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HESPED (Heb. הֶסְפֵּד), eulogy in honor of the departed and as a comfort to the bereaved (Sanh. 46b–47a). Based upon the biblical accounts of the death and burial of Sarah (Gen. 23:2), Jacob (Gen. 50:10), Samuel (I Sam. 25:1), Saul and Jonathan (II Sam. 1:12), and others, eulogizing is regarded in Jewish tradition as a religious duty in fulfillment of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Maim. Yad, Evel, 14:1; Sh. Ar., YD 344:1). The eulogy should emphasize the good deeds and virtues of the deceased, but should avoid excessive praise (Ber. 62a). In the Talmud the question is disputed whether the hesped is in honor of the deceased or a tribute to the bereaved family; it is concluded that it is a homage to the deceased (Sanh. 46b–47a). Where professional eulogizers are employed, the heirs of the deceased can be forced to defray the costs of the eulogy (Sanh. 46b).

The martyrs executed by the Romans were not eulogized, for fear of the authorities (Sanh. 11a). Suicides and persons placed under ḥerem are not to be eulogized (Sh. Ar., YD 345); gentiles may be eulogized (Ber. 16b).

The eulogy should be pronounced in front of the bier, either in the public square or at the cemetery (BB 100b). The biers of famous scholars and community leaders were carried into the synagogue for eulogizing (Sh. Ar., YD 344:20), as is still the custom today. Based upon Jeremiah 22:10, the eulogy may take place only within the seven days following the death (MK 27b; Sh. Ar. YD 394:1–2); for scholars and great community leaders, however, it can be made within 12 months of their death (Maim. Yad, Evel, 13:10; see Ket. 103b). In the Babylonian academies, it was customary to eulogize during the *Kallah sessions of Adar and Elul all those rabbis who had passed away in the intervening period. Likewise in Central and Eastern Europe, on the Seventh of *Adar, all scholars who died during the past year are eulogized. In some communities, the hesped takes the form of a talmudic discourse delivered after the sheloshim (30th day after death). According to traditional custom, no eulogy is pronounced on Sabbath, on festivals, on the New Moon, on Ḥanukkah, on Purim, on the eve of a holiday and on Isru Ḥag (the day after it), during the whole month of Nisan, and on the days when the *Taḥanun prayer is omitted. In some congregations, eulogies are not delivered 30 days prior to a festival (MK 1:5; MK 8a). These rules are lifted in case of a learned and worthy person, though the eulogy should be shorter than usual (MK 27b).

A beautiful example of a eulogy is stated in the Talmud (TJ, Ber. 2:8, 5b–c) where *Resh Lakish eulogized his pupil R. Hiyya b. Adda by quoting Song of Songs, "My beloved is gone down to his garden,… to gather lilies." He interpreted the verse to allude to God ("the beloved") who came down to take the righteous as one gathers lilies in a garden of flowers. While the Bible and Talmud preserve instances of short eulogies only, medieval and modern homiletic literatures abound in long and often intricately composed prose eulogies.

A bibliography of famous eulogies was compiled by A. *Jellinek (Kunteres ha-Maspid, 1884) and by D. Wachstein (Mafte'aḥ ha-Hespedim, 3 vols. 1922–30).


ET, 9 (1959), 606–19; Eisenstein, Dinim, S.V.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.