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What is Kaddish?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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Kaddish is a prayer of praise and sanctification of G-d. The Talmud declares allegorically that when Jewish people enter their synagogues and Houses of Study and as part of the Kaddish declare, “May His Great Name be blessed forever...” G-d Himself nods and responds, “Happy is the King who is blessed in this way in his home”.1

The Kaddish is in Aramaic – the language spoken by the majority of Jews during the Talmudic era and through following 450 years, known as the Geonic period.

Kaddish may only be recited in the presence of a Minyan.

When Jewish people declare, “May His Great Name be blessed forever...” G-d Himself nods and responds, “Happy is the King who is blessed in this way"!
There are various types of Kaddish: Chatzi Kaddish (half kaddish) is used to divide between the various sections of the service. Kaddish Yatom (orphan's or mourner’s Kaddish) is said by a person in mourning or on the yahrtzeit of a relative. Kaddish Shalem (complete Kaddish, also called Kaddish Titkabel) is said to mark the conclusion of the the main part of the prayer and includes the words “May our prayers be accepted" (titkabel tzelot’hon). Kaddish deRabbanan (Kaddish of the Rabbis) is recited in the liturgy after a section of Torah study. Kaddish HaGadol is recited at a funeral after the Tziduk HaDin prayer (the Justification of G-d’s Judgement).

The Geonim note that there are ten words of praise and sanctification in the Kaddish – corresponding to the Ten Utterances2 by which the world was created.3 Thus, by responding to the leader reciting Kaddish, one becomes G-d’s partner in Creation.4

Kaddish is first mentioned in the Mishnah5 but the exact origin of the liturgy in its present form is unknown.

See also Text of the Mourner's Kaddish

Footnotes

  • 1. Berachot 3a.
  • 2. Avot 5:1
  • 3. Likutei HaPardes, Kaddish.
  • 4. Mateh Moshe 1:74
  • 5. Soferim 10:7.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Death » Mourning
Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Kaddish
A prayer sanctifying G-d's name which is sprinkled throughout the daily prayers and is recited by the leader of the services. This prayer is also recited by mourners during the first year of mourning, and on the anniversary of the death.
Geonim
(sg. Gaon = mastermind) Talmudic masters and heads of academies who played a prominent and decisive role in the transmission and teaching of Torah and Jewish law from approximately 589 CE to 1038 CE.
Minyan
A quorum consisting of ten adult male Jews. A minyan is necessary to recite the kaddish or to publicly read from the Torah scroll.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
yahrtzeit
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.