Siman 56 Reciting Kaddish

  • Rav Alex Israel
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #34:Siman 56

Pages 177 - 179


by Rav Alex Israel






What is Kaddish?


"Rabbi Yose said: Once I was on a journey and I stopped to pray in one of the ruins of Jerusalem.  Eliyahu the prophet came and guarded the door of the ruin for me ... He asked me: My son, what voice did you hear in that ruin?  I answered: I heard a voice from heaven sighing like a dove and lamenting, 'Woe to the sons whose sins destroyed My house and caused them to be exiled amongst the nations.'  He  said to me: ...Every day, three times a day, the Divine voice says this.  And furthermore, when Yisrael enter their synagogues and study halls and say 'Yehei shmei rabba mevarakh,' God nods His head and says 'Happy is the king who is, in this way, exalted in His house.  Why does a parent have to exile his children?    Woe to the children who have been driven away from their father's table.'"  (Berakhot 3a)


            Kaddish has a certain mystique surrounding it.  It has spiritual power.  This episode, related in the gemara, introduces us to Kaddish as a prayer that, ki-veyakhol, causes God Himself to regret the destruction of the Temple.


            The Arukh Ha-shulchan states: "The Kaddish is a great and awesome praise instituted by the Men of the Great Assembly, living in the wake of the destruction of the First Temple.  After the desecration of God's holy name due to the destruction of the Temple, the desolation of the Holy Land and the dispersion of Israel ... we pray that, 'His name should be made great and be sanctified' (Yitgadal ve-yitkadash) as the prophet states (Ezekiel 38:23), 'I will manifest My greatness and My holiness, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations.'"


            In the light of the above sources, Kaddish can be seen as a prayer for the restoration of God's name in the world through the restoration of the people to its land and Temple, "their father's table."  The ultimate meaning of "ge'ula" is the time when "yihyeh Hashem echad U-SHEMO echad."  The recitation of "yehei shmei rabba mevarakh" "reminds" God of the Temple and creates a yearning for the return of the Jewish nation to its former glory.  (Indeed, many have noted that the standard response to a blessing in the Temple was "Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed" rather than "Amen."  This response was exclusive to the Temple and was seen as a mark of its uniqueness and holiness.  The line "yehei shmei rabba" is a direct translation of "barukh shem..."  Maybe this is the reason why this line is so evocative of the Jewish people serving in the Temple.)


Kaddish is recited in five different formats:


The basic Kaddish - known as Chatzi Kaddish.  This is the basic format of the Kaddish and is referred to as the 'half Kaddish' since it the shortest of all the formats of Kaddish.

            All the other versions add an extra prayer reflecting the context in which the Kaddish is recited, as we shall explain:

KADDISH TITKABEL - Recited at the end of a prayer service, e.g., after the Shacharit Amida on Shabbat morning.  We add a short petition that the prayers that we have recited, and indeed the prayers of the entire nation, be found pleasing and acceptable before God.

KADDISH YATOM - known as "the mourners' Kaddish."  The tradition of mourners reciting Kaddish originates in a midrash (Tanna De-bei Eliyahu Zuta ch. 17 and Zohar Ruth) where Rabbi Akiva reports of the power of Kaddish said by a relative to ease the suffering of the deceased.  This Kaddish does not contain the 'titkabal' section but ends with prayers for peace amongst the People of Israel.

KADDISH DE-RABBANAN - This Kaddish is recited after Torah learning.  It includes a prayer for the welfare of the scholars who study Torah.

KADDISH FOR A SIYUM - an expanded version of Kaddish first mentioned in Masekhet Sofrim (ch. 19), which is recited after study of "Talmud or drash."  The Rambam in his Seder Ha-tefilot (at the end of Sefer Ahava) lists this Kaddish to be said after all learning of Torah she-be'al peh; however, today we follow the practice found in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon to recite this Kaddish only at a siyum or at the graveside after reciting the tzidduk ha-din.


The importance of Kaddish


"One who answers 'Amen yehei shmei rabba' with all his might (be-khol kocho) will have his evil decree ripped up before him."  (Shabbat 119b)


"The world exists only by virtue of the Kaddish recited after the study of Aggada."  (Sota 49a)


            The gemara states that Kaddish recited "be-khol kocho" - with full strength - will annul an evil decree.  What is "kol kocho?"  Rashi interprets this phrase as requiring full mental concentration (be-khol kavanato).  Tosafot, quoting the Pesikta, require full voice (kol ram) in order to annul evil decrees.


            The Shulchan Arukh takes both views, instructing us to have both kavana and to answer with full volume.  See the Mishna Berura (56:5) on this point.


            This idea of Kaddish being recited with the full vigor or "ko'ach" of the person is reflected by the requirement that Kaddish somehow represent the numerical value of the word "koach" (which is 28).  How much of the latter part of Kaddish must be repeated in response?  See M.B. 56:2 and 56:15.


