The Development of Kaddish Yasom – part I Fundamentals & History – From ancient times to the modern era.

Due to the great importance, power, and holiness of קדיש, and the great interest in the subject, I am posting some of what I was zoche to learn about it in a shiur a while back.

(Based on a comprehensive shiur delivered in ארץ ישראל a bit over a year ago by רב בנימין שלמה המבורגר שליט”א, edited and arranged by your’s truly)

It’s an honor for me to give a shiur לעילוי נשמת …the first יאהרצייט of החבר ר’ יחיאל ב”ר יוסף ראזענבערג, Mr. Max Rosenberg, who was, as Rabbi Vachsman mentioned, the chairman of the board of directors of Yeshiva R. Shamshon Rafael Hirsch in Washington Heights, New York. Therefore, this shiur tonight is going to be linked to a מנהג, an old minhog, which the whole כלל ישראל used to obey and observe, and is still being kept in that community of Washington Heights which we know as קהל עדת ישורון, the Breuer’s kehillah. This is the way of reciting a kaddish, קדיש יתום. Yahrzeit is a time for saying kaddish, therefore it is appropriate to talk about such a topic.

We all know that if someone is an אבל, or if he has יאהרצייט, then he is trying to say קדיש, or even better, to daven in front of the עמוד. And there’s a lot of competition to get the amud sometimes, and in the past there was also competition to get the kaddish. Why? Because the kaddish was never a group kaddish, rather a single kaddish….which leads to the development of how the single kaddish turned (among some) into a group kaddish, which we will discuss later on in this shiur. But first, some basics.


The first question which I would like to address, is how is it that an action or a deed that is taken after petira of a niftar, after a person is already deceased, can help him out of his trouble after he has already gone to the world of truth? So we find Sefer Chassidim (1171) explaining it very clearly. We find an expression in Chazal, ברא מזכי אבא (BT Sanhedrin 104a) – a son adds זכותים, adds merits to his father. How? If the father sinned, and he, at the same time, gave his son over to a Talmudic school, ללמוד תורה ומעשים טובים, he sent him to cheder, sent him to a Jewish school…….and there the son learns Torah, he learns how to behave himself properly, and do good deeds, הואיל ועל ידי האב זכה הבן, since this good behavior of the son is a result of the education which the father saw to, whatever the son does now as a result of this education, is bera mizakeh abba – that son adds zechusim to his father. And furthermore, if the father commanded the son, he left a צוואה to do this and that, to do something after his petira, הרי כשעשו הבנים כאילו יעשו האבות, what the son does based on that is as if the father did it, even though the father is not here anymore. From this comes the minhog that people give tzedokkoh לעילוי נשמת the deceased. Similarly, davening for niftorim, is also a תועלת – it does give help to them, because מה לי תפלה מה לי צדקה. What difference does it make to Hakodosh Boruch Hu if it is this מצוה or that mitzvoh, if all of it is done as a result of the father’s chinuch.


But here we don’t see anything about kaddeishim. We have plenty of midroshim which point out the special koach of the kaddish. But we have to keep in mind that קדיש is only one of many means to help a נפטר. There are plenty of others. Which brings us to the Yosef Ometz, a member of the Shelah’s beis din when the של”ה was a Rav in Frankfurt, Rav Yosef Hahn Nordlingen of Frankfurt, who wrote a ספר called יוסף אומץ. It’s a מנהג sefer and הלכה sefer. He writes a very important note. He writes that the idea of קדיש, ברכו, ברכת המזון, שיר המעלות, ולמנצח for aveilim, (going to the omud for ashrei, lamenatzeach, and uva letzion), going to omud for borchu (saying borchu is an expression for davening before the omud)…. also birkas hamazon, meaning the aveil getting zimun, which is also a zechus for the niftar, not seen so much nowadays…….מעלין המה על ידי הם מגיהנום (they raise the niftar through their actions from gehinnom). Of course, he says, davening the whole תפלה is better than bits of it. And of course kaddish is also very important. But the best thing, which people overlook however, he says, the best zechus, is לימוד תורה, learning Torah, which we do in this shiur. The other things, he says, tefillos, kaddeishim, borchu.. are mainly for עמי הארץ (unlearned people) – but if you can learn, you do learn, לימוד תורה מועיל שבעתים (limmud Torah helps seven times as much), than all these תפלות…. Through that, not only מעלין מגיהנום, but מכניסין לגן עדן (they take the niftar to gan eden), which is higher. And if the son goes further and he is מחדש חידושי תורה, he’s a למדן and is on that level that he can have his own חידושים? Then the kavod that his father gets in gan eden is even more. He cites the זוהר, that in such a case הקדוש ברוך הוא calls everyone in פמליא של מעלה, and says ‘come in, assemble, to hear the beautiful חידושי תורה of this person, the son of פלוני בן פלוני (true chiddushim, not just made up ones), the son of this neshomo’. So that is the greatest honor that one can give, to say חידושי תורה…


