The Development of קדיש יתום – part II Recent Developments

(Continued from here)


Now, I’ll  prove to you that the conception of group kaddish did not (historically) exist in Europe, not even Eastern Europe, even in Chassidishe circles.

If you open any שלחן ערוך, with the רמ”א, מגן אברהם…., or if you open poskim, like the אור החיים, כנסת יחזקאל……and many others, you will find something called סדר קדימה. It delineates in great detail who has the right to say kaddish. If you have several people in Shul to say kaddish, it lays out what is the order, who has priority. We know that a בן שבעה (someone within the shiva) has priority over a בן שלושים,  (someone within shloshim) בן שלושים over בן יב’ חודש (someone within the twelve months of aveilus after a petirah), and a יארצייט (yohrzeit – someone marking the anniversary of a passing) priority over all of them. All these priorities. All the discussions among poskim (decisors) about who has priority. Someone may even have to wait a day, week, or month to say kaddish. Why? If there is a group kaddish, there is no need for all these priorities, because everybody could say kaddish, its open to everybody.

I remember once I came to Manhattan, a tourist from Israel. I had to daven מנחה. We went into a modern synagogue. I’m not used to this, I’m living in ארץ ישראל. People came in without כיפות – an ordinary mincha. It was very heartwarming for me to see so many people at a regular weekday mincha. They all stood around. Then, at the end of the תפלה, the penny dropped. I realized what was going on. Everyone said kaddish. I was the only one to answer this kaddish. Women said it too – everyone, except me and my wife. This is something that did not exist in the past.


As I mentioned already, Sepharadim accepted group kaddish first. Then Chassidim, who adopted nusach Sephard, and certain things from Sepharadim, were the second ones to accept it. And yet, even in the Chassidishe world, we find voices that were not happy about it. The sharpest is the Komarna rebbe. In his sefer, שלחן הטהור (תל אביב, תשל”ג, סימן קלב, הלכה ד, p.194), he says that if two people say kaddish together, הוא פגם וחטא גדול – it is a big sin. Not only does he not do a favor to the נפטר, not help him, but it could be that it even harms him, getting him down to a lower stage in גיהנום, חס ושלום, or in גן עדן. He says that it comes from ספרדים, is not really part of our heritage, and we should reject it. But you find that hardly anyone in Chassidic world obeys this.


But how did it come to the non-Chassidic world, which follows the משנה ברורה and does go by the rules of the פוסקים?

So we have a number of historical factors, from the beginning of the nineteenth century C.E. One was Napoleon Bonaparte. To some extent he is responsible for such a turn in our history, our religious history.

Now that’s puzzling! What does Napoleon have to do with our קדישים?

Well, Napoleon was a big conqueror, he conquered almost every part of Europe and he established new states, one of which was the Kingdom of Westphalia. He let his brother, Jerome-Napoleon, rule it. He had the new ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity (equality, freedom, brotherhood), and wanted to make the Jews equal to everybody else, and make their religion equal as well. So he established the Consistoire, which meddled in the religious lives of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. He opened churches for all three. The Consistoire, ruling Jewish life, instituted reforms, appointing reform motivated individuals to introduce all types of reforms, (relatively) mild reforms, in Jewish life. Amongst them was the group kaddish.

The group kaddish was very much an idea of democratization, and equality. You know, because of ideas of equality, of rights, they (also) forbade to call up to עליות to the Torah by names (יעמוד פב”פ) because some people are called up by titles (e.g. יעמוד מורנו הרב)……Inequality! Can’t fit in with the regime of Napolean Bonaparte! So they didn’t call up anybody by name – they gave out cards instead (of which practice there is a remnant in some synagogues today). Another thing they didn’t like was priorities in kaddish. Why should there be priorities in kaddish? We want everybody to have the right to say kaddish! They abolished the priorities in kaddish and forced the group kaddish on German Jewish communities under them. Obviously, as soon as this regime collapsed, after not so many years, it was rejected strongly by all the German rabbis – but it slowly leaked into Eastern Europe (see more on this  in הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, v.II, p. 410-417).


