Relatives Honored with Kaddish
The General Obligation
Kaddish is recited for those mourning the loss of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child.
One of the reasons Kaddish was traditionally said was to help a soul out of any punishment in the afterlife. Therefore saying Kaddish for young children, who are not held responsible for their sins, was considered an option, but not an obligation. Community customs vary widely. Some free parents from Kaddish for children as old as 20, while others expect Kaddish to be said for anyone beyond thirty days of infancy.
Judaism ascribes a place of honor for those who adopt children. Parents of the heart, who raise a child, should be honored with a Kaddish even though the biological ties are not there. If there are no biological sons, honoring an adopted parent with a Kaddish becomes more urgent. In Eastern European shtetl life, young orphan boys were taken into the homes of childless couples. Motivated not only by kindness, the boys were adopted as a “Kaddishl,” one who would say Kaddish for the couple, as well.
For Parents Who Converted to Another Faith
Despite a parent’s decision to cast aside Judaism in favor of another faith, the mitzvah to “Honor your mother and father” still applies, and Kaddish is said. Some rabbis suggest that a Kaddish period of twelve months should be observed instead of the usual eleven in order to accrue as much reward for the parent’s soul as possible.
For One Who Committed Suicide
A halachic paradox revolves around giving mourning honors to one who committed suicide. By the letter of the law, a suicide does not receive the mourning rites including Kaddish. But, there is a major exception. halacha forgives anyone who was not mentally stable before committing suicide. And how can one who committed suicide be considered mentally stable?
Thus, there are many who will say Kaddish for those who committed suicide. There are some rabbis who recommend that a child mourning a parent who committed suicide should recite the Kaddish for a full twelve-month period, instead of the abbreviated eleven, in order to lessen the parent’s judgment period in the afterlife.
Kaddish is an honor, and it may be showered upon all those deserving of remembrance. Torah scholars, soldiers killed in battle, Jews who were murdered because they were Jewish, friends, and even non-Jews may have the praise-song of Kaddish recited for them.
Who Says Kaddish
Men stand and say Kaddish for the parents, siblings, spouses and children.
Sons are the first choice. “Honor your mother and father” extends beyond life. The Shulchan Aruch reasoned that reciting Kaddish give sons to chance to honor their parents. Jews of Morocco focus especially on the eldest and youngest sons’ Kaddish recital.
Boys, younger than thirteen, the age of bar mitzvah, are still obligated to recite the Kaddish. In fact, the Kaddish may have evolved as a simple prayer for those who could not master the entire service.
Brothers, especially older brothers, are to be honored like a parent, and this is one reason why having a brother say Kaddish is a fitting option.
Parents really do gain a quasi-son when they gain a son-in-law, and the Kaddish responsibility can devolve to this non-blood relative. However, if a son-in-law has living parents, he should first ask their permission before saying the Kaddish for a deceased parent-in-law.
Grandsons are thought of as sons, bnei banim k’banim, and may take on the responsibility of reciting Kaddish.
Fathers may recite Kaddish for their children. According to some commentators, this practice dates back to King David when he prayed after the death of his rebellious son, Absalom.
If none of these men are available to say Kaddish, then another male relative should say it.
Among a brother, son-in-law, grandson or father, Kaddish should be said by whoever felt closest to the relative being mourned. The responsibility to say Kaddish may be shared by several relatives.
Women and Kaddish
About the Exemption
For some women, it hurts to be left out of the obligation to say Kaddish and the community of comfort that surrounds the bereaved who find solace in the Kaddish routine.
Kaddish is recited at three different prayer services each day where a quorum of ten adult males must be present. Women are exempt from the obligation to pray with a quorum.
There are several ways to view this difference in obligation. First, Judaism views men and women as spiritually different. Men require a Minyan of ten men to achieve what women can do through solitary prayer.
Second, it is axiomatic that one who is involved in a mitzvah is absolved for participating in another mitzvah. Raising children is a time consuming, 24/7 mitzvah that exempts women from many mitzvot that must be fulfilled at a specific time. It would be unfair for halacha to ask a woman to find time to run out to a Minyan
two or three times each day.
For a much more
thorough examination of this difficult topic, see To Be A Jewish
Woman, by Dr. Lisa Aiken (Jason Aronson, 1994).