However, kaddish nevertheless is a big tool and everybody is after it……. Where does the kaddish come from? You are talmidei chachomim, you know גמרא…….Has you ever seen the nusach of kaddish in גמרא? In any gemara? Bavli? Yerushalmi? No. We only find a small mention in Bavli mesechta Shabbos, אמר ריב”ל כל העונה איש”ר מברך בכל כחו (רש”י – בכל כוונתו) קורעין לו גזר דינו , he answers the kaddish, which can mean koach hakovonnoh, according to Rashi and Tosefos, or with all his strength, according to a second peshat brought in Tosefos, his bad gezar din is torn up, what is written for him badly in the ספר החיים up there. We also find in מדרשים that Rabbi Akiva tried to help a נשמה he found in big trouble in עולם האמת, to get his son, to teach him to say ברכו and קדיש, to get him out of גיהנום. So kaddish is mentioned in gemara, and the midrash says that it can take people out of gehinnom. But the נוסח of the kaddish is not mentioned anywhere, not in midrash, not in gemara. The first time (place) we find it is in סדר רב עמרם גאון, the oldest siddur we have, a Babylonian siddur , an early siddur – and there we find the nusach of the kaddish, but without ויצמח פורקניה ויקרב משיחיה, like nusach Ashkenaz. That is the very first kaddish we find in Jewish literature. Veyatzmach purkonei we find in a later Babylonian siddur, that of רב סעדיה גאון. But just ויצמח פורקניה, not ויקרב משיחיה, so that must have been a later development.


So what is the purpose of kaddish? We find קדישים  besides kaddish yasom. קדיש יתום is a very particular kaddish that is said after a תפלה. But we have kaddeishim inside tefilloh as well. Comes the ספר האשכול, and says that we have the kaddish for the purpose of separation. He says that the first kaddish is to separate between פסוקי דזמרה and ברכת יוצר אור, in שחרית, that is the first kaddish, after ישתבח (the kaddish said nowadays after korbanos is very recent, we have to come back to that later). The second kaddish is after we finish שמנה עשרה, after shmoneh esreih we have תחנון, which is attached to it, so if there is tachanun we say kaddish after it, and that kaddish is a separation between the Shemoneh Esreih part of tefillah and the leining part. If there is leining, after that part as well, to separate it from אשרי ובא לציון, which is a new section. Then kaddish after ashrei uva litzion, קדיש תתקבל, which ends all קדישים. That is the halachic structure of kaddish.


Kaddish yasom, which has nothing to do with davening before the amud, was instituted later, perhaps in the beginning of the second millenium למספרם. We find it in מחזור ויטרי already, and it was introduced for יתומים קטנים that can’t go before the omud. He’s a minor, can’t help his father that way with kaddish, so they instituted it for them. But how many times does a yasom have a chance to say kaddish? Initially, not at all. After עלינו? No, it (Aleinu) was not said daily in the early days. After שיר מזמור לאסף? Some American Shuls say it, you may know it from them, some after shacharis, some have it even after maariv. But this did not exist in the time of the גאונים. So they instituted some מזמור after תפלה, and they said kaddish after that, for ketanim. At the beginning, this was not done on a weekday, it was only done on a שבת. Only on Shabbos was there kaddish yasom. We find on Shabbos that we say במה מדליקין after maariv, that’s what you find in chutz la’aretz, as used to be said in European countries. במה מדליקין, then אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא, which is אגדתא, then kaddish yosom. Nowadays people say קדיש דרבנן, but that is a late development. Initially this kaddish was a קדיש יתום for yesomim, kaddish for ketanim who can’t say kaddish during tefilloh. The second kaddish yasom they had was on שבת morning, after פטום הקטרת, after another אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא…. The third one, on מוצאי שבת after ויתן לך, after שיר המעלות אשרי כל ירא ה. So these were the only three kaddeishim in time of the ראשונים…….they eventually introduced kaddish yasom on weekdays as well……but that was even a later development. They started saying shir mizmor leasaf, after oleinu. שיר של יום developed much, much later. So the principle is that one can only say kaddish yasom after פסוקים – so we never find that after a shiur when קדיש is said, that they say kaddish right away, rather they say pesukim, רבי חנניא בן עקשיא אומר רצה הקב”ה לזכות את ישראל……or אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא…. but not after a mishnah. The kaddish said nowadays after the שלש עשרה מדות דרבי ישמעאל in the morning, before ברוך שאמר, is a disputed minhog because it doesn’t fit with ancient הלכה, only fits in with the system of the אר”י ז”ל, but that is not the topic for tonight. Now we come to another point..