And here we find an interesting part in this, played by the great master Rav Akiva Eiger. What happened? How does Rav Akiva Eiger come into this story?

In the year 1831 C.E. there was a great epidemic in Europe, which cost the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. Cholera. Hundreds of thousands died. It hit Jewish communities hard as well, including Posen, where Rav Akiva Eiger was the Rav. And Rav Akiva Eiger was confronted with strong pain, of people desiring to say קדיש for their loved ones. He was under enormous pressure to give them a היתר for group kaddish. So he gave them a heter. The great Rav Akiva Eiger. And he said, he writes in his own handwriting, ‘in chodesh Av in 5591/1831 when the cholera started here in our town, there were so many אבלים, they needed קדיש, I made a takanah allowing group kaddish, for one year only…..he gave a heter for one year only …and after that year, by the following ראש חודש אב,  boruch Hashem, the epidemic stopped, people stopped dying, the trouble was over, so I said now we stop it, it was a הוראת שעה (strictly temporary enactment). It was then not allowed any more generally, only one kaddish a day was still allowed as a group kaddish. So this was stated by Rav Akiva Eiger (פסקים ותקנות רעק”א, ירושלים תשל”א, עמ’ סג-סד, brought in note 114, on p.455 of הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, חלק ב).

But then people came later and they said, if the great Rav Akiva Eiger could allow it in his town, in his time, so we can allow it in our time, unlimited, anytime we need a kaddish. If it’s good enough for R. Akiva Eiger, its good enough for us. There is a misconception, many people go around and say, if R. Akiva Eiger allowed it, R. Akiva Eiger allowed a group kaddish…..

But I have a discovery, which I found two days ago – I think you’re the first ones to hear of it. We found a manuscript of his son, Rav Shlomo Eiger, his successor in the רבנות of Posen, and he refers to this הוראה of his father,  re the group kaddish, and I read from this newly discovered manuscript, which has never been published (passage can now be seen in note 115, on p.455 of הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, חלק ב) –

‘It’s clear to my mind that what my late father זכרונו לברכה, the great Rav Akiva Eiger, instituted for everybody to say kaddish together, it was not his wish at all, rather it was against his will. But he found a היתר to be מתיר an איסור – note that he refers to it as an issur (prohibition). There was a terrible psychological need for the common people. צורך ההמון he calls it – psychological need. At the time of the cholera people were panicking – trying to do anything they could to help the deceased. He says that we find a similar היתר also with a יאהרצייט licht that goes out בין השמשות, where you can call a non-Jew and it can be lit again through him, because of psychological need. But those תלמידי חכמים who say a group קדיש דרבנן after a שיעור? What is their היתר to say such a group kaddish? It is not meant for talmidei chachomim! It is meant for common people who have psychological need. Am haaratzim, המון עם. Don’t lean on my father Rav Akiva Eiger (for a general blanket היתר for group kaddish)! That is a discovery, which I must say, is an eye opener in the whole sugya of Rav Akiva Eiger and group kaddish.


Now, when the Consistoire in Westphalia came to introduce the group kaddish, as well as other new היתרים that never existed before, they tried to give it a halachic image, or to find halachic grounds to support them……… For example, they instituted that all אשכנזים should start eating קיטניות on פסח – not only they allowed them to, they forced רבנים by a decree to start eating it, as non-Ashkenazim do. They found an opinion that the issur of kitniyos did not logically apply to their times, and they claimed that in times of war, of shortage of food, it was okay, and went as far as forcing רבנים to eat it. They found the חכם צבי and רב יעקב עמדין, his son, who both stated their views that today it doesn’t make sense, because today the grains are not all mixed as in ancient times. However they themselves only brought up the idea that they believed there is no room for it anymore in our times, but didn’t introduce it practically, and did not rely on it themselves.