Responding to Kaddish
There is no prohibition for a woman listening to Kaddish, recalling the ones she lost, and answering a heartfelt Amen. In some communities, women stand for the mourner’s Kaddish and say the prayer quietly along with the Minyan.
When Is Kaddish Recited?
Services When Kaddish is Recited
Every service - three times a day every day and more on Shabbat and Jewish holidays – provides an opportunity and an obligation to say Kaddish.
Parents are honored with eleven months of Kaddish. In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the author of an authoritative guide to the Code of Jewish Law used by Eastern European Jews, took a month off of the yearlong Kaddish. Reciting Kaddish is thought to add merit during the soul’s judgment period, the souls most in need of purification receive a full twelve months of judgment. To say Kaddish for the full twelve months, Rabbi Isserles reasoned, would imply a belief that parents fit into that unfavorable category.
In order to remove parents from even a suspicion of deserving the ultimate length of punishment, children end their Kaddish recital one day before the eleven months are completed. On the last day of saying Kaddish, the community honors the mourner by calling him up to the Torah.
For Other Relatives
Those mourning spouses, siblings and children, recite Kaddish until the first thirty days after the burial, the shloshim, are over. On the last day of saying Kaddish, there are many communities that honor a mourner by calling him up to the Torah.
The Need for A Minyan – Prayer Quorum
Saying Kaddish with a Minyan of ten adult males has the advantage of bringing the mourner in from the cold solitude of loss to a community that will extend sympathy and attention.
Each Amen the Minyan says serves a reminder that the mourner is not alone.
Kaddish closes with a prayer for peace and redemption. These goals cannot be achieved nor felt alone. A Minyan is the smallest unit deemed worthy of reaching these heights.
A Minyan’s presence is deemed so important that halacha permits a mourner to leave the Shiva house to say Kaddish with a congregation.
Not always is it practical to join a Minyan, but Kaddish doesn’t have to be neglected.
Kaddish was traditionally said during each service, three times a day, seven days a week. Orthodox synagogues have services twice a day (the afternoon and evening prayers are said at one service).
Options for People Unable to Recite Kaddish
Paying for Kaddish to be recited by a stranger is meaningless according to Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (Jonathan David, 1969).
Kaddish is more than an incantation said to add bonus points to a soul. It is way for sons to show the holy impact of a parent’s life. To get rid of a Kaddish obligation by writing a check is a hollow effort. A stranger’s Kaddish robs the surviving children of the comfort brought by a mourner’s year of Kaddish recitation.
Lamm explains that is better to reach the goals of Kaddish through other means. Bring merit to a loved one’s soul by studying Torah. Read a portion of the Bible: the Chumash, a section from the Five Books of Moses, a chapter from the prophets. Study a Mishna, which speaks of the Torah’s laws and ethics (The word “Mishna” has the same letters as “neshama” - soul.) Commit to learning a daf, a page, of Gemarah each day.
Dedicating a certain mitzvah as a memorial can be satisfying. Take on a scrupulous observance of the laws of Lashon Hara - refraining from gossip. Or learn the meaning of the daily prayers to stir up more meaningful devotion, kavannah, to the words that are said.
Giving tzedaka, charity, as a memorial helps a loved one live on in goodness.
Hundreds will pray from the siddur, prayer book, donated to the synagogue. Sponsor a day of learning at a Yeshiva and the words of Torah will resound through the heavens.
Some mourners will ask the students to end their studies with a Kaddish, even though it will be a “rabbi’s Kaddish” and not the mourner’s version.
Contributing to a good cause in memory of a loved one is a longstanding Jewish tradition. There is a Jewish organization for every conceivable need: Sephardic brides in Israel who need the wherewithal to start a new home, Russian children who are just discovering Judaism and Torah, elderly homebound who could use a visit.
Money is not the only way to give tzedaka. Give time.
One woman chose
to celebrate the kindness her mother exemplified by spending every
other Sunday with her elderly aunt at the mall, out to lunch. “She has
no one else,” she explained, “but me.”
Others join Bikur Cholim groups to visit the sick. They cook meals for new mothers. Several women banded together to start a Jewish lending library. The possibilities are endless.