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Question: In the many shuls that I’ve attended, I observe that there are people who recite the Kaddish silently. Is this correct? I’ve also seen Kaddish recited by some at a cemetery without a minyan. Is there any reason to sanction this?

Charles Rosen
Via Email



Synopsis: We discussed the possibility that the Kaddish of those in the congregation who are reciting the Kaddish along with the chazzan should indeed correctly be recited in an undertone, as more than one voice at the same time is not heard. We duly noted the exception of the Megillah reading, where two voices may be heard. However, we noted that Modim in the reader’s repetition, Chazarat HaShatz, is always to be recited in an undertone. We also noted that the Kaddish is a means of sanctifying Hashem’s Holy Name – Kiddush Hashem, which was instituted to rectify the destruction of the Holy Temple. We also cited the Gemara (Shabbos 119b) that it is to be recited “with all one’s might,” and the two views as to what that means: Rashi – all one’s concentration – kavana; Tosafot – in a loud voice. We then cited the encounter of R’Yosi and Eliyahu (Berachot 3a) where he learned three things from Eliyahu; one must not enter a ruin; one may recite a prayer at the side of a road; and if so, he recites a tefillah ketzara – a short tefillah. Eliyahu revealed to him Hashem’s reaction to our recitation of the Kaddish, how pleased He is and how it invokes regret on His part for having exiled us. Yet it was our sins that brought the exile upon us.

We then reflected on the anomaly of this prayer being recited in Aramaic as opposed to Hebrew – the Holy Tongue. We explained that at the time of its composition the masses were not fluent in Hebrew as they all spoke Aramaic, and the importance of this one prayer was such that one reciting it should be able to truly express and comprehend the message of the Kaddish. In order to facilitate this, we translated the entire text of the Kaddish Shalem into English. We also noted two unique aspects of Kaddish: that the prayer that seems to most sanctify Hashem’s Name is not recited in the Holy Tongue but rather in Aramaic, the language that was most spoken in the time of the Sages, and that not a single one of Hashem’s Holy Names is contained therein. We also noted the different Kaddish recitals: Kaddish Derabbanan; Kaddish Shalem; Chatzi Kaddish; Kaddish Titkabel. We also noted various differing practices regarding bowing during the Kaddish.

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Answer: Now, for an orphaned child to properly recite the Kaddish Yatom, the Mourner’s Kaddish it is important for him to be aware of the spiritual benefit and repair in this to his departed parent’s soul. We might have asked what need there is for the child to recite the Kaddish during the year (actually eleven months) after his late parent’s burial. But from the following, we see the reason.

The halachic compendium Kol Bo (siman 114) relates the story of a Sage seeing a disembodied spirit carrying twigs and in obvious distress. To the Sage’s questions, the spirit responded that he had been sentenced to purgatory, Gehinnom, in perpetuity, and that his only salvation depended on his son reciting Kaddish on his behalf. The Sage revealed this encounter and the request to the deceased’s son, who proceeded to do as requested. Eventually the Sage again encountered the spirit, who revealed that he was now finally at rest.

This incident is also related, with slight variation, in the Minor Tractate Kallah Rabbati (ch. 2). The Sage is identified as the Tanna Rabbi Akiva, and the spirit as a sinner who had left no forbidden act undone. He had also left behind a pregnant wife. Rabbi Akiva inquired and found the woman, who had just given birth to a son. When the child grew up, Rabbi Akiva took him to the synagogue to participate in the prayers of the congregation (and, of course, recite the Kaddish). In this version, too, the spirit later reappeared and thanked Rabbi Akiva for the peace and tranquility that he had helped him achieve.

Gesher HaChayyim (Vol 1: Chap. 30) lists many other sources where the story is found with minor changes: Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta (ch. 17, end); Midrash Aseret HaDibrot; Midrash Ruth Ha’ne’elam; Zohar Ruth Chadash; Or Zarua (who quotes it in the name of the Zohar Chadash on Parashat Lech Lecha); and the Zohar Chadash on Parashat Acharei Mot (ibid. 376). Gesher HaChayyim notes that it is mentioned by many authorities who dwell in particular on the importance of the congregation’s response to the Kaddish, “Yehei She’meh Rabba … – May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.”

