Photo Credit: Jewish Press

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 Tefilla ketzara – a short tefilla. 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 that in the prayer that seems to most sanctify Hashem’s Name, 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. And we related that the Kaddish Yatom – the Mourner’s [lit. Orphan’s] Kaddish was instituted as a means of alleviating the suffering and punishment that the departed encounters in purgatory after death.

* * *


Answer: We mentioned earlier that the Kaddish prayer is recited in Aramaic, the spoken language that in the time of our Sages was used by the masses, many of whom were not literate in Hebrew. Yet we find that certain elements of the Kaddish are clearly in Hebrew [egs.] Yitgadeil – [may His great Name] grow; Yitkadeish – [become] sanctified; Yitborach – blessed; Yishtabach – [become] praised; Yitpa’er – [become] glorified; Yitromam – [become] exalted; Yitnasei – [become] uplifted; Yithadar – [become] honored; Yit’aleh – [become] elevated; Yithalal – [become] extolled. If one counts, it becomes clear that the examples are ten in number. If so, why these ten praises in Hebrew?


Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukaccinsky (Gesher HaChayyim chap. 30:6, citing Beit Yosef to the Tur, Orach Chayyim 56) explains that these ten praises are juxtaposed to the ten Ma’amarot – decrees with which Hashem created the world [Avot 5:1) and to the Aseret HaDibrot – the Ten Commandments, as well as to the ten Sfirot – spheres – which Hashem utilized in the Creation. Now, both the Ma’amarot and the Dibrot were said in Hebrew – the holy tongue.

From the responsive Amen Yehei Shmei Rabba until Almaya there are seven words, which juxtapose the seven heavens, and in these seven words there are twenty-eight letters, and further until Da’amiran B’alma (this being the conclusion of the half Kaddish) there are in total twenty-eight words – 28 being the numerical value of Ko’ach – the letters chof and chet, hinting at the verse in Parashat Shelach, where Moses pleads with Hashem on behalf of the Children of Israel (Numbers 14:17) “v’ata yigdal na ko’ach Hashem ka’asher dibarta… – And now – may the strength of my L-rd be magnified as You have spoken…”

He notes further the view of the Gaon of Vilna that the word V’yithalal – (become) extolled, is not to be said. To understand his view, the Tur (ad loc, citing Seder R’Amram Gaon) notes that the last of the praises was originally V’yitkaleis – become praised (not V’yithalal). But in his view, we don’t say this last praise so that we say seven praises of Hashem juxtaposed to the seven heavens.

Today it is almost universal to say V’yithalal in place of V’yitkaleis. Why? Perisha (ad loc) explains that as being due to the fact that a Kova nechoshet, a copper hat, is derogatorily translated into Aramaic as kulsa d’nachsha (the lowest of metals). He also explains that we seek to offer ten praises (not nine, that is, the first two plus the contiguous eight praises) as we noted above juxtaposed to the Dibrot and the Ma’amarot. Further, he explains the separation of the first two praises Yitgadeil, v’Yitkadeish from the other eight as due to the fact that the two first Dibrot – commandments, were separated from the other eight insofar as the first two were heard directly from Hashem, while the latter eight were heard from Moses (based upon Rashi, Da’at Zekeinim, Klei Yakar to Exodus 20:1).

Returning to Rabbi Tukaccinsky, he notes that the commentary Even Eliyahu to Siddur Ha’Gra as well as the Sifrei Kabbalah relate many great things regarding all of the detailed specifics of the language and the numbers of words and letters of the Kaddish. Therefore, one is to be very exacting (and careful) in the recitation of the Kaddish, not to add nor to detract a word or a letter, such as di vroh (that He created) or min kol (all the), that in each case these are two words and to be recited as such.

Yet we see that we do add a word to the Kaddish on the Yomim Nora’im – the Days of Awe – from Rosh Hashana through Yom Ha’Kippurim, l’eila] u’l’eila exceedingly far above and beyond. Not to worry, he explains that to compensate we contract the two words min kol to read and be recited as mi’kol. Therefore, we see how careful we must be in the recitation of each and every word of the Kaddish.

Darkei Moshe (to Tur, Orach Chayyim 56:sk5) cites the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot, Perek Tefillat Hashachar) that R. Eliezer says that one is to stand for any matter of kedusha that he extrapolates from a verse (of which I have searched and not found).

Mishneh Berura (Orach Chayyim 56:sk8) solves the dilemma as he notes as well that when responding to Amen Yehei Shmei Rabba it is more proper to stand. He says we are to take a lesson from a gentile, Eglon, king of Moab, who arose of his own volition to hear the word of Hashem. Mishneh Berura comments that how much more so should we, His people, stand (at any matter of kedusha).

Indeed, how great is it when we stand for a davar she’b’kedushah – a matter of sanctity. And as Mishneh Berura cites, that Eglon stood for a matter of sanctity – the word of Hashem. In the prophets (Judges, Chapter 3) we find the following regarding Eglon: He was a vile ruler who oppressed the Jews for eighteen years. Though they sinned and it was Hashem who put them in his hands, nevertheless Hashem heard their cries, their pleadings, and took pity, sending Ehud ben Gerah of the tribe of Benjamin, one who was lame in one hand, as a judge to lead them and to deliver them from this evil king. Ehud approached the king and told him he had a secret message. The king upon hearing this dismissed all his attendants and remained alone in the royal chamber with Ehud. Ehud then told him, “I bring the word of G-d to you.” Upon hearing these words, the king, with great haste, arose from his throne to hear the word of Hashem. This gave Ehud the chance to slay him with his sword and inflict a horrible and embarrassing death as the verses describe. Following that, with the leaderless Moabites in disarray, Ehud was able to lead his people to victory over the Moabites, who in turn became the vassals of the Israelites. The result was that for eighty years under Ehud’s leadership, there was peace and tranquility.

The question one must ask is, if so great was the action of Eglon, then where was his reward? Especially as we know that Hashem does not withhold reward from one who performs even the smallest of good acts, whether one’s intentions were virtuous or not (Nazir 23b).

Rashi and Radak (Judges 3:20 sv ‘vayakam me’al kis’o’) respond to our dilemma and cite our Sages (Midrash, Ruth Rabbah 2:9), who explain that it was for that act that he merited that his daughter (some say a granddaughter or later descendant) became the mother of the royal house of David, the mother of Moshiach ben David, the future redeemer. Now just imagine the unending reward that Eglon received for just one single action, we who stand for the response of Amen Yehei Shmei Rabba and every other davar she’b’kedusha, how much more so will be our recompense at the day of reckoning. Thus, the Kaddish not only serves the departed souls but serves us the living as well. Now this might possibly resolve the following difficulty.

We cited earlier Kol Bo, Gesher HaChayyim and Midrash Ha’ne’elam; all relate the story of the origin of Kaddish Yatom – the mourner’s Kaddish, as it serves to alleviate the suffering and punishment that are being meted out to the departed. Now, what of the truly righteous person who has departed this world. How do we dare say the Kaddish on his behalf – surely he is in no need of such recitation, and to do so is a denigration of his honor? But if, as we say, that the Kaddish serves the living as well, then perhaps the intention in the recitation is not always solely for the departed; thus, when the departed is truly righteous perhaps there is no denigration.

(To be continued)


Previous articlee-Edition: July 28, 2023
Next article‘The Button Of Tears And Blood’
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.