Question: Can one recite Kaddish for [some] random person who is not a relative?
Answer: Reciting Kaddish serves as a tremendous merit for the ascension of the souls of the deceased, especially when recited by the son of the deceased. Nevertheless, the Poskim write that even if someone unrelated recites Kaddish on behalf of a specific deceased person, this also serves as a great merit to lift his soul in Gan Eden. Indeed, Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi writes (in his Responsa Chaim Be’Yad, Chapter 114) quoting his maternal grandfather, the great Chikrei Lev, that the reason for the custom that the rabbi recites Kaddish before “Alenu Le’Shabeach” is because Kaddish serves as a merit for the souls of the departed, protects them from Gehinnom, and raises them Gan Eden. Since there are many deceased individuals that do not have sons to recite Kaddish on their behalf, it was enacted that the rabbi and halachic authority of the community recite Kaddish on their behalf. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes this position as Halacha in his Chazon Ovadia- Avelut (Vol. 1). A true story regarding this topic once occurred in Pressburg, Hungary, recounted by Hagaon Harav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l and well-known by the Hungarian immigrants in Jerusalem of one generation ago. There was an affluent and respected couple that lived in Pressburg. In addition to the large sums of money they donated to Tzedakah, they would make a special donation to the Yeshiva of Pressburg to recite Kaddish for Jewish souls who did not have anyone to recite Kaddish on their behalf. A while later, the husband passed away and his widow remained alone and was not able to properly run the family business. She eventually lost all her money and assets, and she became severely impoverished, living in cramped quarters with her adult daughters that did not yet marry. She could not even afford to marry off her daughters in the simplest way possible. There was one thing that hurt this widow tremendously and that was the Kaddish. She knew that those forgotten Jewish souls always had great merit because someone was reciting Kaddish on their behalf. However, now that she could no longer make donations to the Yeshiva so that arrangement had stopped. She, therefore, gathered the courage and made her way to the Yeshiva office. She requested that the arrangement continue and that when she would G-d-willing get back on her feet financially, she would repay her obligations to the Yeshiva boys who were reciting the Kaddish. The administrators of the Yeshiva agreed to her request. She left the Yeshiva with tears in her eyes and suddenly, she saw an old man. The elderly man asked her, “Why are you sad?” They began conversing and she divulged her bitter tale and how her older daughters were unable to get married. The man asked her how much money she needed to marry off her daughters in a respectable manner. The widow replied with a large amount. The elderly man said, “I shall write you a check, but I require trustworthy witnesses that I am giving you this amount.” The man entered the Yeshiva and came out with two young men, in the presence of whom he signed the check. Amazed at this turn of events, the woman returned home. The next morning, the widow went to the bank to deposit the check. Since the amount of the check was so astronomical, the tellers called over the bank manager to make sure everything was being executed properly. As soon as the manager saw the check, he turned pale and fainted on the spot. The poured some cold water on his face to revive him and when he came to, he asked the woman, “Who gave you this check?” The woman replied, “An elderly man I met in the street yesterday.” The manager entered his office and returned with a photograph. He asked the widow, “Is the man in this picture the one who gave you the check yesterday?” She excitedly replied in the affirmative. The bank manager raised his voice and exclaimed, “This is my father who passed away many years ago. Last night, he came to me in a dream and said that he had no rest in the in Upper Realms because I, his son, had married a non-Jewish woman and certainly had not recited Kaddish on his behalf. He was extremely disturbed in his grave until a woman came and arranged for Kaddish to be recited on his behalf. My father, therefore, instructed me to get up quickly and pay his debt to this woman.” The bank manager immediately paid in full the entire amount of the check from his own money. We see how great it is and how much one merits in Heaven by leaving children in this world who continue the sacred legacy of the Jewish nation.
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