What Is the Connection Between Studying and Death? Originally Published October 23-24, 2020.

There are many ways we Jews honor those who have passed away. 

One way is by saying Mourners’ Kaddish in a minyan on each yahrzeit (the Hebrew date on which the person passed away).  Rabbis have long opined that this serves to elevate the soul of the deceased - it adds holiness - in the eyes of God.  Also, four times a year during Yizkor we promise to do tzedakah, and perform acts of justice, love, and care in memory of the departed.

Yet another way is by studying in their honor.

Interestingly, and possibly by design, after we study (if in a minyan, a group of ten Jewish adults), we say the Kaddish Derabbanan, the Kaddish of the scholars, which  Kaddish includes within it the Kaddish Yatom, the Mourners’ Kaddish.  Thus if you have studied a smattering of religious text in the memory of a departed individual, you will doubly fulfill your elevation of that person’s soul by reciting the Kaddish Derabbanan thereafter.

It is thought that Kaddish Derabbanan was the first form of Kaddish, dating to the period of the Second Temple, and that the Kaddish Yatom came as the fourth form, possibly as late as the thirteenth century (when there was a good deal of mourning going on during the Crusades).  Anyone can say the Kaddish Derabbanan, it is not only for mourners.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has put together online Torah study sessions, to be presented on October 27 and November 4 and 5 to mark the second year since the 10.27 shooting.  (Information is at  jfedpgh.org/study.)  Rabbi Adelson and your correspondent have each been honored with the offer to lead the Kaddish Derabbanan following certain sessions.

Possibly the most important thing in life is studying and inquiring and learning.  In fact, the Talmud tells us so, in Mishnah Peah 1:1.  Seeking knowledge is a part of our quest for increased holiness.  It may be - setting aside gefilte fish and the hora - the most prominent and pervasive Jewish tradition/practice.  We place a high value on education, and consider it to be an ongoing venture.  And we Conservative Jews certainly encourage mulling over the meaning and import of scripture and history.

We were leading the Kaddish Derabbanan when the shooter depleted our minyan, leaving three congregations, as poet Philip Terman put it, with a minyan plus one to mourn.  And so we further our quest for increased justice, love, and caring, and our studying as well.