The Time for Kaddish

The Kaddish is recited at every service, morning and evening, Sabbath and holiday, on days of fasting and of rejoicing.

  1. While Kaddish must be recited on these days, the mourner may not violate basic religious practices in order to say the Kaddish. Thus, if one is not within walking distance of a synagogue, and must ride in violation of the Sabbath, it is more valuable, in terms of both respect for the deceased and of keeping of the law, to pray at home, although the Kaddish will have to be omitted for lack of the necessary quorum.

  2. The Burial Kaddish recitation begins immediately following the closing of the grave. The mourner's Kaddish begins at the first service, usually the minchah prayer, recited upon returning from the interment.

  3. The period that the mourner recites the Kaddish for parents is, theoretically, a full calendar year. The deceased is considered to be under Divine judgment for that period.

    Some communities, therefore, adhere to the custom that Kaddish be recited for 12 months in all cases. However, because the full year is considered to be the duration of judgment for the wicked, and we presume that our parents do not fall into that category, the practice in most communities is to recite the Kaddish for only 11 months. Even on leap years, which last thirteen months, the Kaddish is recited for only 11 months. We subtract one day, so that we terminate the Kaddish in time to allow a full 30 days before the end of the 12-month period. Thus, if we begin on the eighth day of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, we end on the seventh day of Tishre.

  4. If a parent insists on the child's reciting Kaddish for the full 12 months, there is surely no reason not to obey him. If children feel this might bring public dishonor to their parent, they should recite only the Rabbi's Kaddish in the twelfth month, despite his request. This is a practice worthwhile encouraging in every case for all parents.

  5. The 11-months-minus-one-day are calculated from day of death. However, if one wishes to count from the day of burial, if burial occurred many days after death, he may do so.

  6. On the last day of Kaddish recitation, the mourner should receive an aliyah, a Torah honor.

  7. Kaddish for relatives other than parents, for whom one is obliged to mourn: son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse-is recited for 30 days according to the custom in some areas.

Requirement of a Minyan

The Kaddish is to be recited only in the presence of a duly-constituted quorum which consists of 10 males (including mourners) above the age of Bar Mitzvah. If there are only nine adults and one minor present, it is still not considered a quorum for a minyan. However, many commentators hold that in certain circumstances, when there is no other opportunity for its recitation, and the minor himself is the mourner, he may be counted toward completing the minyan.

While the Kaddish is an intensely personal tribute spoken in respect to one's own parents, it may not be said privately. And while it is true that the individual is accorded great value in Jewish ethics, and it is the individual who is commanded, "Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy," this service of holiness must be recited only in public, eliciting the response of a congregation. The Jewish experience has taught that such values as peace and life, and the struggle to bring heaven down to earth, of which the Kaddish speaks, can be achieved only in concert with society, and proclaimed amidst friends and neighbors of the same faith. If the Kaddish were solely an expression of personal remembrance for the deceased it would be logical to recite it privately—as the yizkor may be recited. But, as it is an adoration of God, it must be prayed at a public service in the midst of a congregation of adult thinking and believing men.

Indeed it is because of this age-old insistence on a congregational presence for the Kaddish that minyanim have been convened in the most unlikely places; that travelers could find Jewish communities all over the world; that, indeed, Jewish communities have remained united in all the ages of the dispersion. Such has been the effect of these religious laws that the recitation of the Kaddish has united the generations in a vertical chain, father to son, while the requirement to gather the minyan for Kaddish has united Jews on the horizontal plane. It has brought together parents and children and also man and his neighbors.

Mourners Obligated to Say Kaddish

The primary obligation to say Kaddish falls upon the son of the deceased.

