The term “Kaddish” is often used to refer specifically to “The Mourner’s Kaddish“, recited as part of the mourning ritual in Judaism in all prayer services, as well as at funerals and memorials.
When mention is made of “reciting Kaddish“, this refers to the rituals of mourning. Mourners recite Kaddish to show that despite their loss they still praise God.
The opening words of this prayer are inspired by Ezekiel 38:23, a vision of God becoming great in the eyes of all the nations. The central line of the Kaddish in Jewish tradition is the congregation’s response: יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא (Yehei shmëh rabba mevarakh lealam ulalmey almaya, “May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity”), a public declaration of God’s greatness and eternality. This response is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew “ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד” (Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever), which is found in the Jerusalem Targum.
The Mourner’s, Rabbi’s and Complete Kaddish end with a supplication for peace (“Oseh Shalom…”), which is in Hebrew.
Kaddish is one of the most important and central elements in the Jewish liturgy. Kaddish cannot be recited alone. Along with some prayers, it can only be recited with a minyan (quorum) of ten Jews.
The oldest version of the Kaddish is found in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon, c. 900. The Kaddish at the end of the service became designated as Kaddish Yatom or Mourner’s Kaddish (literally, “Orphan’s Kaddish”).
The various versions of Kaddish are:
• Hatzi Kaddish (חצי קדיש) – Literally “Half Kaddish”, sometimes called the “Reader’s Kaddish”
• Kaddish Yatom (קדיש יתום) – Literally “Orphan’s Kaddish”, although commonly referred to as Kaddish Avelim (קדיש אבלים), the “Mourner’s Kaddish”
• Kaddish Shalem (קדיש שלם) – Literally “Complete Kaddish” or “Whole Kaddish”
• Kaddish d’Rabbanan (קדיש דרבנן) – Literally “Kaddish of the Rabbis”
• Kaddish ahar Hakk’vura (קדיש אחר הקבורה) – Literally “Kaddish after a Burial”, also called Kaddish d’Ithadata (קדיש דאתחדתא) named after one of the first distinguishing words in this variant
• Kaddish ahar Hashlamas Masechta (קדיש אחר השלמת מסכת) – Literally “Kaddish after the completion of a tractate,” i.e. at a Siyum