The same thing, with these two great gedolim, applies with group kaddish. They lived in Portugese communities, Spanish Jews, Marranos in their places, Hamburg, Amsterdam, London. Marranos who fled one hundred years after the great exile of Spanish Jews in 1492, and established beautiful flourishing communities in Western Europe. They were Sepharadic places, so they observed Sephardic practices, observing what might be worthy to learn from them. But again, they never practically introduced it, never said that it was proper for an Ashkenazi to rely on a Sepahardic heter.


But the Rabbis that were engaged in the Consistoire of Westphalia took advantage of the expression of Rav Yaakov Emden in this matter and they brought him down as the model for a Rabbi trying to practically institute it (למעשה).

Therefore I find it perhaps worth our while to bring the exact quotation of Rav Yaakov Emden on this matter, and see if he really wanted to institute it practically. So I will read it out for you, see what Rav Yaakov Emden really says. He says it in his סידור, the very famous רב יעקב עמדין siddur, perhaps the most important siddur of an אחרון. We find no acharon on his level who makes his own siddur. The siddur itself, and commentary on the siddur. He publishes his own siddur, in his own lifetime. In his own house. עמודי שמים and שערי שמים. Two volumes.

When it comes to kaddeishim, he says that he will not count out קדימות (priorities) in קדישים, which are given elsewhere……..כבר דברו בו מספיק גדולי האחרונים (it has already been sufficiently discussed by the great later authorities)………anyway, מה טוב ומה ישר הוא מנהג ספרדים, that more than one person says it. No מחלוקת, no competition….so you don’t have to go into all those דינים of who goes first. If you really want to know the קדימות, see שלחן ערוך, לבוש, other מפרשים, see there.

But after having said that, which is the passage proponents of group kaddish like to quote, they miss two points. Firstly, people miss out that he says go look it up (the קדימות)….he doesn’t say you don’t have to do it – he says look elsewhere for the information. He says I like it (the Sepharadic way), but he doesn’t say ‘I am a Sepharadi’. Additionally, he says, you know אשכנזים have a מנהג that the last day of saying קדיש in the אבילות year (called יום הפסקה- the day people stop saying kaddish), you know people say kaddish for eleven months, not twelve months, because we don’t want the deceased to appear as a רשע (wicked person), who we are taught has twelve months in גיהנום. On the last day of his קדיש, the last day of the eleventh month, he gets the top priority, he gets all the קדישים of that day, everyone else is pushed aside.

So this only applies only according to those who go by the Ashkenazic מנהג, that only one person says kaddish. Comes Rav Yaakov Emden and says, I want to warn you….When you finish the last day of the eleventh month, you should stop (saying kaddish) then, and not go by the practice of the Sepharadim who have a pesak that you can go on for another week and stop after eleven and a quarter months, a week later. So we see that Rav Yaakov Emden didn’t actually follow the Sepharadic minhag. He himself says that he stopped right after the eleventh month, like Ashkenazim….This same Rav Yaakov Emden who wrote that it was very nice what Sepharadim did, never tried to introduce the same among Ashkenazim.


The reason why in the German communities, like where Mr. Rosenberg came from, they did not go by this new היתר, is primarily because they knew exactly where it came from. It did not come from the רבנים like Rav Akiva Eiger, it did definitely not come from the חתם סופר. It was one of the early Reform steps, from the Consistoire.

Rav Yaakov Ettlinger was also a German Rav. You all heard of him, the ערוך לנר, his seforim are learned all over in Yeshivos. He was once queried about this by someone asking if it’s right for his community to adopt this new Sfardishe minhog of group kaddish, citing for support the words of Rav Yaakov Emden. His response was as follows. You call it a great תקנה to go along with the group kaddish? To change a מנהג ישראל which prevailed in אשכנז, prevailed in Europe, not only in Western Europe, but also in Eastern Europe, for hundreds and hundreds of years, ever since we had קדיש יתום, we had it that only one person said a kaddish, and you want to follow מתחדשים, the reformers who instituted this, and have changed so many other things of תפלה as well? No, no, no, one should not do it (תשובות בנין ציון, קכב).