If the Son Is a Minor

This obligation to recite Kaddish devolves upon the son even though he be a minor (not having reached Bar Mitzvah age). It is worthwhile to emphasize, especially if he is a minor. There is every indication that the Kaddish was intended precisely for those who could not, or did not know how to, lead services. This simple recitation, learned easily in one sitting, enabled the youngster to lead the congregation in hallowing the name of God. The Kaddish is also an appropriate psychological method for the child to express his grief and thereby to receive consolation that is gradual and lasting, one that will bind him closely to the synagogue for the remainder of his life. The minor, however, should not be asked to conduct services whether or not he knows how. Whether the child is old enough to recite Kaddish at services is a relative matter, and is best decided by the family in conjunction with the rabbi.

The Adopted Son

It is entirely proper, though not religiously mandatory, for a son to say Kaddish for a foster parent, especially if he has been raised by that parent for many years. An adopted son, naturally, should not be compelled to do so if there was no filial sentiment between them. There is a stronger plea for the adopted son to say Kaddish, however, if there are no natural sons who survive the parent.

The Daughter

The obligation to recite Kaddish is placed upon the son, not upon the daughter. The sages, in their infinite wisdom, deep human compassion, and sharp insight into man realized only too well that the Kaddish which must be recited at services before breakfast and at dinner time, could not be made compulsory for women—mothers and wives who must attend to their families. It was not prejudice, but down-to-earth practicality that insisted that daughters be exempt. It should be noted that the sages did not, thereby, imply that there is a difference in the degree or quality of compassion and respect between son and daughter, or that the son and not the daughter could bring merit to the parent. Indeed, it is a common observation that women, usually, are closer to parents. For this reason, sons and daughters must observe all the mourning obligations equally, with the one exception: the Kaddish recitation.

The sages appreciated full well the equality of male and female in the realm of emotion and love, but saw the folly of legally requiring a woman, whose primary vocation is the home, to attend services morning and night. This being the case they required no woman, regardless of her individual circumstance, (even if she could manage the obligation) to recite the Kaddish. However, it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the mourning laws for the daughter to attend Sabbath services regularly, to pay special attention to the words of the Kaddish, and to respond fervently with the "amen," with the specific intention of recalling her parent. The emphatic "amen" pronouncement, say the rabbis, is equivalent to the full recitation of Kaddish. Depending on the custom of the synagogue, also, she may rise with the other mourners for the Kaddish prayer. The daughter, especially if there is no son, may recite the Kaddish quietly to herself.

Is the Kaddish Obligation Transferrable?

Relatives or friends may not relieve the son of his obligation whether or not an uncle attends services regularly, or a brother was closer to the deceased than the son. It is the son who must recite the Kaddish, even though it be irregularly, or even unconscientiously, performed. There is no doubt that the daily recitation of the Kaddish may become burdensome, but it is a burden that must be borne and, like other vital burdens of life, cannot be delegated.

Without a surviving son, the primary obligation to recite the Kaddish has dissolved, but arrangements for its recitation should, nevertheless, be made, if at all possible. As to who must bear this secondary responsibility there is much discussion in the tradition. Some maintain that this obligation should devolve first upon a younger brother of the deceased, as traditional religious mandate requires him to render respect to an elder sibling as to a parent. Others maintain that the obligation is upon the son-in-law who is likened to a son, or upon grandchildren, who are biblically referred to as sons. There is substantial opinion that would place the obligation upon the father, if he is alive, much as David prayed for his errant son, Absalom.

Clearly, in our day it would depend on which of these relatives feels closest to the deceased, or finds it easier to accomplish the task of reciting Kaddish, or feels religiously more impelled to do so. Indeed, a friend may wish to say it out of love or loyalty. In fact, a sharing of the responsibility may be more effective. Whoever does undertake to say the Kaddish, however, should be one who is himself orphaned from one of his parents, or he should obtain his parents' express consent.

In the absence of a son, or a personal reliable substitute, Jewish families, traditionally, have paid a sexton or another synagogue functionary to say the Kaddish. They felt that it was better to pay for this service, than to receive it free, as they were then able to consider the agent a personal emissary, and were, thus, assured of its recitation. The person who is thus engaged should not, by right, be saying the Kaddish for many others, as it will then lose all personal bearing to the deceased.