            There is further discussion among the Rishonim as to whether to adjust the line "yehei shmei rabba..." to ensure that it has exactly 28 letters (it has one letter extra).  To this end, the Mahari Abulafia suggests that one read "le-alam le-olmei olmaya" without a connecting 'vav.'  The Beit Yosef rejects this: "We do not adjust the accepted traditional text for a drasha (homiletic reason)."


            The gravity of not speaking during Kaddish and retaining full concentration throughout is stressed by the stories brought in Mishna Berura 56:1.


            If confronted (for example, at the Kotel, with multiple minyanim running concurrently) with "yehei shmei rabba" and Kedusha at the same time, what should one answer?  See Mishna Berura (56:6).


The appropriate enunciation of Kaddish


Yitgadel / yitgadal


            The first line of Kaddish is based on the verse from Ezekiel 38:23 concerning the events surrounding the apocalyptic war of Gog U-magog when God will be perceived by the entire world, thereby heralding the messianic era.  It states that "ve-hitgadilti ve-hitkadishti" - "My name will be made great and holy."  It is with these words that we open the Kaddish.


            There is some dispute as to the correct pronunciation of these words.


            The German minhag is to pronounce the words as yitgadal and yitgadASH [Siddur Avodat Yisrael by Y. Baer; see his Totza'ot Chayim pp. 66, 68 for an explanation].  This is the correct grammatical Aramaic pronunciation for these words and since the entire prayer is in Aramaic, these words are pronounced according to their Aramaic form.


            The Mishna Berura, however, prefers the pronunciation yitgadel.  Since the words are Hebrew and taken from the Hebrew text of Ezekiel, he feels that they should be pronounced according to the correct grammatical Hebrew despite the fact that the rest of Kaddish is in Aramaic.


Why is Kaddish in Aramaic?


            The Machzor Vitri suggests an answer based on the gemara (Shabbat 12b) which states that Aramaic is a language that angels do not understand.  We praise God in Aramaic, thereby arousing the envy of even the angels who are unable to praise God in such an exclusive manner.


            Tosafot (Berakhot 3b) reject this explanation.  We have a host of beautiful prayers in Hebrew!  Why suddenly switch to Aramaic for this prayer?  Tosafot answer our problem in a more straightforward fashion with a reason based on the gemara (Sota 49a) where Kaddish is linked to the study of aggada.  He suggests that this Kaddish followed communal Torah study which was carried out in the tongue of the common man (Aramaic).  The natural thing to do was say the prayers that followed the study session in a language that the entire audience would understand.  They decided, therefore, to say Kaddish in Aramaic.


            Can it be recited in English?  See the Mishna Berura (55:1).


YEhei shmei rabba mevoraKh


            The Rema (56:1) cites a difference of opinion as to the appropriate enunciation here.  This dispute is based on two alternative readings of this line.


            One opinion (Ashiri) reads this line as a phrase: "Yehei shem Y-a rabba."  This would mean that "the name Yud He should become great and perfected."  On the basis of Exodus 17:16, the name of God is perceived as an unperfected "Yud He" until the times of redemption when the enemies of God will recede from the world.  According to this opinion, one may not pause between shmei and rabba.


            However, the alternative reading (Tosafot) sees the Kaddish as a straight Aramaic translation of "Let the great name be praised."  According to this reading, one may not pause between rabba and mevarakh.


            See the Mishna Berura (56:4.


mevaraKh ... yitbaraKh (56:3)


            How far does the response to Kaddish go?  Until "olmaya," "yitbarach," or further?


            The Rambam rules that one should say only until "olmaya" and the Gra follows this opinion.  The Beit Yosef in the Shulchan Arukh rejects this view and requires one to add the word "Yitbarakh."  As mentioned above, there is also an opinion that one should continue (28 words) to "be-alma."


            The discussion of this issue centers around a rather esoteric midrash brought in the Beit Yosef: "R. Elazar ben R. Yose said: On a journey, I once chanced upon (the prophet) Eliyahu leading 4000 laden camels.  I asked him the purpose of the camels and he replied that they were laden with anger and fury to pour out over those who interrupt between Kaddish and Barkhu, between the berakhot and parshiot of the Shema and between 'Amen yehei shmei rabba mevarakh' and 'yitbarakh.'"  The implication of this is that NO interruption whatsoever is tolerated.  The Beit Yosef rules on the basis of this midrash that yitbarakh should be appended to the end of "Amen yehei shmei."  Apparently, the other opinions read this midrash as referring to the chazan reciting the Kaddish but not to those who are responding.


            See the Mishna Berura (56:15) on this issue.


Standing or sitting?


            The view of the Maharil and the Ari is that one should remain in whatever posture one is in.  If you happen to be standing at the start of Kaddish (for example, Kaddish after Hallel), then remain standing, and if you are sitting, then remain sitting.  This is the accepted practice in Sepharadi congregations.


            The Rema (56:1) disagrees and applies the rule that all prayers which require a minyan should be recited standing.  Thus, the community should stand for Kaddish.  This is the common Ashkenazi practice.  (See Mishna Berura #8.)  R. Ovadia Yosef rules that Sephardim praying in Ashkenazi shul should follow the accepted Ashkenazi practice of standing for Kaddish.