Question: Must one inform a person that his relative died and that he is now an aveil?
Short Answer: After a deceased is buried, one is not obligated to inform a potential aveil about the death of a relative. Nevertheless, many have the minhag to inform sons so that they recite Kaddish. The minhag in many places is to inform daughters, as well. Before burial, some Acharonim rule that sons and daughters must be informed, but that is not clear.
I. The Story Behind the Question
My wife and I got married on Rosh Chodesh Adar 5767/2007, 40 days before my zeide, Mr. Joseph Glatt a”h was niftar. We were very fortunate that my zeide was well enough to participate in our wedding and even gave us a brachah under the chupah. However, it was not a simple situation. My zeide’s only sister, Berta Glatt, a”h, who never married but was beloved by all, passed away the night before our wedding. Although a few family members were aware of Aunt Berta’s passing, my zeide was not informed of his sister’s passing until after my wedding. Aunt Berta was buried the day after my wedding.
Were the family members obligated to inform my zeide of Aunt Berta’s passing before my wedding? If informed, my zeide would have been an onein and possibly would not have attended my wedding. Moreover, he certainly would not have gotten a brachah under my chupah. [This article should be an ilui for both my zeide and Aunt Berta’s neshamos.]
II. No Obligation to Inform
The Gemara (Moed Katan 20a-b) recounts a story where Rav went to visit his uncle, Rabbi Chiya (who was actually both his paternal and maternal uncle, see Rashi). Rabbi Chiya asked Rav if Rav’s father (Rabbi Chiya’s brother) was still alive. Rav, not wanting to expressly tell him that his father had died, instead told Rabbi Chiya to ask whether Rav’s mother was alive (Rabbi Chiya’s sister). When Rabbi Chiya asked about her, Rav responded that he still “never answered the first question.” At this point, Rabbi Chiya understood that both of Rav’s parents were deceased and that he, Rabbi Chiya, had lost his brother and sister.
The Mordechai (Moed Katan, 933) proves from this Gemara that one is not obligated to inform a potential aveil that his relative passed away, even if it is the potential aveil’s parent. Indeed, had Rabbi Chiya not asked about Rav’s parents, Rav would not have told him about their death. Even when he asked, Rav hinted to their death without stating outright that they had passed. The Mordechai explains that one who explicitly tells of the relative’s demise to the potential aveil is a “k’sil” – a fool. Nevertheless, one may not lie and answer that the relative is still alive, as this is pure falsehood. [See also the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 402:14) who cites an additional proof from the Gemara (Nazir 44a).]
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 402:12) codifies this Mordechai. The Shulchan Aruch likewise adds, in the name of the Hagahos Maimoniyos, that the one who knows of the demise may even invite the potential aveil to a wedding if the potential aveil is unaware of his own relative’s death. [Note that the Bach (Yoreh Dei’ah 374) disagrees and rules that it is forbidden to invite the potential aveil to a wedding.]
The Chidushei Gershuni (on Yoreh Dei’ah, ibid) adds that if a husband knows of the death of his father-in-law or mother-in law, but his wife does not know of her parent’s death, the husband may still live with his wife, as she is not yet in aveilus. Moreover, the Pischei T’shuvah (ibid) says that if one aveil knows about the death of his relative but does not want to inform another potential aveil (i.e., his brother about their sister’s death), he may even wear Shabbos clothes during shloshim so that the potential aveil doesn’t suspect that anything is remiss.
III. To Say Kaddish
The Rama (ibid) notes that despite the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling that there is no need to inform the potential aveil of the death of his relative, the minhag is to inform sons that their father died so that they can recite Kaddish for him. The minhag is not to inform the daughters. [See Pischei T’shuvah, ibid, that one should not inform the sons on Yom Tov, as this will detract from their simchas Yom Tov and they will have to observe the private laws of mourning].
The Chavos Yair (cited in the sefer Chesed VeEmes Nifgashu, p. 155) disagrees and says that the minhag nowadays is to inform the daughters, as well, because it is proper for children to sit shiv’ah for their parents.
The Mishneh Sachir (cited in Nit’ei Gavriel, 128:7) rules that in a situation where the deceased does not have children, there is no minhag to tell the deceased’s siblings, even if they can say Kaddish for the deceased. [Presumably, he understands that such Kaddish is not as “effective” for the deceased.]
Importantly, the Nishmas Avraham (Yoreh Dei’ah 402) notes that of course a hospital must inform a family that their relative died so that they can prepare the burial. The entire discussion in Shulchan Aruch is thus limited to cases where the burial preparations are being taken care of by other relatives. See also Dibros Eliyahu (7:28).
IV. In Practice
The sefer L’Shaah U’l’Doros (Rav Moshe Tzuriel, p. 89) notes that the father of Rabbi Yitzchak Ruderman zt”l died when Rabbi Ruderman was still a young boy and learning in Slabodka Yeshiva in Europe. The Rosh Yeshiva, the Levush Mordechai, ruled that Rabbi Ruderman not be informed of his father’s passing until after 30 days, so that he would not miss any learning by sitting shiv’ah. A similar story is recounted in the Beit Hillel Journal (Vol. 19, 5764, p. 90) about the death of the father of Rav Meir Chodosh and how the rosh yeshivah, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, ruled that Rav Chodosh not be informed for 30 days.
Similarly, the Beit Hillel Journal (ibid) notes that when the brother of the wife of Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l died, Rav Ovadia did not tell his wife for many years.
V. Before Burial
The Gilyon Maharsha (Rav Shlomo Eiger, ibid) adds that from the language of the Shulchan Aruch it appears that even on the day of death and burial, one need not inform the potential aveil of his relative’s demise. The Gilyon Maharsha himself wonders whether this is true, in light of the fact that the Rav/Rabbi Chiya story in the Gemara occurred well after the death of Rav’s parents, and there is an opinion that the first day of aveilus is d’Oraisa.
Rav Yehudah Bracha (Birkas Yehudah, Vol. 4, siman 13), however, suggests, without citing the Gilyon Maharsha, that the entire Shulchan Aruch is only discussing informing after burial. Certainly before burial one must tell the potential aveil about his relative’s death.
Moreover, the Divrei Sofrim (Yoreh Dei’ah 402, Birur Halachah) discusses this issue at length and concludes that one must certainly tell the potential aveil about his relative’s death before burial. This is true even if the potential aveil will have no involvement in the burial, as aninus is d’Oraisa and is for k’vod ha’meis. The entire discussion in the Shulchan Aruch is only about informing after burial.
VI. Back to My Story
Putting everything together, did my relatives need to inform my zeide of Aunt Berta’s death? A couple of facts need to be addressed: First, my Aunt Berta was not to be buried until after my wedding and thus there would be no Kaddish until after the wedding; second, my zeide was not involved in the burial preparations at all; and third, my Aunt Berta had no children who would be saying Kaddish.
The p’sak was given that my zeide was not to be informed until after the wedding and before the burial the following day. This author understands that such p’sak was based on the fact that (i) The Shulchan Aruch does not distinguish between before burial and after burial – we never are obligated to inform; (ii) My zeide was only a brother to Aunt Berta; and (iii) There would still be aninus.
New Series Next Week: Yichud. Topic: May a person act leniently when faced with a situation that is possibly, but not certainly, yichud?