Question: Should a son say Kaddish for his parent who was a rasha (a wicked person)?
Short Answer: Yes. According to most poskim, a son should recite Kaddish for a wicked parent. According to some, this Kaddish may be recited all twelve months. Similarly, a convert may recite Kaddish for a parent.
I. Kaddish Was Instituted for Wicked
The Nishmas Yisrael (2:31:17) notes that, at first glance, one would think that a son should say Kaddish for a wicked parent, as the very source of Kaddish Yasom stems from a case of a son saying Kaddish for a wicked parent. Indeed, and as mentioned in Article #1, Rabbi Akiva helped a wicked “dead person” – who was punished and suffering by being ordered to perform hard labor in this world – by locating his son and teaching him to recite Kaddish.
Moreover, the Nishmas Yisrael cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin (104a) that Yoshiyahu saved his father, Amon, from being listed with those who lost their olam ha’ba based of the concept “b’ra m’zakeh l’aviv” – that a son’s merits can help a parent.
The Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 621:19) cites this concept of “b’ra m’zakeh l’aviv” as well, to show that a child’s good deeds and charity can affect a parent after death. The Nishmas Yisrael proves from here that certainly a child should say Kaddish for a wicked parent.
II. Opinion of the Rama
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 376:4), as understood by the Shach and the Taz, rules that the son of a “mumar” – a heretic – may only say Kaddish for his heretic parent where the parent is killed, but not when the parent dies of natural causes. See Nit’ei Gavriel (Aveilus 2:40:4).
The Gilyon Maharsha (ibid), however, challenges the understanding of the Shach and the Taz based on the source of the Rama, the Radak. The Gilyon Maharsha notes that the Radak actually rules that a son of a heretic can join the rotation in saying Kaddish (in places where only one person recites Kaddish) where the parent was killed, but does not join the rotation when the parent died of natural causes. But certainly, if the son of the heretic is the only person in the shul reciting Kaddish, or in a shul where all mourners recite Kaddish, then the son of the heretic should recite Kaddish.
III. How Long?
We know that a wicked person languishes in Gehinnom for 12 months following death. Thus, the Rama (ibid) writes that a son only recites Kaddish for a parent for 11 months, and not for the full year, to show that the parent is not fully wicked. But what about where the parent is truly wicked? Should the son recite Kaddish for the entire 12 months?
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (4:20) rules that one may recite Kaddish all 12 months for a wicked parent. Indeed, he notes that many argue with the Rama and, in fact, cites the Beis Aharon, who requested that his children recite Kaddish for two years following his death, in case he was not worthy to escape Gehinnom after the first year. The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos proves from here that the extra month is beneficial, and we should not give it up so easily, especially if the parent is wicked. Nevertheless, he concludes that perhaps doing good deeds or learning Torah and reciting Kaddish d’Rabbanan is sufficient as a merit for the wicked father.
IV. The Ger
A similar discussion exists concerning a convert. May he recite Kaddish for a parent who did not convert?
The Z’kan Aharon (2:67) rules that a convert may recite Kaddish for his non-Jewish parent. See Nishmas Yisrael (ibid).
Similarly, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (2:43) rules that there is no problem for a convert to recite Kaddish for his non-Jewish parent, although there is certainly no obligation. He concludes that since a son says Kaddish on a heretical parent, he certainly may say Kaddish for a righteous non-Jewish parent.
Next Week’s Topic: When a parent tells his/her child that he/she does not want Kaddish recited for them, should the child listen?