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Why is the Kaddish Recited in Aramaic?

Why is the Kaddish Recited in Aramaic?

E-mail

Dear Rabbi,

Why is the kaddish prayer said in Aramaic? I understand that it was composed when Aramaic was the vernacular for most Jews, but why has it not been changed to Hebrew since?

Answer:

Interesting question.

Rabbi Joseph Caro, the 16th century author of the Code of Jewish Law,1 mentions several reasons why the kaddish prayer is not said in Hebrew,2 especially considering that Hebrew is lashon ha-kodesh, the holy tongue:

  1. The Zohar, the classic work of Kabbalah, teaches 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.”3
  2. It was said in Aramaic because that was the most common spoken language of the Jews of the time, and the sages wanted the entire congregation to appreciate and identify with the sanctification of G‑d's name expressed in this important prayer.4

According to these two reasons, why do we not say kaddish in a secular language that we use today?

There is, however, another reason for reciting kaddish in its original language, which is mentioned by the Tosafists, the 13th century commentary on the Talmud.

According to sources they quote, we recite the kaddish in Aramaic because we do not want the angels to understand and be jealous of this great prayer; and according to our tradition, angels do not understand Aramaic.5

Rabbi Judah Loew, known as the Maharal of Prague, explains that the angels are not actually jealous; however, because this prayer achieves an exaltation of G d which transcends the heights that angels can achieve with their Divine service, we stress the unique loftiness of this prayer by saying it in a language that is specifically not associated with angels, as per our tradition.6

This explains why it has remained in Aramaic until today.

See the Kaddish Guide: Learn it. Say it. Understand it.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Known as Beit Yosef.

2.

Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 56, s.v. “Aha Deamrinan.”

3.

The Zohar, p. 129.

4.

Quoted from Tosafot on Talmud, Berachot 3a.

5.

Tosafot, ibid.

6.

Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-avodah 11.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (2)
February 28, 2012
To: Yehudit from Olam Hazeh
Great questions, touching on some of the greatest discussions in Jewish philosophy. I can only post up to 1000 characters in this comment box, so instead I'll provide links to articles where these ideas are explained:
Can You sell Your Soul to the Devil
Kelipot and Sichra Achra
Why do Great Things Happen to Rotten People?
Baruch Davidson
Brooklyn
February 24, 2012
"subjugating the “external forces,”
i.e., those energies that are, so to speak, outside the realm of the holy and G‑dly. "

Rabbi- Could you elaborate a little on this statement? I struggle with the thought that Hashem is everything, yet there are 'external forces'. It seems that in Judaism, Gd is all there is - including the full spectrum of experience in creation (what we call 'good' and 'evil') - yet Judaism rejects the notion that there could be evil or anything 'external' to Hashem. Would that be 'idolatry'? I have learned through Chabad that humans are charged with the duty to make a home suitable for Hashem in His creation- by 'sanctifying' (raising up-recognizing the holiness through blessing?) ALL the expressions of Hashem - did Gd make expressions that are not holy? How can there be "external forces"? Thank you for responding.
Yehudit
Olam Hazeh
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