There is a wise recommendation, in this regard, made by some of our greatest scholars: To contribute to a religious academic institution—a Yeshiva or Day School or home for elderly people—to enable one man to study Torah or Talmud every day, and to recite, at the end of the study period, the Rabbi's Kaddish, in honor of the dead. This is a personal memorialization, a "Merit of the Children" that includes study and prayer, Torah and Kaddish, in a dignified and worthy manner. In fact, this was practiced by some leading Torah scholars even though they were survived by pious sons who undoubtedly recited the Kaddish regularly.

For Whom Kaddish Is Said

Kaddish is said for the deceased father or mother, regardless of how intimate or strained the relationship between deceased and bereaved. While the primary obligation is towards father and mother, it is also said, according to the custom of some communities, for other close relatives: brother, sister, son, daughter, and wife, for the 30-day period.

Kaddish may be recited for Torah scholars and for Jews killed in war or at other times, who died al kiddush hashem, for the sanctification of the name of God. It may be recited for a close friend and also at the graveside of a worthy gentile, providing a duly-constituted minyan is present.

Age of the Deceased

Customs differ as to how old a deceased must be for Kaddish to be recited for him. Some communities set the minimum age at 20, others at Bar Mitzvah, still others at approximately eight or nine years, depending on the maturity of the child and whether he can be considered bar da'at, knowledgeable and aware of basic religious requirements. There are some who maintain that a normal child who lived beyond 30 days deserves to have the Kaddish recited for him. While each case depends largely on community custom, it is generally held that Kaddish be said for a child who has reached a degree of maturity even though he is younger than Bar Mitzvah age. If the father insists it may be said for an infant of 30 days.


Suicides, especially when one is not sure of the motive, are honored with the recitation of Kaddish by their survivors. Mourners should be encouraged to recite it for the distinct spiritual benefit of the suicide who, if the act was intentional, was guilty of a heinous crime. Indeed, it is recommended for this reason, that they recite it for the full year rather than for the customary 11 months.


Those who sinned in public or private, out of spite or passion, and those who denied their faith or even who converted to other religions, are subjects of much scholarly controversy in regard to the requirement of saying the Kaddish. The majority of opinions tend toward permitting the Kaddish to be said for them. In fact, considering that even wicked parents, technically, deserve the child's respect, and considering that the Kaddish is designed to relieve the Divine punishment inflicted on perpetrators of evil, and also taking into account the religious good that accrues to the living through identification with God, the synagogue and fellow Jews, Kaddish should be recited for 12 months. The denial of the Kaddish for children of such individuals is one that can hardly be acceptable in the modern day.

Persons Missing and Assumed Dead

Such cases are extremely difficult to judge (especially when there are no reliable witnesses to the death) and competent, rabbinic authority must be consulted. Generally, for all persons excepting married men, the Kaddish may be recited when the missing person is assumed, beyond doubt, to be dead, even though the body has not been found. Married men assumed dead present a difficult problem. The recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish for them might lead others to consider the surviving widow to be of legally marriageable status, but this is religiously questionable. In such cases, and after due consultation with proper authorities, it might be advisable to have the son recite the Rabbi's Kaddish, not the Mourner's Kaddish, during services. If the body is found later, Mourner's Kaddish merely need be continued for the balance of the 11 months for parents.

When Kaddish Is Said At Services

  1. The Burial Kaddish

    This Kaddish is not said at synagogue services, it is recited only immediately after the closing of the grave.

    This is a special prayer which contains a special paragraph at the beginning. It is never added, except at this tragic moment. It is recited, on this occasion, on all days excepting those on which tzidduk ha'din and tachanun are not recited.

    Following is the additional introductory paragraph of the Burial Kaddish which includes the reverence for the dead and the consolation for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Sanctuary:

    Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmai rabbah.
    Magnified and sanctified be His great name.

