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Honorifics for the Deceased


In the beginning of this week’s parasha the Torah teaches us to praise righteous people after mentioning their name. What is the nature of this obligation? What are its practical implications? Is the opposite – cursing the wicked – also included? Can “of blessed memory” be affixed to the name of a living person, or does it serve as proof of death? Why shouldn’t a baby be given the name of a wicked person, and what could be the result? And also – the source for klopping “Haman” during Megillah on Purim is also connected. Of this, and more in the coming article.


The parasha begins with the psukim: “These are the generations of Noach; Noach was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d. And Noach begot three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yafes” (Bereshis 6:9-10). Rashi quotes the Midrash to explain the connection between the psukim: “Since Scripture mentions him, it tells his praise, as it is said (Mishlei 10:7): ‘The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing.’ While the generation of the Flood were obliterated, Noach and his descendants were a blessing to the world.


In Mishlei we learn: “Blessings upon the head of a righteous man, but violence shall cover the mouth of the wicked. The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot” (10:6-7). When mentioning the name of  a righteous person one should bless him. Upon mentioning a wicked one, he should be cursed.

The Gemara (Yoma 38b) notes these psukim, and adds another source for this obligation: “And the Lord said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am doing? And Avraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him” (Bereshis 18:17-18) The two psukim are seemingly unrelated. What’s the connection between G-d telling Avraham about the future and Avraham’s personal destiny? The Gemara explains that as He mentions Avraham’s name, Hashem blesses him.

And the opposite – about the wicked – is also true. In mentioning the people of Sodom the pasuk tells us: “Avram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain, and he pitched his tents until Sodom. And the people of Sodom were very evil and sinful against the Lord” (Bereshis 13:12-13).  As soon as they are mentioned, the Torah mentions their negative traits.

These comments have practical application. The Charedim (M’divrei Kabala 4:1-2) and Shla (Sha’ar Haosios Kedusha 25) cite Rabbi Yitzchak (Midrash Rabba 49:1) who ruled: one who mentions a tzaddik’s name and doesn’t bless him transgresses a mitzva taught by the prophets, (as opposed to those taught in the written Torah). The same is true for mentioning the wicked, as the pasuk reads “The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot”.

Practical Implications

The Mishna (Yoma 37a) mentions the names of several people who implemented changes in the Mikdash. Yehoshua ben Gamla was a high priest who exchanged the wooden Box of Lots used on Yom Kippur to one made of gold. Ben Katin replaced the old water fountain with an improved water system, and Helene, Queen of Adiabene, donated the gold chandelier that hung in the entrance of the main hall along with a sheet of gold with Parashas Sota engraved. Munbaz, her son, was the king who coated all the handles of the Yom Kippur vessels with gold, and Nicanor donated spectacular copper doors for the Mikdash. The names of these people are mentioned along with blessing.

Conversely, several families and characters receive negative mention in the Gemara (Yoma 38a): the Garmu family who baked the Showbread and the Avtinas family who made the Ketores both earned a negative mention because they refused to teach the secrets of their trade to others. Hogras ben Levi refused to teach students how he put his finger in his mouth and another through a lyre to produce a beautiful sound, and Ben Kamtzar knew how to write Hashem’s four-letter name in one stroke while using four quills.

While the first three defended their refusal with the excuse that they knew the Mikdash would be destroyed and they didn’t want their secrets used for idol worship, Ben Kamtzer’s name is forever condemned.

The Ohr Hacahyim explains the description of Bezalel and Oholiav along these lines: “And He put into his heart to teach, both him and Oholiav, the son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan” (Shemos 35:34). They taught their art and knowledge to others so more people could augment G-d’s honor.

The Gemara also mentions other personalities along with blessing and curse: When the Greeks forbade bringing wood to feed the fire, the Bnei Slamei family constructed wooden ladders, explaining Greek sentries that they were on their way to tend their bird houses. Only once they had passed all the sentries did they dismantle the ladders and bring the wood to Jerusalem. And the opposite, Yerovam ben Nevat, earns a negative mention for preventing the Nation from making the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Practical Customs

Several customs developed as a result of this obligation:

The Yerushalmi (Megillah 3:7) notes the custom to bless Mordechai, Esther, and the entire Jewish nation after reading the Megillah on Purim. Rav calls for adding curses for Haman and his sons, and Rav Pinches requires an added blessing specifically for Charvona, one of Achashverosh’s aids who mentioned something positive about Mordechai.

Rabbi Yehonason would comment “The wicked, may his bones be ground up” after mentioning Nebuchadnezzar in the pasuk (Esther 2:6): “Who had been exiled from Jerusalem with the exile that was exiled with Yechonia, king of Yehuda, which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had exiled”. This is in conformsnce with the obligation to erase the name of wicked people. The Yerushalmi (ibid) and Midrash (Bereshis Rabba 49:1) wonder why, in that case, didn’t Yirmiyahu the prophet also add a derogatory term when mentioning the wicked Nebuchadnezzar? They answer that the obligation to add a curse after mentioning a wicked person’s name only applies after his death. In his life, though, no curse is required.

