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Why Do Mourners Recite Kaddish?

Why Do Mourners Recite Kaddish?

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The Kaddish is one of the most famous prayers offered during the service. Kaddish is recited only when there is a minyan (quorum of ten). There is a special version of the Kaddish that is recited specifically by mourners called Mourner's Kaddish. It is interesting to note that many Jews have returned to observance of Judaism and synagogue participation through fulfilling the obligation to say Kaddish for a departed loved one.

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) explains that for a parent Kaddish is recited for 11 months, whereas for a spouse, sibling or child it is recited for 30 days.

The text of Kaddish is in Aramaic, the vernacular of the Jewish people at the time of its composition (Talmudic times).

We find that the saying of Kaddish by a next of kin is a great merit for the soul that has passed away. Why is that so? Can our actions in this physical world affect those who have passed on to the spiritual world? The answer is a resounding yes, and can be better understood by examining the Kaddish itself.

Many find it intriguing that this prayer, the preeminent prayer said for those who have passed on, makes absolutely no mention of death, loss or mourning. Nor is there mention of the person who died. Kaddish speaks of G‑d's greatness. In fact, Kaddish is an affirmation of belief in the Almighty and His unlimited power. If one were to boil down the theme of Kaddish, it would be that G‑d is great and everything comes from G‑d, so everything that occurs is ultimately for the good.

This is a profound statement for one in the midst of grieving. It is precisely this type of statement that benefits the soul of the deceased, and proves that those left behind can maintain an important connection with those who have passed.

Our tradition teaches that following death the soul ascends and is judged according to its deeds while alive in the physical realm. Everything accomplished by the soul, both positive and negative, is carefully considered. One of the greatest legacies one can leave behind is a family that has been inspired to serve G‑d, even during times of distress.

When in the midst of this judgment the hallowed words of Kaddish ascend, uttered by those who grieve most intensely, this serves as a great merit for the soul. Obviously, a person who inspired those around her to such an awesome level of faith and commitment has fulfilled many great deeds and is prepared for the manifested light of the Creator experienced in Heaven.

It is for this same reason that many undertake to do mitzvot in honor and memory of those who have passed away. They are seeking to prove that the departed is truly a worthy soul deserving of a lichtig Gan Eden, a "luminous Paradise."

It turns out the intuitive feelings of many that Kaddish must be recited is exactly right. It may be argued that saying Kaddish is the ultimate sign of love and respect that one can do for those who have passed away.

Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort is director of Chabad at La Costa, California, and welcomes readers' comments and questions.
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Anonymous October 12, 2016

This is very helpful! Thank you! Reply

Joseph Solomon January 11, 2014

Reciting Kaddish Dear Yeruchem, Thank you for your informative article.The recital of Kaddish is an important starting point for me as I am understanding a little more every day about being a Jew Reply

Richard Diamond Fairfield CA January 29, 2013

More is Better Remembering the dead aids both the people who have passed and the one who remembers. For those who have passed saying Kaddish keeps their memory alive in this world, irrespective of the merit it gives them in the world to come. For the person who says Kaddish, it reminds them of those who have gone and affected their life providing a moment of contact to them.
I believe that every person (man or women) should recite Kaddish at least daily and name those who have touched their lives, adding more people to their list as time passes.
This doesn't require a minyan or a shul, but should be part of a person's daily private prayers. In this case "more is better". I am sure Hashem will rejoice in your dedication Reply

Daniel Victoria, BC January 29, 2013

Purification and Ascension of the Soul Does the Tanak say anything about saying a prayer to aid the soul to ascend after death? Is there any purification of the soul before entering the Gan Eden? Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) April 7, 2010

Rabbi Tzvi, I really loved your post. Although I still believe a woman should be able to do this, I like how you offer alternatives, and love the idea of the dead person does a mitzvah of assisting a yeshiva student in his studies. Very kind of you. Reply

Anonymous Somerset, N.J. April 5, 2010

WHy we say Kaddish Imsgine death. Imagine that your bodily functions have ceased... you cannot breathe, you cannot move, you cannot speak. Imagine that your mind is no longer sparkling with thought and logical comprehension. For as your body dies, oxygen depravation suts down the brain (and thought) within minutes. BUT, your soul is still making it's transitrion to the next phase of its' spiritual existence. It would be nice if the kaddish were "said" in your presence ... more important, if another soul in more control felt the meaning of those words. and "shared" them with you(r soul). How much softer the transition would be. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman April 4, 2010

To anonymous in LA Yes, it is very important that someone say kaddish for your mother. Ideally, that should be one of her sons. It should not be difficult to find a record of her death, perhaps with the cemetery or hospital, and determine the day of her yarzheit. If your brothers will not say kaddish, then you have two options. In some synagogues, women say kaddish from behind the mechitza along with the men. More ideal, however, would be to find a needy Torah scholar--perhaps a yeshiva student--and provide him support in return for saying the kaddish. Then your mother has not only the kaddish, but also the mitzvah of assisting that student in his studies.

If you cannot find such a person on your own, we do have a service, which you can find here: Arrange Kaddish For A Loved One. Reply

Rabbi Eilfort Carlsbad, CA April 4, 2010

Answers There are some prayers that specifically require a quorum - meaning they must be said publicly. Kaddish is one of those prayers (as is Barchu and Kedusha). The purpose of the Kaddish is a PUBLIC praising of G-d's name, hence the requirement of a Minyan. Kaddish is NOT the same as blessings, whose purpose is not a communal praising of G-d's name, but instead an individual's obligation to acknowledge the Almighty.

