Question: Should the brachah upon seeing Jewish graves be recited by relatives and friends of the deceased who attend the burial?
Short Answer: While the onein/aveil himself should not recite this brachah even after the burial, many poskim, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, rule that the other relatives and friends may recite the brachah after the burial (and possibly even beforehand).
I. The Brachah
The Gemara (B’rachos 58b) says that upon seeing “kivrei Yisrael” – Jewish graves – one should recite a brachah that starts with the words “asher yatzar es’chem ba’din.” While the precise nusach of the brachah is a dispute among the commentators, the brachah acknowledges the righteousness of Hashem, that He creates man with righteousness and provides for man with righteousness, etc.
This brachah is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 224:12). Notably, as with other brachos that are recited upon seeing places or items, the brachah upon seeing Jewish graves is only recited when the person has not seen the same graves in the past 30 days. See the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 224:13).
II. Different Graves
The Mishnah B’rurah (ibid, 17) notes, in the name of the Magen Avraham, that the language of the Shulchan Aruch implies that even if a person has seen Jewish graves within the past 30 days, he still recites the brachah upon seeing different graves.
However, the Mishnah B’rurah notes that the Elyah Rabbah disagrees. One never makes the brachah if he has seen any Jewish graves within the past 30 days.
Practically, the Mishnah B’rurah appears to rule like the Elyah Rabbah, that one should not make the brachah if he has seen any Jewish graves within the past 30 days, as the Mishnah B’rurah concludes by referring to the Pischei T’shuvah, who cites the sefer Amudei Or, who rules as such. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo, T’filah 23:34) adds that one should not make the brachah within 30 days even if the very cemetery you normally visit has “added” graves since the last time you visited. On the other hand, the Aruch HaShulchan (224:8) appears to follow the ruling of the Magen Avraham, that one does recite the brachah upon seeing different Jewish graves, even within 30 days.
III. During a Burial
But what about if a person has not seen Jewish graves in the last 30 days and is now accompanying a deceased to the burial. Should the person recite the brachah during the funeral? After the funeral? Does it make a difference whether the person is the onein (and after the burial, the aveil)?
The Eishel Avraham (Orach Chayim 224) writes that while he initially thought that the onein recites the brachah after the deceased is buried (and he is now permitted to make brachos as an aveil), the more correct ruling is that the onein does not recite the brachah after the burial, nor for the next 30 days. Even though he saw the graves at a time when he was “exempt” from making the brachah (i.e., as an onein when he entered the cemetery), such “seeing” now prevents him from being able to recite the brachah for the next 30 days.
Moreover, the Eishel Avraham adds that “it appears to him” that the common minhag is that even the masses that attend the burial do not recite the brachah (even if they otherwise have not seen Jewish graves in the past 30 days), since they are busy with the burial and any break to recite the brachah would cause an improper “delay” to the burial. Thus, we employ the ruling of “oseik b’mitzvah, patur min ha’mitzvah” – that one who is involved in one mitzvah should not stop in the middle in order to perform a second mitzvah. They also cannot recite the brachah after the burial, as they have now seen Jewish graves within the past 30 days (i.e., the seeing from before the burial).
The Kaf HaChayim (224:37) cites this Eishel Avraham and rules accordingly, as does the Orchos Chayim (Spinka).
IV. The Full Dissenters
Many disagree with this Eishel Avraham, but they generally break up into two camps.
The first camp challenges the very premise of the Eishel Avraham: Why can’t the onein/aveil himself even recite the brachah after the burial? Indeed, with the brachah that we make on the fruit trees blossoming in the month of Nisan, one may recite the brachah the second time he sees the trees, even if he forgot to recite the brachah upon his first “seeing” a few days earlier. Why should this brachah on Jewish graves be any different?
Accordingly, the sefer Sheim MiShimon (Pollak) (cited in Shulchan HaMaareches, Vol. 1, p. 111) rules that even the onein/aveil recites the brachah after the burial. He adds that this is certainly appropriate nowadays where the onein/aveil is not involved in arranging the actual burial, but rather the chevrah kadisha takes responsibility for the burial.
Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (ibid) rules this way, as well. He notes that, if anything, there is more of a reason here than by the trees to recite this brachah the second time you see the graves, as it is not based on any “happiness” upon the first sighting. Indeed, the sefer Otzar Shimon (p. 467) notes that Sheim MiShimon and Rav Ovadia zt”l may even have allowed the onein/aveil to recite this brachah before the burial, as it is part of the Tziduk HaDin.
Notably, according to these dissenters, certainly the masses attending the burial may recite this brachah after the burial, and likely even before the burial.
V. The Partial Dissenters
Other poskim split the ruling of the Eishel Avraham. They agree with the Eishel Avraham that the onein/aveil does not recite this brachah because he is exempt from the brachah at the time he first sees the Jewish graves (before the burial) and thus cannot recite it after the burial either. Yet, they disagree with respect to the masses attending the funeral. They can recite the brachah.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Minchas Shlomo 2:91:6) rules this way, (i) that the masses may recite the brachah after the burial because until they leave the cemetery, it is considered as if they are still first seeing the graves, and (ii) perhaps they can probably even recite it before the burial as they are not really involved in the burial, and such a short stop will not delay the burial. In fact, he wonders how this brachah is any different from a brachah on lightning or thunder that presumably can be recited by the masses attending a burial. See also the Kinyan Torah (3:27).
Many contemporary poskim follow this approach without elaborating on the reason. For example, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita (Ohel Yaakov, p. 109) was asked whether an onein can recite this brachah and he answered that he cannot. In fact, the Gesher HaChaim (p. 124) clearly rules that the onein/aveil cannot recite this brachah. Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (Vol. 4, p. 324) and Nishmas Yisrael (3:4:8) likewise rule that the masses may recite this brachah upon entering the cemetery, but the onein/aveil may not recite the brachah at all. Likewise, the Nit’ei Gavriel (Aveilus 1:73:1) cites both opinions, but notes that the Chochmas Adam allows the masses to recite this brachah.
VI. Query on the Partial Dissenters
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo, ibid) himself wonders why the onein/aveil cannot recite the brachah after the burial, since the entire time in the cemetery is viewed as the first “seeing” of the graves? Rav Shlomo Zalman’s talmid, the Sh’miras Shabbos K’Hilchasah (2:64:74) makes a similar observation. Yet, neither one paskens this way, and they instead appear to rule as above, that only the masses recite the brachah after the burial.
Next Week’s Topic: When does aveilus start for mourners where the deceased is taken from the United States and buried in Israel?