And the interesting thing is, we think that, okay, some Yekkes still obey this rule, they don’t say group kaddish, some Litvakes still obey this rule, those that go by the Chazon Ish, for example,…but Sepharadim all do say it. However, we find that that even some Sepharadim, like those of the Tunisian Jewish capital, Djerba, according to their Rabbanim, even in our time they are very מקפיד that only one person says קדיש.

Anyway, I was trying to show the historical development, that initially everyone had the single קדיש, and then ספרדים started with group kaddish, then חסידים started it, then some  אשכנזים followed……………but there are still some pockets that do not go by Rav Yaakov Emden’s idea, but go by R. Yaakov Emden’s פסק, not to change, and they say a single kaddish.


Tonight, בעזרת השם – in America it’s not night yet – I’m sure that there will be people saying kaddish for Mr. Rosenberg. Whether they will be saying group or a single kaddish, I don’t know, but we all hope that the idea of kaddish, the power of kaddish is to get the people to answer אמן יהא שמיה רבה…. There’s a חתם סופר that says that the core of kaddish is to bring people to answer אמן יהא שמיה רבה. What is the idea of amein yihei shmei rabbah…? The great name of Hashem should be blessed in all worlds, at all times. By declaring that הקדוש ברוך הוא is the Almighty, all we have, by doing this, biezras Hashem, the נשמה should have a great עליה, the neshomo of Mr. Rosenberg.

And we should be זוכה…….the Yekkes have a beautiful ברכה on a יאהרצייט……….they say to a person who has the yohrzeit, they say to him….’עד ביאת הגואל’…and the בעל היאהרצייט answers ‘במהרה בימינו…אמן’. So we repeat together with them, ad bias hagoel, bimheira biyomeinu, אמן!


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6 Responses to “The Development of קדיש יתום – part II Recent Developments”

  1. Josh Says:

    Isn’t it also likely that a contributing factor to the spread of group kaddish was the growth in shul or community size? I.e., in a small community where everyone knows one another, it is easier to figure out who has priority for kaddish. But as Jews were increasingly able to move to larger urban areas (as opposed to being restricted to outlying villages), larger communities formed where it was harder for everyone to know everyone else. The costs involved in coordinating information exchange such that proper kaddish priority could be determined (on a daily basis) would have become prohibitive. Group kaddish would thus be a response to the greater difficulty of managing larger Jewish davening communities.

  2. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    That is something interesting to think about. I think Shul or minyan size is the one to look at, rather than community size, though.

    There were large Shuls centuries ago, however, who managed to handle things with the classical single-sayer kaddish model. And actually in recent centuries, despite the growth of the population, בע”ה, there has been a significant countertrend, especially among certain segments of the population, toward small minyonim, aka shtieblech, at the same time.

    To say though, that “The costs involved in coordinating information exchange such that proper kaddish priority could be determined (on a daily basis) would have become prohibitive.”, is not something I accept. If there is a will, there is a way. We have so many math and computer whizzes, and brain power aplenty. I think they could handle the relatively simple management of a relatively small amount of people who need to say kaddish without too much difficulty. Hey, nowadays we have computers, iphone apps, and who knows what other technological marvels. We could easily have someone write programs to manage kaddish saying in the classical single-sayer way. Could even have the electronic bulletin boards in Shuls display kaddish apportionment.

    So I am not buying the notion that the single reciter classical minhog of kaddish recitation is a dinosaur that is untenable in the modern world. אין דבר עומד בפני הרצון. If Chassidim can keep some of their customs alive, such as dress styles from centuries ago, why can’t this holy minhog be kept alive as well? We need better education of the masses about the history, firm basis for, and benefits of the minhog, as well as סייעתא דשמיא, and בעזרת השם, the מנהג can be kept alive and even spread!

  3. Josh Says:

    Of course – I did not mean to imply it couldn’t be done, just that in times past, it would have been more difficult (in the absence of the technology you mention). Hence this might be a reason for why single-sayer kaddish might have been difficult to maintain. But that was then – it does not mean things could not change now.