As far as the participation of women in a Minyan I reiterate; they do not have the same obligation as men vis' a vis' prayer, therefore, they are not counted in the Minyan. One who does not have the obligation to do a certain Mitzvah cannot fulfill the obligation of others who do have that obligation. Reply

Yehudit April 4, 2010

men and women: Its interesting to note that the roles for women are well defined in nature. They are, without a doubt, the child-bearers and nurturers.This role naturally connects women to G-d and their spiritual nature. However, women can also do most, if not all, of the other functions required to survive, typically done by men. And if they can not do it, a woman, just like a man, will train a beast or create a tool or machine to do it. Men therefore are left with a severe identity complex, made more complicated by male hormones. Genesis describes how, pre-Noah, the world order disintegrated when dominated by male hormones and need for recognition. It makes sense that women do tzimtzum to allow space for men to evolve their spiritual nature. Circumcision, prayer, torah study, are necessary remedies to male physiology that balance and direct male energy toward G-d. Men are from Cain, women are from Abel. If women take the spiritual lead, history teaches us how men devolve and lose their divine connection. Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) April 4, 2010

If women can connect to G-d better than men, Then, by that reasoning, only women should be counted as being important in a minyan. Reply

Richard Diamond Fairfield , CA April 3, 2010

Minyan for Kaddish The previous explanation for requiring a minyan for the saying of Kaddish "That is also why Kaddish may only be recited in a Minyan. It is not a private prayer. In fact, saying it privately is inappropriate according to Jewish law and illogical.' does not appear to make sense. When blessings are said without a minyan, amen may be said by those in attendance.
While it is said that the Shekhinah is always present when 10 Jewish men are in attendance, it doesn't mean that the Shekhinah is not present when even one person prays. Reply

Rabbi Eilfort, author Carlsbad, CA April 2, 2010

This is Wonderful! This discussion is wonderful! The answer to, "Why must there be a Minyan to recite Kaddish?" was already answered, if you reread the thread you will see it.

As for women not counting in a Minyan; I am afraid that a short answer will not be fully satisfying and there are space constraints...

There are some Mitzvot that women are exempted from fulfilling for they are engaged in other Mitzvot concurrently (and the law DOES generalize out of necessity). A woman does not have the same type of obligation regarding prayer as does a man. Since she does not have the same obligation (although it is certainly a great thing if she prays) she cannot be counted in the quorum of those who do have the obligation. By the way, spiritually speaking a woman is exempted from certain Mitzvot because in some ways she is spiritually SUPERIOR to men, NOT inferior, which is a commonly held mistake. She does not require some of the same ritual observances as do men to achieve the same connection with G-d. Reply

Leah Garrison , NY April 2, 2010

Why do women not count in a Minyan? If anyone can explain this in a way that makes sense - I welcome the response.

Thank you, Reply

Anonymous New York April 2, 2010

The Kaddish Thank you for your posting, and for enabling me to reply with this comment. When my Grandfather passed away in 1965 after a long illness, I was recently Bar Mitzvah'd, but estranged from my Father. 11 months later, after accompanying him (much to his amazement), to morning Minyan, my Father and I would grow to know and love each other for the first time. Reply

Richard Diamond Fairfield , CA April 2, 2010

Minyan for Kaddish Why must there be a minyan to say mourner's kaddish. To prevent a dedicated mourner from expressing his dedication and bring benefit to the deceased because 10 men cannot be found seems wrong. Reply

Karen (Chaya) Bell (Kleinman) April 2, 2010

The correct question would be: Why do MALE mourners say Kaddish, and FEMALE mourners can not, Reply

The daughter LA April 1, 2010

Chabad resources I just read some of the excellent Chabad resources about this topic and so I have more information to pursue this important topic. Thank you for addressing it. Reply

Anonymous LA April 1, 2010

How should I honor my deceased parents? I am a woman and would like to honor my parents. I can't really remember the exact date of my mother's passing because I blocked it out. I know she passed away feeling unloved and alone. That fact is painful to me. At that time, kaddish was said, but I do not believe there was a minyan just of men. How does a woman honor her parents- do we ask the men of the shul to do it for us? Her death occurred 10 years ago- and yarzeit has not been observed, because honestly it is so painful to me, and I haven't known what to do. The men of my family are not observant either -much less than me-and I don't feel comfortable approaching them. The same is true for my father- a lot of family pain is wrapped up with my parents lives and how they lived. It seems to me that perhaps if kaddish is said properly in their honor, and their yahrzeits observed, that whatever entanglements that occurred in life could be healed, affecting both mourner(s) and mourned. What is your opinion, Rabbi? Reply

Josef ben Jaacov Halevi Sun City, AZ USA April 1, 2010

Kaddish What a wonderful explanation!! I will pass this on to my children and hope that it has the same impact on them that it has on me. Reply

Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort Carlsbad, CA February 25, 2010

Response To Your Question Who is better suited to determine how G-d wishes to be served? G-d or us?

One of the most important premises of Judaism is that G-d knows better than us. In His infinite wisdom He understands things that we can only guess at. However, He was also kind in sharing His wishes and His wisdom when He gave us the Torah. The Written Torah (also known as the Tanach) was given with an oral explanation that came to be known as the Oral Torah (the Talmud and its offspring, the Code of Jewish Law).

It is via these works that we know what to do. In these works it was determined that G-d wants a mourner to say Kaddish. It was also determined HOW G-d wants us to say Kaddish. The Mitzvah of reciting Kaddish devolves upon men who are in the midst of a Minyan. As to whether woman can recite Kaddish that is a question for a Rav. But one thing is very clear, Kaddish should absolutely not be said outside of a Minyan, because its purpose is to praise the name of G-d IN A PUBLIC FORUM (a Minyan). Reply

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