian Jews of course after the temple the Rabbis did not inclde this book in their canon. But the evidence that we found at Qumran ppoints to the fact the practices in this book were acceptable for Jews outside of the Rabinnical establishment that was establishded after the temple was destroyed. I am sure many Rabbis would deny the points I bring up but this is from a Christian point of view.
The Judaism we have today is very different than the one that existed at the time of Jesus. The connection with the departed while still there is not as strong as it was during the diaspora. Thus books like Tobit and Maccabees that pointed to very Catholic like doctrines fell out of favor with the Rabinnial Jews.
Just my opinion feel free to disagree.


#18

Hi Maccabees!

You posted:

But the evidence that we found at Qumran ppoints to the fact the practices in this book were acceptable for Jews outside of the Rabinnical establishment that was establishded after the temple was destroyed.

Ah, but the residents of Qumran (see tinyurl.com/6pgfu) were schismatic heretics whose views were not at all representative of normative Judaism at the time.

Our Sages excluded the so-called Apocryphal books from the Tanakh (what we call what you call the “Old Testament”) for several reasons. Ferinstance, I Maccabees, while considered to be very historically accurate & written by a believing Jew, was not considered to be Divinely inspired. The Prayer of Manasseh, while quite moving & a spiritual gem, was considered to be inauthentic (i.e., not by King Manasseh) as well as uninspired. Other books were considered to be full of nonsense (i.e. ideas that didn’t jibe with the Torah), as well as inauthentic and/or uninspired.

You mention the “Rabbinical establishment”. Post-destruction “Rabbinic” Judaism was an entirely natural development. The post-destruction Rabbis were the spiritual heirs & successors to the pre-destruction Pharisees, who were the Jewish mainstream. jewfaq.org/movement.htm#Ancient is a very basic, barebones read. The relevant sections at aish.com/literacy/jewishhistory/ go into more detail.

Be well!

ssv


#19

[quote=stillsmallvoice] Traditional, normative (i.e. orthodox) Judaism has always taught that praying to anyone or anything other than God alone is wrong.

Be well!

ssv :wave:
[/quote]

Hi SSV,

Is it considered OK to ask others to pray for you while you are alive? Can you ask those who have already go on to pray on your behalf? Does the orthodox belief in an afterlife derive from Scripture? I've looked for it in the Hebrew bible, but it's unclear to me where this would be. Thank you.

Peace be with you.


#20

Hi all!

RBushlow, I apologize for not replying more promptly. It is Saturday night here & Shabbat (i.e. the Sabbath) has been over for about 2.5 hours. On Shabbat (from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday), orthodox Jews don’t use most electric/electronic devices, including TVs, radios, phones & computers. (See jewfaq.org/shabbat.htm for a good introductory read.) So, Shabbat being out, I’m now online. You posted:

Is it considered OK to ask others to pray for you while you are alive?

Praying for others is considered a very good, noble & proper thing.

Can you ask those who have already go on to pray on your behalf?

While praying to the deceased is a whopper of a no-no, it is a belief in (orthodox) Judaism that our Patriarchs & Matriarchs look out for us from their vantage point in the world-to-come (as we call it). Rachel our Mother is a very good example. Our Sages ask why Jacob our Father buried her in Bethlehem, a very short journey from the family tomb (the Tomb of the Patriarchs at the Machpelah Cave) in nearby Hebron. Our Sages say that Jacob saw that one day, his children (i.e. us) would be punished for our sins and exiled from our Land. He buried Rachel by the roadside that she might weep for us and beg God for mercy as we passed by en route to exile. See Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. Thus says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord; and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord; and your children shall return to their own border."

You also asked:

Does the orthodox belief in an afterlife derive from Scripture? I’ve looked for it in the Hebrew bible, but it’s unclear to me where this would be.

Try jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm#Biblical. There’s also the account of Saul & the witch of En-Dor (I drove past En-Dor once; it felt kinda creepy.) Samuel obviously came from somewhere & his soul was still in existence after his death.

Thank you.

You’re welcome!

Be well & be in touch!

ssv


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.