Regarded as one of the most important prayers in Judaism, Kaddish is also one of the most well known prayers in Jewish liturgy. No matter the observance level of the person reciting it, Judaic sources maintain that someone saying Kaddish, provides great benefit to the soul of the deceased.
Judaism’s Value of Life & Death
“He who saves one life, saves the entire world (Tractate Sanhedrin 37a).”
Judaism values the concept of life more than anything else. According to Jewish law, a person must violate any other commandment in order to save a life. In Schindler’s List, the character Itzhak Stern presents Oskar Schindler with a ring that shares a Talmudic quote, “He who saves one life, saves the entire world (Tractate Sanhedrin 37a).”
As much as Judaism is focused on the sanctity of life, there is an even greater reverence toward those that have died. Jewish law states that if one finds a dead body that needs burial, that person must drop everything and see to it that the deceased is indeed buried properly.
When someone performs a deed for a person that has died, the Torah calls that a chesed shel emet, considered the truest form of kindness, for there is no intention or agenda of being paid back. It’s a good deed in its ultimate form, done purely for the sake of kindness.
Jewish tradition affirms that reciting Kaddish for a person that has died elevates the soul (neshama).
Who Says It?
Kaddish is primarily said by someone who loses a spouse or an immediate blood relative. However, a person has the option to say it for anyone that has died, relative or not. When reciting Kaddish for one’s spouse, sibling, or child, the mourner says it for 30 days (known as the shloshim period.) When mourning a parent, one recites Kaddish for 11 months. (There is also a custom to lead the prayer services whenever possible during the 11 months a person is mourning a parent.) Understanding that a mourner may not be able to recite Kaddish 3 times a day for 11 months, there is a custom to have Kaddish recited on the mourner’s behalf. To learn more about this service and how to buy Kaddish prayer plans, click here.
When Is It Said?
Mourners (immediate relatives) first say a special Kaddish at the funeral, immediately after the deceased is buried. After the funeral, mourners recite Kaddish at the 3 prayers a day. During the morning service, shacharit, there are four points at which mourners say Kaddish. During the afternoon service, mincha, and the evening service, maariv, there is one Kaddish said at the end of the service, after the Aleinu prayer. Kaddish is interspersed throughout different points of the daily prayers, but primarily those instances are when the leader of the services (chazzan) says it as part of the service. The Kaddish that is said by mourners is called the Mourners’ Kaddish (Kaddish Yatom) and Rabbinic Kaddish (Kaddish D’Rabbanan).