    B'olmo d'hu asid l'is-chadosho,
    In the world which He will renew,

    U'lachay'o maisayo, ul'asoko yos'hone lechayai olmo,
    Reviving the dead, and raising them to life eternal,

    U'lemivnai karto d'yerushalem, u'leshachlel hechalai b'gavah;
    Rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, and establishing therein His sanctuary;

    U'lemekar pulchana nuchro'o me'aro,
    Uprooting idol worship from the land and,

    V'la'asovo pulchono d'shmayo le'asrei
    Replacing it with Divine worship

    V'yamlich kudsho b'rich hu b'malchusai vikorai
    May the Holy One, blessed be He, reign in His majestic glory.

    (The regular Mourner's Kaddish is continued from this point, beginning with b'chayechon ...)

  2. The Mourner's Kaddish

    This is recited primarily after alenu, and also after the Psalm of the Day. It is also recited in the early morning service after the psalm, Mizmor shir chanukat habayit l'David. At the minchah and ma'ariv services, it should be recited after alenu, which concludes the service.

  3. The Rabbi's Kaddish

    In all cases, the recitation of the longer Rabbi's Kaddish is considered of greater importance than the others. This is the Kaddish after ain k'elokenu and the morning sacrifices section, both of which contain portions from Torah and Talmud. The mourner may also say the Kaddish following the Torah reading.

As noted above, it is preferable for the mourner who cannot lead the full service to lead, at least, the concluding portion of the morning service (which is quite easy to learn), from ashrai and u'va le'tziyon through Kaddish and alenu.

Posture of Kaddish Recitation

The mourners must rise for the Kaddish and may say it in unison with the other mourners of the congregation, although it was originally intended as an individual prayer, recited responsively with the whole congregation. The Kaddish, being a prayer of holiness, must not be interrupted. Indeed, the core response, "Let His great name be exalted," is considered important enough for the congregants to interrupt any of their own prayers in order to respond.

The conclusion of the Kaddish is a quotation from the book of Job asking God who makes peace in the heavens to bring peace to all of us. This verse concludes the Kaddish. As the mourner ends his confrontation with God, he customarily retreats three short steps, symbolizing the conclusion of his audience with God, and then returns to his original stance.

If Parent Requests Kaddish Be Not Said

In the case where a parent demands that his children should not recite Kaddish for his deceased mate, he is not to be obeyed. The Kaddish is expressive of a relationship between parent and child, and the surviving parent may not interfere with this life-long relationship.

If the deceased left instructions that no Kaddish should be recited after his own death, then one should examine the reason for the request. If it was to avoid inconvenience for his children, his request can be set aside by the children, and they can allow themselves to be inconvenienced. If the motive is a lack of belief in the purpose of the Kaddish itself, the children may use their own judgment in deciding whether or not it should be recited. Knowing their parent, if they feel the recitation represents a principle he strongly opposed, he should be obeyed.

When the Mourner Cannot Attend Services

Although we live in an unstable age when the press of emergency transactions, business or personal circumstances, or illness, may prevent one from attending one of the services, the Kaddish may not be recited privately. It is a public prayer and simply must be recited in a quorum.

What should be done, in such cases, is what the Kaddish itself seeks to do: enhance the "Merit of the Children." The mourners should read a portion of the Bible—a chapter from the Five Books of Moses or the Prophets—or, if he is able, study a mishnah or page from the Talmud. This is a constructive and entirely valid substitute for the Kaddish, when one finds it extremely difficult to attend one of the services.

Tradition recommends other ways to glorify a parent's teaching. Children should make a standard practice of contributing to charity in their parents' memory. Even more effective and more beautiful, mourners should strive to adopt one mitzvah, one special deed, which they will take to heart and practice regularly as a memorial tribute. This custom adds life to the influence of a parent who has passed on and builds a future life for those who survive.

How magnificent is the tradition that has transformed a potential faith-shattering tragedy into faith-building future, and that has taught, unwaveringly, that the only valid expression of grief is the ethical and religious betterment of oneself.