For my Friday evening prayers and reflections, I regularly use the Authorised Prayer Book, translated and with commentaries by the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, and Service of the Heart, compiled by Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern.
All Jewish services and all Jewish prayer books include the Kaddish, and it is a prayer known to every Jew. George Robinson, the author of Essential Judaism, says ‘Kaddish is a prayer that should be familiar to even non-observant Jews. Because it is the prayer for mourners in one of its several forms that almost everyone has heard at some point in their lives. More than that, it occurs several times in some version during the course of most worship services.’
The Kaddish has been said for nearly 2,000 years to honour and commemorate parents and loved ones who have died. Kaddish must be said in a minyan or quorum of ten adult Jews, and before saying Kaddish, a portion of the Torah must be read.
Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish is one of Judaism’s greatest mitzvot, a true act of kindness. This is a beautiful prayer that reflects on life, tradition and family.
Traditionally, Kaddish is said daily for 11 months after the death of a parent, and again on the Yahrzeit or anniversary of the death of a family member. If necessary, a Jew may say Kaddish for another individual in these instances.
The nucleus of the prayer is the phrase:
‘Magnified and sanctified be His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days.’
The congregation responds: ‘May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.’
The earliest version of Kaddish, known as Half Kaddish, dates back to the time of the Second Temple.
Kaddish was not originally said not by mourners but by the rabbis after they their sermons on Sabbath afternoons and later, when they finished studying. This practice developed in Babylonia, where most people understood only Aramaic, and this explains why Kaddish is in Aramaic, not Hebrew. In time, it became a regular part of the synagogue service.
As well as praising God, this prayer expresses the plea for the speedy realisation of the messianic age. Because the resurrection of the dead is associated with the coming of the Messiah, Kaddish eventually became the prayer of mourners.
The Kaddish praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The emotional reactions inspired by the Kaddish come from the circumstances in which it is said: it is recited at funerals and by mourners, and sons are required to say Kaddish for 11 months after the death of a parent.
The word Kaddish means sanctification, and the prayer is a sanctification of God’s name. Kaddish is only said with a minyan or prayer quorum of ten adult Jews, following a psalm or prayer that has been said in the presence of a minyan, since the essence of the Kaddish is public sanctification.
The person who says Kaddish always stands. It is a custom for all the mourners in the congregation to recite Kaddish in unison.
A child under the age of 13 may say the Mourner’s Kaddish if one of his parents has died. A person may say Kaddish not only for parents, but also for a child, brother, or in-law. An adopted son should say it for adoptive parents who raised him. The Rabbinical Kaddish, Half Kaddish, and Whole Kaddish may be said by a chazzan or cantor who is not a mourner and whose parents are still living.
Although Kaddish makes no specific reference to death, it has become the prayer of mourners. One explanation says it expresses acceptance of Divine judgment and righteousness at a time when a person may easily become bitter and reject God. Another says that by sanctifying God’s name in public, mourners increase the merit of the dead person.
The opening words, yitgadal v’yitkadash, are inspired by Ezekiel 38: 23, when the prophet sees a time when God will become great in the eyes of all nations.
The version of the Mourner’s Kaddish by Lord (Jonathan) Sacks is:
Mourner: Magnified and sanctified may His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel, swiftly and soon – and say: Amen.
All: May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.
Mourner: Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond any blessing, song, praise and consolation uttered in the world – and say: Amen.
May there be great peace from heaven, and life for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.
Bow, take three steps back, then bow, first left, then right, then centre, while saying:
May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.
The translation of Kaddish in Service of the Heart is:
Extolled and hallowed be God’s great name in the world he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom, in our lifetime, and let us say: Amen.
Let his great name be praised to eternity.
Lauded and praised, glorified, exalted and adored, honoured, extolled and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though he is above all the praises, hymns and adorations which men can utter, and let us say: Amen.
May God grant abundant peace and life to us and to the whole house of Israel, and let us say: Amen.
May the Most High, source of perfect peace, grant peace to us, to all Israel, and to all mankind, and let us say: Amen.
Kaddish, a piece for violin and piano by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), based on the Jewish prayer
יִתְגַדַל וְיִתְקַדַשׁ שְמֵהּ רַבָא
בְעָלְמָא דִי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ
וְיַצְמַח פֻרְקָנֵהּ וִיקָרֵב מְשִיחֵהּ
וּבְחַיֵי דְכָל בֵית יִשְרָאֵל.
בַעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהֵא שְמֵהּ רַבָא מְבָרַךְ
לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָא
יִתְבָרַךְ וְיִשְתַבַח וְיִתְפָאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם
וְיִתְנַשֵא וְיִתְהַדָר וְיִתְעַלֶה וְיִתְהַלָל
שְמֵהּ דְקֻדְשָא בְרִיךְ הוּא.
לְעֵלָא (וּלְעֵלָא מִכָל) מִן כָל בִרְכָתָא
וְשִירָתָא תֻשבְחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא
דַאֲמִירָן בְעָלְמָא. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
תִתְקַבֵל צְלוֹתְהוֹן וּבָעוּתְהוֹן
דְכָל בֵית יִשְרָאֵל