In Midrash Ha’ne’elam (to Parashat Acharei Mot p 81:a-b) we find the story in more detail. We now cite from this source: A certain scholar was on his way to the study hall in Turei Kardunita, accompanied by two others, when they came upon a ditch from which smoke was rising, and they heard a man’s voice calling out [in pain] woe, woe [vay, vay]. He remarked, “For sure this must be one of the places of purgatory [Gehinnom].

He later saw in a dream how a certain person was being punished by being thrown into burning fires, fueled with the very wood that he was forced to chop, for his sins not once but three times a day as well as three times at night. He asked him: “From where do you come? To which the other answered: “Upper Galilee.” He further inquired: “Did you leave behind a son?” He answered: “I left behind a son and I was a butcher, and due to the multitude of transgressions that I committed while I was alive, I am being judged all due to my mouth, my feet, and my hands. The angel in charge of the burial grounds, all the while that I am being judged, says to me: “Woe is the one who swears to uphold the Torah and swears falsely. Woe to the body that did not ever don tefillin, woe to the hands that engaged in the wasted pleasures of this world, and woe to the feet that went after the wasted pleasures of this world. When they were administering lashes I [myself] recounted all [the evil] that I engaged in. Then I went forth with the angel in charge of my soul and wrote down all my transgressions. My soul and that angel testified against me as two witnesses, whose testimony as such is sufficient for one to receive the death penalty.” The Midrash notes: “We see that ultimately it is the person’s own soul that testifies against him.”

When the scholar awoke from his dream, he went on his way to Upper Galilee. When he arrived, he inquired of an individual that he came upon: Have you seen the young son of the [particular] butcher who died in such and such time? He replied: The child about whom you inquire goes to the butcher shop and he is as evil as his father, such and such should come to him, to his father, and to the one who nursed him [his mother].

Whereupon the scholar set out to the Study Hall where he found a young child citing his lesson, a verse in Mishleh (Proverbs 2:4-5) “If you seek it as if it were silver, if you search for it as if it were hidden treasures. Then you will understand the fear of Hashem, and discover the knowledge of G-d.” [Our Sages always found such citations by young children to reveal a hidden message.]

He then set out for the butcher shop, where he found the youth engaged in [senseless] play with other youths. He bid him to come with him to the study hall, he then dressed him properly and gave him over to a certain teacher who taught him Torah until he knew [and understood] how to read. He then had him read the Haftara [on the Sabbath] in the synagogue and had him pray until he developed fluency. He eventually became so wise and scholarly that he was called rabbi – master – teacher.

The father of this young child, who was being so harshly judged [and punished] came once again in a dream to that scholar and said: “My master and teacher, as much as you have comforted me, so may you be comforted by the Holy One Blessed Is He. At the moment that my son recites the Haftara in the synagogue they release me from my judgment. When he leads the congregation in prayer and recites the Kaddish they rip up my harsh judgment completely. And when he acquires the wisdom of the Torah, they give me a portion in Gan Eden. And this is the portion that is [only] given to every righteous person, and they raise me up to sit among the righteous. Further, each time he acquires more knowledge to the extent that they call him Rabbi [master] they crown me with the crown of the righteous. They then feed and give me to drink of the Divine Glory. And that is what they say (Berachot 17a) “The righteous sit with their crowns upon their heads and enjoy [and benefit from] the Divine Glory.” And each person [soul] who enjoys the Divine Glory is as if he ate and drank. And all of this because of you, my master, have I merited all of this honor and distinction. He further testified: “You have merited your portion because of this [all that you have done] you have merited a much higher place in both this world and in the world to come, and [finally] meritorious is one who has left a son [who is worthy] in this world.”

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.