The Singular Way Of Saying Kaddish – How To Make Kaddish More Meaningful, Powerful, Effective, And Historically Correct

(Endangered minhog #2)

We know the importance and power of קדיש, and it’s focal point of אמן יהא שמיה רבא מברך וכו, from the words of חז”ל. One frequently cited gemara in this regard tells us אמר ריב”ל כל העונה איש”ר מברך בכל כחו (רש”י – בכל כוונתו) קורעין לו גזר דינו – whoever answers amein yehei shemei rabba with all his strength, which Rashi there explains means with total concentration, has his gezar din (evil decree against him) torn up.

There are campaigns to make people aware of this, and arouse them to the importance of saying איש”ר properly.  Sometimes they emphasize kavannah, as per Rashi cited above, while some others also emphasize answering loudly, as per a peshat which Tosefos brings there, after agreeing with Rashi. At the same time, however, another, ancient way, of increasing the focus, power, and meaning of kaddish, has almost disappeared, been ignored, and is in danger of fading away, חס ושלום.

What is this powerful tool of which I write? It is the age-old מנהג אשכנז way, in which saying kaddish is a singular experience!

In that ancient tradition, only one person says kaddish at a time. That enables the congregation to focus on, and tune in to the kaddish, and the kaddish reciter, with utmost clarity and concentration, thereby making the level of בכל כחו – בכל כוונתו much more within reach. This is especially so in the modern world, especially in large urban areas, where ears are under almost constant assault with a toxic cocktail of sounds. Despite all the talk nowadays of people multitasking (the folly of which is discussed here), the fact is that multiple simultaneous stimuli take a significant toll on people’s concentration (as well as מנוחת הנפש, but that is a different discussion). On the other hand, when one hears only a single voice (ideally properly paced and at appropriate volume, in an otherwise quiet Shul), that stands out, and enables increased focus and concentration. Without a cacophonious assault on one’s hearing, one can definitely better focus on the words of kaddish and their meaning.

Furthermore, in this way of doing things, the one reciting kaddish knows that the congregation is focused solely on him, and that energizes him to the power of what he is doing. He is the only one who is, so to speak, controlling the tzibbur at the moment, and this great power, the powerful spiritual tools of kaddish and איש”ר, are in his hands, and under his control. This ideally leads him to greater כוונה (focus).

ברוך השם, there are still some people and communities, including (but not necessarily limited to) the followers of מנהג אשכנז, טעלז, והחזון איש among אשכנזים who have retained this ancient, powerful tradition. There was even a well known Chassidishe Rebbe, R. Yitzchok Isaac of Komarno, who had this minhog as well, and felt very strongly about it. He went as far as to say (שלחן הטהור, או”ח סימן קל”ב) that more than one person saying kaddish at a time is a פגם גדול! And, believe it or not, there are also some Sepharadim that are makpid on it as well. It is the minhog of Sepharadim from Djerba, Tunisia, the ירושלים of that country (most of this paragraph is based on what I heard in a wide-ranging shiur from רבש”ה, which we may get into more later).

We can learn from those masters how to put the power back into our kaddeishim. Those of us who have lost touch with this ancient and simple, yet powerful practice, relatively recently, can explore ways to reincorporate this minhog into our observance, as our forefathers practiced it. If we do so, in the spirit of חדש ימינו כקדם, we can then beseech הקב”ה, to do the same, אכי”ר.

Let us learn from our ancestors a way to help us ramp up the power of the kaddish and איש”ר experiences, so that we can hopefully make them so powerful, that it will be said in heaven,

אשרי המלך שמקלסין אותו בביתו כך!

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11 Responses to “The Singular Way Of Saying Kaddish – How To Make Kaddish More Meaningful, Powerful, Effective, And Historically Correct”

  1. QED Says:

    When the chazzan says kaddish, he is the only one saying it. It is only the few times where mourners are saying kaddish, where multiple people may be saying it at once.

  2. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    I believe that in a typical Ashkenazic minyan (perhaps a typical minyan of any type) the ratio of the number of kaddeishim said only by the שליח ציבור to those said by others is close to 1:1 actually.

