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[6] Kaddish: The Laws and Customs

The General Guidelines:

  1. The Kaddish can only be recited in the presence of a minyan (quorum of ten Jewish males over age thirteen) following the recitation of prayers, Psalms, or Torah study.

  2. The universal custom is to recite Kaddish whille standing with the feet together.

  3. The one saying Kaddish should pause after each paragraph to allow the congregation to respond, as indicated.

  4. Before the final paragraph of "Oseh Shalom..." one takes three steps back, and upon concluding the Kaddish, three steps forward. It is also customary to incline the head right, left, and straight ahead, while reciting certain words in this paragraph as indicated in the Siddur.

  5. While reciting Kaddish, have in mind that you are performing the positive mitzvah of sanctifying G‑d, based on the verse, "וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" - "I [G‑d] shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel" (Vayikra 22:32).

Why do mourners recite Kaddish?

The Remah (YD 376:4) brings that one should say Kaddish for a parent in the year of mourning. He quotes many lofty sources including the Zohar and the Medrash Tanuchuma. This is based, in part, on a fascinating story with Rabbi Akiva quoted by the pre-Talmud Seder Eliyahu Zuta (Parshah 17) the 11th-century Machzor Vitri, and many others. In the story, Rabbi Akiva once found a corpse gathering wood and he stated his punishment is to collect wood each day for the fire in Gehinnom and be burnt in it but if his son says Kaddish on his behalf, it will protect him.

In addition, the soul of the departed is judged by the Heavenly Court with the soul potentially undergoing a painful spiritual cleansing, for up to twelve months.

For these reasons, we recite Kaddish to ease the judgment and any travails the soul might have to endure and to elevate the soul of the deceased.

One does not recite Kaddish for the full twelve months out of respect for the deceased. Pausing a month early indicates our confidence that the person's life was sufficiently meritorious to have avoided the full twelve months of cleansing.

Keep in mind that the Kaddish is not a prayer for the dead. Exactly the opposite. As you can glean from just a superficial reading, it consists solely of lofty praises for the Creator and heartfelt imploring for the perfection of Creation. For this reason, saying Kaddish can also be very helpful for the mourners themselves. Just thinking about the ideas expressed helps bring acceptance of the tragic loss, even when it is seemingly unreasonable and still painful we remember that G‑d has a master plan.

Who says Kaddish?

The obligation of reciting Kaddish primarily falls on the son of the deceased, starting immediately upon burial (Remah Ibid). This obligation continues beyond the Sheloshim - the month of mourning - for eleven months, because of the obligation to honor one's parents. Indeed, one fulfills the Mitzvah of Kibud Av V'Em - honoring one's father or mother - when reciting Kaddish for them. Many also include Kaddish recital as part of the mourning observances for a sibling, offspring, or spouse for thirty days.

Noone to say Kaddish?

If one did not leave any sons, or if it is impossible for them to recite the Mourner's Kaddish every day with a Minyan, one must hire someone to recite the Mourner's Kaddish in the merit of the deceased. It is preferable that this person should not be reciting Kaddish for anyone else at the time, but it is not imperative.

Employing a Kaddish substitute is not ideal and should not be misused for convenience or to discharge oneself from duty, but only in a case of genuine need. The mourner should also still study Torah and give charity on each day (except on Shabbos and Jewish holidays) that Kaddish is recited.

When do Mourners say Kaddish?

Mourners recite Kaddish at various points in the daily Tefilos, as follows.

During Shachris (morning Tefillah):

  1. Kaddish D'Rabbanan following the Torah readings before Hodu.

  2. Kaddish Yasom, following Mizmor Shir.

  3. Kaddish Yasom, following Aleinu.

  4. Kaddish Yasom, following the recitation of the Shir Shel Yom.

  5. Kaddish D'Rabbanan, following Torah study.

During Mincha (afternoon) and Maariv (evening):

  1. Kaddish Yasom, following Aleinu.

  2. Kaddish D'Rabbanan, following Torah study.

Why in Aramaic?

  1. The Kaddish is recited in Aramaic, the main spoken language of the Jewish people from the period of the destruction of the first Temple (around 2400 years ago) past the completion of the Talmud (around 1400 years ago). Tosafos (Brachos 3a) therefore explains, that since the majority of the people were not fluent in the Holy Tongue, it was said in a language they understood. It's clear to see how important it is for us to understand this holy prayer as we say it.

  2. The Machzor Vitri (quoted in Tosafos) suggests an answer based on the Gemara (Shabbat 12b) which states that Aramaic is a language that angels do not understand. We praise God in Aramaic, thereby arousing the envy of even the angels who are unable to praise God in such an exclusive manner.

  3. The Zohar (p. 129.) explains that we intentionally use a secular language for Kaddish because we are thereby subjugating the “external forces,” i.e., those energies that are, so to speak, outside the realm of the holy and G‑dly. By utilizing this mundane, man-made, and “earthly” language to extol G‑d’s greatness, we accomplish the profound goal expressed in the opening words of kaddish, “Let His great name be magnified and sanctified on earth.

The Different Kinds of Kaddish

A mourner, unless leading the prayers, will only recite the later three (with the last solely at the funeral).

THE BASIC KADDISH - Chatzi (half) Kaddish

This is the basic (and core) format of the Kaddish and is referred to as the 'half Kaddish' since it is the shortest of all the formats of Kaddish. All the other versions add an extra prayer reflecting the context in which the Kaddish is recited, as we shall explain:

KADDISH TISKABEL - The Kaddish after each Tefillah

This is Recited at the end of a prayer service, e.g., after the Shachris Amida on Shabbos morning. We add a short petition that the prayers that we have recited, and indeed the prayers of the entire nation, be found pleasing and acceptable before God.

KADDISH YASOM - The mourners' Kaddish

This Kaddish is recited primarily by mourners. This Kaddish does not contain the 'Tiskabel' section but also ends with prayers for peace amongst the People of Israel.

KADDISH D'RABBANAN - The Rabbis' Kaddish

This Kaddish is recited after Torah learning. It includes a prayer for the welfare of the scholars who study Torah.

KADDISH HAGADOL - The "Big" Kaddish

This least common Kaddish is an expanded version of Kaddish first mentioned in Masekhet Sofrim (ch. 19), which is recited after the study of "Talmud or Dash". The Rambam (in his Seder Hatefilos at the end of Sefer Ahava) lists this Kaddish to be said after all learning of the oral Torah; however, today we follow the practice found in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon to recite this Kaddish only at a Siyum or at the graveside after reciting the Tzidduk Hadin (on days when Tachanun is recited).


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