Rabbi Avraham Klausner (Haminhagim 82:8) describes how the custom of klopping Haman came about: in his times people would whisper “of blessed memory” every time Mordechai’s name was mentioned, and “may the name of the wicked rot” after mentioning Haman. Since little children couldn’t say it fast enough, their fathers taught them to knock two stones together instead whenever Haman’s name was mentioned during Megillah.

The Pskita (Rabbasi, Psikta 12 –Zachor) notes another halacha: when passing a righteous person’s grave one must mention his good deeds.

The Torah Temima (Bereshis 18:38) points out that this is the source for adding honorifics after mentioning deceased people (“of blessed memory”, “peace be upon him”), or a blessing after the names of the living (“may he live”, “Hashem should protect and prolong his life”, “may his light shine forth”, etc.). He notes that this appears to be the plain halacha mentioned in the Gemara. Therefore, one must always add blessing after mentioning righteous people.

In one case mentioned in Mahari Mintz (chapter 13) who lived nearly 500 years ago, failing to affix a blessing lead people to understand the mentioned talmid chacham had been excommuned and his name was being mentioned as a curse.

Of Blessed Memory

Today, honorifics such as “of blessed memory”, “may he rest in peace” are affixed upon mentioning the dead, while for the living, blessings such as “may he live a long and blessed life”, “may his light shine forth”, and “may he be protected and granted life”, etc. are used. Is this division carved in stone or can the same honorifics be used interchangeably?

This question was posed to the Chavos Ya’ir (chapter 71) due to the following situation: Asher Ginsberg was a traveling merchant who set out with his son, David, on a ship from Amsterdam to Portugal. For ten long years nobody heard of them. Their wives were unable to marry, and nobody knew what had become of them. One day, a promissory note was presented in Beis Din on which David Ginsberg was signed as a witness. The signature was recognized in Beis Din as authentic. His name was signed “David, son of Asher OBM Ginsberg, HCM” [acronym for ‘May I atone for his passing’]. The Dayanim concluded that while David must have survived the voyage and is alive somewhere, his father did not.

The Chavos Yaim ruled that the honorific “of blessed memory” [or ‘May I atone for his passing’] cannot serve as grounds for releasing a woman to marry because the obligation to bless a righteous person is equal both during his lifetime and after his death. Despite it not being customary, perhaps somewhere else (where the son resides) it is accepted. Even for the acronym of HCM the Chavos Yair rules they cannot be relied upon for determining the husband’s death.

The Be’er Ya’akov (CM 49) limits the Chavos Yair’s ruling only to determining his wife marital status. For allowing his heirs to take ownership of his property, a note with “of blessed memory” after his name is sufficient.

Interestingly, the Jewish traveler Rabbi Yaakov Sapir, found that 150 years ago in Yemen it was accepted to bless both the living and the deceased with “peace be on him”.

The Torah Temima (Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein) wrote that he once discovered someone who would regularly add “of blessed memory” after his name. He wrote him a letter stating that while he bears no grudge against him, he is still, very much alive. He continues that although it would have been proper to bless the memory of the living as well as that of the deceased, it is currently unaccepted (Malki Bakodesh VI, p. 37).

In his sefer Lev Nishbar (chapter 3) Rabbi Yisrael Abulafya laments about an author who argues with his opinions and even added “of blessed memory” after mentioning his name as an attempt to curse him. He continues discussing the issue of honorifics and settles a dispute regarding two answers recorded by the Maharashdam which do not coincide. He explains that one was written before Rabbi Yosef Karo’s passed, and the other, in which he is mentioned with OBM memory after his name – after.

Cursing the Wicked

The Gemara (Yoma 38a) explains the obligation to allow the names of the wicked to rot as an instruction not to name children for wicked people. The Gemara continues and asks how it is possible for righteous people to have named their children for wicked ones? The Gemara answers with a story:

One of the wealthiest men in Jerusalem named his son Do’eg for Do’eg the Edomite who was a leading minister in King Shaul’s court and caused the death of righteous people. He was such a cherished child that his mother would weigh him every day and donate his weight in gold to the Mikdash. Then, when the Romans placed Jerusalem under siege and there was nothing left to eat, his mother, in a burst of hunger-crazed manic, slaughtered her prized child, and ate him. The Gemara attributes his horrific fate to the name he bore.

Rashi explains the pasuk in Mishlei 10:7: “The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot”: the righteous should be blessed, while the wicked should simply not be mentioned, and his name should all but be forgotten. However, Rabbenu Chananel (ibid) explains that “The mention of a righteous man is for a blessing, but the name of the wicked shall rot” teaches that those named for wicked people will be unsuccessful. The Maharsha sees this pasuk as the source for prohibiting the use of wicked people’s names.

The Ohr Hachayim (Bamidbar 25:14) adds, that as opposed to praising righteouse people, G-d does not publicize wicked deeds simply to condemn the perpetraters, but uses their actions as teaching tools where there is a lesson to be learned. Zimri, the Prince of the Tribe of Shimon earned that his name is mentioned in the Torah only because he was killed by Pinchas who is praised for his action. Thus, righteous deeds are a blessing even when they include mention of the wicked, whose name should be otherwise left to rot.





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