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Kaddish / קדיש

Mourner's Kaddish Customs

For whom is Kaddish recited. The primary obligation is to recite Kaddish for one’s deceased parents and other closest relatives for whom one is obligated to mourn. It may be recited for other relatives and friends as well, especially if nobody else will do it. However, someone whose parents are both alive customarily does not recite Kaddish for other deceased relatives. Kaddish for a parent is different. So, if his mother passed away, his father has no right to object to Kadish recitation in her memory.

Since the recitation of Kaddish adds merits to the deceased, it is recited even on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays, although the deceased is not punished in the Gehinnom / גיהנום on those days. For the same reason, Kaddish is recited for small children, completely righteous people and for those who were martyred in sanctification of God's name, even though they go straight to Gan Eden / גן עדן — the paradise.

Quorum requirement. The purpose of Kaddish / קדיש is to sanctify God's name in public. Kaddish is recited responsively — the words of the mourners alternate with Amen / אמן responses from the congregation. Therefore, Kadish may only be recited in the presence of a Minyan / מניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer. Ten men are enough, even when each of them recites Kaddish. However, it is preferable for at least two men to respond Amen, since the words of Kaddish contain the request “And let’s say to it, Amen / ואִמרוּ אמן”, which is in plural form. A boy younger than thirteen recites the Kaddish, but is not counted towards the required Minyan. Kaddish may be recited even if less than ten men prayed or studied together, as long as a Minyan is present when it is recited.

How Kaddish is recited. The mourners must rise to recite the Kaddish, but those who listen and respond Amen may remain sitting, although the custom of Ashkenazim to stand up when God's name is being sanctified certainly makes a lot of sense.

The custom of Ashkenazim is to allow only one person at a time to recite Kaddish based, probably, on the Talmudic rule that, “Trei Kali Lo Mishtamai / תרי קלי לא נשתמעי — two voices cannot be heard simultaneously” (Tractate Megillah 21b, , Rashi / רש"י ad loc.). When one person recites Kadish, it makes a more profound impact than when several people do it together, especially if they do not recite it in unison. It is, therefore, not clear which of the mourners has the merit to prompt the congregation to answer Amen. In order to avoid conflicts, elaborate rules of precedence were developed. Unfortunately, these rules are too complex for an average individual to comprehend. As a result, competition for the right to say Kaddish oftentimes causes bitter fighting among the mourners. These disputes, contrary to the mourners' intentions, do not bring merit to anybody.

Today, in most congregations all the mourners recite the Mourner's Kadish together as was always customary among most of the Sephardim. This eliminates lengthy disputes and endless arguments about rights to recite the Kaddish. The mourners must be careful, however, to recite Kaddish in unison in order to remove any doubts as to whose Kaddish the congregation should answer Amen.