  3. Dr. Yitzchok Levine Says:

    At some point during the time that I lived in Elizabeth, NJ (1968 – 1974) Rav Pinchas Teitz, Z”L, instituted a policy that all those saying kaddish had to come to the front of the shul and say it in unison. While it is certainly not the original minhag, it is a step in that direction, since it is fairly likely that those saying kaddish will say it in unison if they are standing together.

    People are under the mistaken impression that an Avel must say every kaddish Yasom and Kaddish D’Rabbonon. This is simply not true. In fact, in a large shul like KAJ in Washington Heights where only one person says kaddish, days might go by before one gets to say kaddish. There is nothing wrong with this.

  4. lacosta Says:

    and of course, this seems to be minhag chabad, where a plethora of mourners leads to multiple minyanim simultaneously…. at least in my neck of the woods….

  5. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    I am not sure exactly what you mean.

    Do you mean to say that the minhog of Lubavitch is that only one person says kaddish at a time? I don’t think that is the case, but would be interested to find out if I am mistaken.

    Perhaps what you are describing, is that multiple mourners each want the amud, because they feel it is a greater zechus for the niftar for them to lead the davening than to just say a smaller amount of kaddeishim that are for those who aren’t leading the services. Or they just want to say more kaddeishim, which opportunity they get by being shliach tzibbur.

    But that minhag Lubavitch is that, on principle, no more than one person can say kaddish at a time, with no exceptions? I’m not aware of that (although I could see it being possible, as some old Lubavitch minhogim are like minhogei Ashkenaz, and minhogim of the Vilna Gaon as well).

  6. P. Almonius Says:

    A problem with the minhag of only one person saying kaddish for first-time visitors to that shul is that they don’t know about it. If that’s the minhag, could I suggest that you have a big sign where it can’t be missed?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Okay, sounds like a good idea. I saw signs like that upstairs in ק”ק שארית ישראל in Baltimore in the past. They are not giant, but typical size, like a sheet of paper, and printed and professional looking. I saw a sign in the Telzer Yeshiva Alumni בית מדרש in Brooklyn years ago, where they maintained this מנהג (upon the advice and with the encouragement of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky ז”ל), but it was just a hand-written notice on the bulletin board.

  7. S. Says:

    Since minhogim developed in the first place, why is it so terrible for them to continue to develop? In other words, why is it important to conserve minhogim over allowing the natural process of development to occur?

    In Minchas Kenous Maharatz Chajes argues against the Reformers that minhogim naturally expire when they lost their potency, so there is no need or point to artificially interfere.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      “Since minhogim developed in the first place, why is it so terrible for them to continue to develop? In other words, why is it important to conserve minhogim over allowing the natural process of development to occur?”

      If the development is positive, perhaps (it seems that the word development סתם, carries a positive connotation, as in director of development). But if the change is negative, such as distortion and dilution of the original, I view that as deterioration, not development.

      Let’s take the English language. Some people say that Ebonics and computer/texting shorthand should be considered legitimate developments and forms of English. Don’t interfere, they say, language isn’t static, it naturally evolves. But do we really want the new generation(s) aksing questions 2 1nother, or would we look askance at such a development?

      “In Minchas Kenous Maharatz Chajes argues against the Reformers that minhogim naturally expire when they lost their potency, so there is no need or point to artificially interfere.”

      Interesting. But do we want to allow them to get distorted and watered down and lose potency? A minhog should not be judged by a watered down version of itself, as opposed to a superior form.

  8. S. Says:

    Fair enough. I was interested in what sort of response my question engendered.

    Regarding if something is a positive or a negative development, it often is a bit subjective though. For example, the forging of cohesive, unifying minhogim in America (I know the baggage “Minhag America” – the term – has, but that’s really irrelevant) might be something positive, rather than negative. Of course that’s in the eye of the beholder too, but I can see why someone would not accept that it’s a negative.

  9. FWIW Says:

    I think Brisk is makpid on only one person saying kaddish

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