  4. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:


    I am not convinced that it is/was excessively hard to maintain the minhog, even absent modern technology. The technology thing was just a new idea that came to me to counter thoughts that it would be too difficult nowadays.

    If large Shuls like KAJ (Breuer’s) and other large Ashkenaz Shuls have kept it for years, without kicking and screaming, it couldn’t be too hard.

    In general, if things are properly organized, and newcomers are apprised of the rules, it shouldn’t be too hard. When things are more or less ‘normal’, בזמן שהשנים כתיקונן (as opposed to time of epidemic ר”ל), how many real חיובים for kaddish are there typically at a time anyway (in a typical Shul, not a kaddish sayer’s Shul like the one Rav Hamburger described visiting in Manhattan, which is a different situation)? Once the system is in place, maintaining it shouldn’t be too difficult. Perhaps Yekkes are stereotypically good at organizing things, but other Jews are not totally bereft of that talent either.

  5. S. Says:

    >If Chassidim can keep some of their customs alive, such as dress styles from centuries ago, why can’t this holy minhog be kept alive as well?

    Is it alive anywhere that you know of? There is a difference between keeping a custom alive and reanimating a dead one. Furthermore, the things like dress styles comes at a cost, ve-ha-mevin yavin.

    Personally I think the stuff about the Consistoire is neither here nor there, because the aesthetic critique of the early Reformers was basically accepted as valid by the Neo-Orthodox. Of course we can well argue that what was considered crude in the 19th century need not be considered so by us (for example, I don’t know anyone who thinks that knocking by Haman should be banned altogether).

    Finally, if there is beauty in this custom, as opposed to the Sefaradic version which is not beautiful (why?), then R. Hamburger failed to communicate just what the beauty in the single person version is.

    I’m not trying to give anyone a hard time, but if there are good answers – good! But let’s hear ’em.

  6. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    “Is it alive anywhere that you know of?”

    Yes. And others who maintain it are mentioned in the shiur.

    “There is a difference between keeping a custom alive and reanimating a dead one.”

    True. That can be a topic for future discussion.

    “Personally I think the stuff about the Consistoire is neither here nor there, because the aesthetic critique of the early Reformers was basically accepted as valid by the Neo-Orthodox.”

    The Consistoire angle is not the only or main reason why the group kaddish was rejected in Ashkenaz and other conservative (small c) circles. The main reasons are that it was not the original way of reciting קדיש, the kaddish sayer is like a שליח ציבור, of which there is only one, תרי קלי לא משתמעי, etc. But the fact that the Consistoire forced the group kaddish down the throats of people as well is not considered to be a positive either. And, the Consistoire didn’t do it for esthetic reasons, rather as part of their liberty and equality for all, cast away the old rules and regulations platform.

    “Finally, if there is beauty in this custom, as opposed to the Sefaradic version which is not beautiful (why?), then R. Hamburger failed to communicate just what the beauty in the single person version is.”

    Rav Hamburger gave a shiur on the minhog. Just the facts. That is how he does things. He didn’t get into the beauty angle. I am the one who took it further, as I have been going at times from presenting the facts into open advocacy. I touched on it in an earlier post of mine, those were my ideas. I think, נלע”ד, that one person saying kaddish enables better focus (כוונה), and that there is beauty in the austere simplicity of a single voice calling out to praise the name of הקב”ה, rather than an unwieldy, and sometimes even rowdy, jumble of voices.

    Anyway, bottom line, the singular way is the original and correct way for mutiple reasons. Even if you don’t agree with my personal reflections on the efficacy and beauty of it, there are still the historical facts and positions of great authorities of past and present.

    I am aware that great masses of observing Jews are not aware of it, or only vaguely so. But those that know, and that are interested, should try to keep this מנהג ותיק alive, and strengthen, and even spread it. Re more specifically, what can be done בעזרת השם, that can be discussed later.

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