What is the Mourner's Kaddish in Judaism?

A History, Explanation, and How-To Guide

A woman at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Kateryna Negoda/Getty Images

In Judaism, there is a well-known prayer called kaddish, and it takes many different forms. Among the different versions of the kaddish are the: 

  • Chatzi Kaddish (the “half” kaddish, also called the reader’s kaddish)
  • Kaddish Shalem (the “complete” kaddish)
  • Kaddish d’Rabbanan (the “rabbi’s” kaddish)
  • Kaddish d’ithadata (the “burial” kaddish)

Lastly is Kaddish Yatom, or the “mourner’s" kaddish. You can read about the different types of kaddish here.

 

Meaning and Origins

In Hebrew, the word kaddish means sanctification, making the kaddish prayer a public sanctification of God's name. The word yatom actually means "orphan," and it is known as this because, during the First Crusade in the 11th century, the prayer was recited only by minors. 

Like many prayers within Judaism, the kaddish was not canonized all at once and did not appear in its current form until the Medieval period. According to Shmuel Glick, the earliest form of the kaddish prayer dates to the period just after the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE when the line "May God's illustrious name be blessed always and forever" was used to close public discourses on festivals and Shabbat. The prayer, at that time, was not known as the kaddish, but by the initial lines, y'hey shemey rabah ("may God's great name"). 

Later, during the 8th century CE, the text of Yitgadal v'yitkadasah ("Glorified and hallowed") was established and finally adopted the name kaddish based on the wording.

The first record of Jewish mourners saying kaddish can be found in a text based on the Talmud (Sofrim 19:9) that describes how, on Shabbat, an honor was bestowed upon mourners. According to Glick, the prayer leader would approach the mourners outside the synagogue and recite the kaddish of the Shabbat mussaf service (a quick additional service following Shabbat morning service).

 

As mentioned above, during the Crusader period, the mourner's kaddish, then called the "orphan's kaddish" was recited only by minors, but because a liturgical obligation. Eventually, over time, the prayer was recited by adult mourners as well (read below about the age requirements today). 

According to a Jewish legal text called the Or Zarua written by Rabbi Isaac ben Moses of Vienna sometime in the 13th century, by that period the mourner's kaddish was recited as a standard at the end of the three daily prayer services. 

Deeper Meaning

The prayer itself has no mention of death, but because it expresses an acceptance of God's judgment during a time when it may be difficult to do so, it became the traditional prayer for mourners in Judaism. Likewise, because it is a public prayer of sanctification, some believe that the recitation of the prayer has the ability to increase the merit of and respect for the deceased. 

How To

The mourner's kaddish is recited for 11 months from the day (known as the yarzheit) that an individual's parents have died. It is totally acceptable for one to say kaddish for a sibling, in-law, or child, as well. 

  • The mourner's kaddish is recited only with a minyan (quorum of 10), three times a day at the end of the morning (shacharit), afternoon (mincha), and evening (maariv) services. It is also recited before the Pesukei d'zimrah (a series of special blessings, psalms, and verses) of the morning service. 
  • Traditionally, in Orthodox Judaism, only men in mourning are required to publicly recite the mourner's kaddish because it is a time-bound commitment and women are not obligated. But, in most Jewish communities, regardless of affiliation, both men and women will recite the mourner's kaddish
  • The individuals reciting the prayer always stand. In some congregations, everyone stands for kaddish and in others only the mourners stand. 
  • When reciting the mourner's kaddish, all of the mourners in attendance recite the prayer in unison. In some cases, all of the mourners will gather at the front of the synagogue or near the bimah (the location where the prayer leader stands during services). 
  • An individual younger than 13 (the age of bar mitzvah), if he has lost a parent, can say the mourner's kaddish. The same goes for a girl younger than 12 (the age of bat mitzvah). 

    Because the mourner's kaddish is recited three times a day, many communities will rally to make sure that there are 10 at each of the services so that the mourner can complete the command to recite this prayer in honor of the deceased.

    For many Jews — even those who never attend synagogue, keep kosher, observe Shabbat, or feel connected religiously or spiritually to Judaism — reciting the mourner's kaddish is a potent and meaningful act. 

    English Translation

    Glorified and hallowed is God's name,
    in the world that God created, according to God's will,
    and may God's majesty be revealed
    in the days of our lifetime
    and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel,
    speedily and soon. And let us say, amen.

    May God's great name be blessed always and forever.
    Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
    honored, raised up, and acclaimed
    be the name of the Holy one, blessed be He
    beyond every blessing hymn, praise, and consolation
    that is uttered in the world. And let us say, amen.
    May abundant peace from heaven, and life
    be upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say, amen.

    May God who makes peace in high places
    make peace upon us and upon all Israel,
    and let us say, amen.

    Transliteration

    Yitgadal v'yitkadash, shemey rabah.
    Be'almah di'verah chir'utey
    V'yamlich malchutey
    Bechai'yeychon u'veyo'meychon
    U'vechayey d'chol beit Yisrael
    Ba'agalah u'vizman karim v'imru, amein.

    Y'hey sh'mey rabah m'vorach le'alam u'le'almey almaya.
    Yitbarach ve'yishtabach ve'yitpa'ar ve'yitromam ve'yitnasey
    Ve'yit'hadar ve'yit'aleh ve'yit'halal
    Sh'mey d'kudesha b'rich hu
    L'eyla min kol birchata ve'shirata tush'bechata ve'nechemata
    D'amiran b'alma v'imru, amen.

    Yehey sh'lama raba min shemaya, ve'chayim
    Aleynu ve'al kol yisrael ve'imru, amen.
    Oseh shalom bimromav,
    Hu ya'aseh shalom. Aleynu ve'al kol yisrael
    V'imru, amen.

    You can find the Hebrew version of the mourner's kaddish here

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    Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is the Mourner's Kaddish in Judaism?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-2077020. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2016, January 28). What is the Mourner's Kaddish in Judaism? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-2077020 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is the Mourner's Kaddish in Judaism?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-2077020 (accessed November 17, 2017).