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A Consoling Call

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.


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A Consoling Call

Can one fulfill the Mitzva of Nichum Aveilim, comforting mourners, through a phone call? R’ Moshe Feinstein[1] writes that there are two aspects to Nichum Aveilim. One is for the mourners who need to be consoled. The second is for the dead, as the following Gemara[2] demonstrates. “If a deceased person has no mourners, ten men should sit in mourning in his place—the place where he died—for seven days following the burial. There was a person who died in the neighborhood of R’ Yehuda that had no mourners. Every day following the burial, R’ Yehuda would bring a group of ten men and sit in mourning in his place. After seven days the dead person appeared to R’ Yehuda in a dream saying תנוח דעתך שהנחת את דעתי, let your mind be at ease for you have set my mind at ease.” This explains the Rambam[3] who says that Nichum Aveilim takes precedence to Bikur Cholim since Nichum Aveilim is Chessed with the living and the dead. So concerning the living mourner, one can fulfill Nichum Aveilim through a phone call, but concerning the deceased one must go to the place. Even regarding the living mourner it is best to do it in person. If it’s possible to go to the mourners, which is fulfilling the Mitzva completely, then one can’t exempt himself through a phone call. However, there is a קצת מצוה, part of the Mitzva, through a phone call.


R’ Yitzchak Yosef[4] related that when his father, R’ Ovadia Yosef, was Menachem Avel R’ Elyashiv on his Rebbitzen, R’ Shmuel Wosner called on the phone. R’ Wosner asked R’ Elyashiv what his opinion was about fulfilling Nichum Aveilim on the phone. R’ Elyashiv then asked R’ Ovadia Yosef his opinion. R’ Ovadia Yosef answered that it depends if Nichum Aveilim is just for the living or also for the dead. If it is for the living, then a phone call is good.


R’ Ovadia Yosef[5] writes regarding mourners sitting in a different city that one should do what he can to visit them since he is then doing Chessed with the living and the deceased. However if one is unable to travel there, and especially if he is a Torah scholar who uses his time for Torah, then he can do the comforting with a phone call or by writing a letter.


When R’ Elyashiv was sitting Shivah after losing his daughter, R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman called and asked R’ Elyashiv Mechila since he couldn’t come personally. R’ Elyashiv told him that if Nichum Aveilim is for the mourner then he can be Mochel but he can’t be Mochel if it’s for the dead.

[1] Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:40:11. See also Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:223. See also Beer Moshe 2:104.

[2] Shabbos 152. See the Badei Hashulchan 376:26.

[3] Hilchos Avel 14:7.

[4] Yalkut Yosef, Bikur Cholim V’aveilus, p. 434. R’ Yitzchak Yosef, the sixth son of R’ Ovadia Yosef who was born in 1952, is the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rosh Yeshiva of Chazon Ovadia and author of the set of Sefarim on Jewish law called Yalkut Yosef. In 1971, when he was 18 and studying at Yeshivas HaNegev, he collected Halachic rulings from the five volumes of Yabia Omer (the Sefarim of his father’s responsa) that had been published by then, and published them in his Sefer Yalkut Yosef. This was published with his father’s support and supervision. It is often considered one of his father’s Sefarim because it is a summary of his father’s rulings, since he went over it section by section and added his comments. He is married with five children. His eldest son Ovadia, named after his father, is married to the daughter of R’ Shlomo Amar.

[5] Chazon Ovadia 1:8, footnote 10, s.v. לפי.

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