Question: The Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to almost all public gatherings; hence, much of Jewish congregational ritual has come to a halt. Is there a way to make up for everything we missed?
Answer: Let’s turn to the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 376:5) who lists clear rules for reciting the Mourners Kaddish, which are designed to bring a sense of order to the synagogue ritual. Citing the Maharil, the Rema states:
“If there are three brothers and a stranger, each of the three brothers is given a Kaddish to recite and the fourth person is given the fourth Kaddish. A person on the anniversary of the passing of his father or mother…if he knows how to lead the services, let him do so and lead the entire tefillah.
“If there are other mourners present in the midst of shiva, they precede him and he has no Kaddish rights. If those present are within sheloshim, then the ba’al yahrzeit has one Kaddish and they have the rest. If the mourners are beyond sheloshim, then the ba’al yahrzeit is given all the Kaddeshim for that day.
“We count shiva and sheloshim from the day of burial, and that is so even if the mourner did not find out immediately. If he is a non-resident of that city, he is considered like any other in the city [meaning he has no preferential rights as regards to Kaddish].”
Rabbi Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger (in his work Minhag Sheroshei Ashkenaz, p.122), citing numerous halachic sources (Derech HaChayim, Seder Avodas Yisrael, Mishnah Berurah), notes that the early minhag of Ashkenaz was for the person reciting Kaddish to stand before the aron. This custom was fastidiously kept for many generations in Ashkenaz.
He quotes the Chavot Ya’ir who rules that the chazzan should not leave his place at the amud until another comes to recite “Lamenatze’ach” or the final Kaddish. Kaddish was said before the ark where the chazzan stood (he would step aside). This custom prevailed when only one Kaddish was said after the tefillah. The chazzan would depart his place, and the mourner reciting Kaddish would replace him.
However, when extra verses and psalms were added to the end of the prayers in later times and additional Kaddeshim started being recited, the chazzan stopped relinquishing his post, even for the first Kaddish, because he would have to return to it. Therefore, the custom arose for Mourners Kaddish to be recited right next to the chazzan – either to his right or to his left.
It’s clear from all the above that only one mourner used to say each Mourners Kaddish. This rule was fastidiously kept to in most European lands. Today, only communities of German origin adhere to it.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the legendary rav in Frankfurt am Main in Germany, scrupulously adhered to this custom. And it is observed in the community established by his grandson, Rabbi Joseph Breuer, zt”l, K’hal Adath Jeshurun. It is also observed in many Ashkenaz communities in Eretz Israel. The Kaddeshim are divided among the various mourners and each recites one Kaddish near the chazzan.
But what if there aren’t enough Kaddeishim for the mourners present?
(To be continued)