Saying kaddish is a wonderful thing. חזרת הש”ץ is also a wonderful thing. What would you say, however, if someone said chazoras hashatz is a wonderful thing, I will say it twice. I will repeat שמונה עשרה twice. How would we look at such a person? Is he doing something good? He repeats shemoneh esreih twice. What if a person will have some Coca Cola, and say שהכל נהיה בדברו. And then have more, and say it again. And again, and again, after a sip or two. Is he more frum? Or if he says three times borei nefoshos – is he more religious? Or is it a brocho she’eino tzericha/berocho livatala? So here we come to the point that many poskim bring down, including the משנה ברורה, that just like we don’t like to repeat ברכות again and again, because the more you repeat them, the more difficult it is halachically, because of ברכה שאינה צריכה or ברכה לבטלה, the same way, we should not say one kaddish more than needed. According to simple הלכה in the Mishna Berura and earlier poskim, saying extra kaddeishim is wrong. And he says, כשם שממעטין לומר קדיש…… The ערוך השלחן comes out in very, very sharp terms against it. He says (אורח חיים נה, ג) that there are common people who believe that the more kaddeishim you say, the better. And how wrong are they. You don’t use the scepter of הקדוש ברוך הוא more than He allowed you to use it. There is a limit to the amount of usage. Because by saying kaddish you are crowning Hakodosh Boruch Hu. And if you repeat it again and again, it’s a zilzul, you’re degrading the divine. And we find the poskim saying that those who increase the number of kaddeishim are sort of weakening the divine kedusha of the great sacred name of הקב”ה.


But we find nevertheless that the desire is so great to say kaddish, it increased so much, that people increase it, not only the amount of times, but also in terms of the amount of people saying it, what we call nowadays a group kaddish, which we didn’t have in the past. Like we don’t have a group חזרת הש”ץ. Did you ever see two בעלי תפלה going to the עמוד and saying chazoras hashatz together? The same with group kaddish. It was made for ketanim, a katan he can’t daven before the amud, so now he has a kaddish he can say after davening. And now people join him! It’s like joining the shliach tzibbur! We have a klal that תרי קלי לא משתמעי (two simultaneous voices are not heard). Imagine if two people would be standing up here talking. Someone would join me talking. We would get confused. Same thing is with the kaddish. That is the conception of the classical poskim.


But we find that Sepharadim have believed so much in the power of kaddish that they found all kinds of היתרים to say a group kaddish. They invented the idea of group kaddish. And it went so far in some places of the Sepharadim, that in Iraq, we find the Ben Ish Chai recording (בן איש חי, שנה א, פ’ ויגש, סעיף טז) that in his town, in Baghdad, the minhag was that everybody used to say every kaddish possible during davening. They finished ישתבח… what happens after we finish yishtabach? Even in those places that have group kaddish, only the shliach tzibbur says kaddish and then says ברכו. But in Baghdad, the whole community stood up and everybody said קדיש. And that was not only that kaddish. Every kaddish. After shmoneh esreih, everybody stood up and said קדיש. He was very disgusted by it. Meileh kaddish yasom, he could still tolerate it. But every kaddish? He said that these people think that when they say kaddish they cause תחיית המתים. They believed so much in this kaddish, out of proportion, that they erred. And that’s how we find that a kaddish that at one time was only for the shliach tzibbur, like kaddish after leining, became a kaddish yasom by Sepharadim, and that has even spread to some Ashkenaz communities as well (in an article in ירושתנו א, קיג-קכה – Rav Hamburger  shows conclusively that this kaddish properly belongs to a shliach of the tzibbur, such as the בעל קריאה, not to just any anyone who wants it).


But we want to go back to that kehillah of the late Mr. Rosenberg whose yahrzeit is tonight. In Washington Heights, which still obeys the old rules. And they still give respect to the one saying kaddish yasom as deserved. He is treated as a שליח ציבור. The first thing of a shliach tzibbur is, that he goes to the עמוד. He doesn’t stand anywhere in the Shul and say kaddish, he goes to the omud. Seeing that by the עמוד is still the chazan, who still has to say some מזמורים or something, so the one saying kaddish stands next to the omud, in any Frankfurt’er kehilloh, Yekkishe kehilloh, he stands as close as possible to the omud. And this is brought down in several poskim, including the משנה ברורה. Second thing, I don’t know why it stopped in Washington Heights, I never found out why, is that everyone saying kaddish puts on a טלית, because he is like a שליח ציבור, and this is also brought down in פוסקים.

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One Response to “The Development of Kaddish Yasom – part I Fundamentals & History – From ancient times to the modern era.”

  1. Moshe Says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but Kaddish for mourners is a post-talmudic innovation. How does that affect its standing?

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