Chasam Sofer Responds to Rav Yaakov Emden, Defends the Singular Ashkenazic Kaddish – החתם סופר מבאר ומצדיק מנהג אשכנז שרק אחד אומר קדיש

Looking at הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא, חלק ב, I discovered a mass of additional information related to The Development of קדיש יתום – part II Recent Developments, which was not covered in the shiur that Rav Hamburger gave. Of course, it was a relatively short shiur, so not everything could be covered in it, but ב”ה he incorporated more on the subject in the sefer.

One particularly interesting thing I found there was a citation of what the חתם סופר wrote in a teshuvoh, defending the old minhog Ashkenaz that only one person says kaddish at a time, and taking issue with the words of רב יעקב עמדין about it.

The analysis of the Chasam Sofer, contrasting the Ashkenazic singular kaddish minhog with the group kaddish practice, is quite enlightening.

He says as follows (last thirty-five lines in right column, starting with words עוד אני מדבר בכיוצא, my understanding and synopsis) –

That which Rav Yaakov Emden wrote re kaddish, that the minhag of the Sepharadim that everyone says kaddish together is easier, and many, e.g. a group, who do a mitzvoh, are better than individuals who do so….


So it is a wonder, astounding, that our ancestors, the great Torah scholars of Ashkenaz, to whom the Torah was an inheritance, as is stated in the responsum of Rabbeinu Asher, the רא”ש (which is brought by the great Sepharadic Rav, the Beis Yosef, in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah as well), didn’t follow such a practice. Can we merely lightly assume that they had an inferior and defective stance in this matter? And furthermore, how can we understand the סדר קדימה, the minhog that an aveil in shiva has precedence over one in shloshim, who has precedence over a בעל יאהרצייט, who has precedence over a an aveil in יב חודש? After all, if there are partners who find profitable merchandise, can one of them say, I need it more, give it all to me, and the others have no share in it? No, the partners divide it. So too, with kaddish, if several people need to say kaddish, they should share it and say it all together, rather than having just one say it.

So the חתם סופר explains that the main benefit to the נפטר (deceased) that comes from saying kaddish is not from the mere recitation of it, but  rather from the many responses of amein, and especially אמן יהא שמיה רבה, that it elicits from the ציבור (congregation). Since those come about via the aveil, the benefit accrues to the niftar.

(We could view this as a multiplier effect. If one person saying kaddish causes a tzibbur of fifty people, for example, to answer four ameins, one אמן יהא שמיה רבה, and one בריך-הוא, he has done so much more than just say kaddish with six responses of אמן, איש”ר, ובריך הוא. He has brought about three hundred such responses)

Therefore, explains the Chasam Sofer, it comes out that our minhog, the מנהג אשכנז that only one person says kaddish at a time, is beautiful and most potent. Because in the case where many say the kaddish at the same time, nevertheless, the bringing about of the responses of amein comes about through just one of them, and the others are just in the category of מסייע, those who extend a hand, which act is considered by halocho, as אין בו ממש, lacking in substance compared to one who is the clear cause of an action….


P.S. It occurred to me that this important הסבר of the Chasam Sofer (actually, if you think about it, it is פשוט that the answering of the ציבור is the עיקר, rather than just the plain recital of kaddish, as when the gemara mentions אמן יהא שמיה רבה, and speaks so highly of it, it mentions and focuses on the responding of it by the ציבור, not the recitation of it by the individual. However, sometimes we lose sight of things and we need a gadol like the חת”ס to set us straight) is perhaps especially important in our day, to combat another distortion that has arisen.

Some people have adopted a practice of saying kaddish at a קבר (grave) without a minyan, at times alone, e.g. when visiting a קבר on a יאהרצייט (yohrzeit) or some other time. I assume it is found more among non-Orthodox, but I suspect that even some Orthodox (albeit unlearned ones presumably) may do so at times. They may be doing this because the stress among many has been the saying of kaddish, without realizing that it is the answering of kaddish by the many members of a ציבור – congregation is what gives kaddish it’s great power (of course, kaddish is a דבר שבקדושה, which requires a minyan, but I am thinking that the above explanation gives an additional angle to explain why such a practice is misguided).


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19 Responses to “Chasam Sofer Responds to Rav Yaakov Emden, Defends the Singular Ashkenazic Kaddish – החתם סופר מבאר ומצדיק מנהג אשכנז שרק אחד אומר קדיש”

  1. Rafi Hecht Says:

    In a way it makes sense that R’ Yaakov Emden didn’t hold of the Nusach Ashkenaz approach. While he was a well known Misnaged, he still did things the Nusach Sefard way, which probably extended to the multiple Kadish Yasoms. He also didn’t wear Tefillin on Chol HaMoed, but put on a show when it was necessary as in cases when he was Rav of a Nusach Ashkenaz community (see “Putting on Tefillin on Chol HaMoed” –

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Greetings and thanks for stopping by.

      I am wondering what you mean when you say that Rav Yaakov Emden “did things the Nusach Sefard way, which probably extended to the multiple Kadish yasoms."

      To my knowledge Rav Yaakov Emden (RYE) was a proud Ashkenazic Jew (he famously writes in his sefer מור וקציעה, in Orach Chaim, 53, app. halfway down the left column here, that his heart rejoices and he praises Hashem with all his heart for having made him an Ashkenazic Jew pronunciation wise). True, he had maverick tendencies, and was influenced by Sepharadim due to living among them, but to make a blanket statement that ‘he did things the nusach Sfard way’ does not seem correct.

      Perhaps the fact that most printed ‘Rav Yaakov Emden siddurim’ these days are ‘nusach Sfard’, has led you to believe that RYE was a nusach Sfard devotee. However, you should be aware that that is not the case, as the siddur was not originally so. It was originally אשכנז. You can see the original siddur online at, and there are some newer editions still around that are faithful to the original Ashkenaz text as well. What happened to it was that Chassidim took a liking to it and changed the text to Sfard, to fit in with their way of prayer.

      I looked at your post re Tefillin on chol hamoed, but didn’t see about RYE there, rather about Rav Yonason Eibeschutz (RYEI), who RYE opposed. Perhaps the two names got confused somewhere?

      • rafihecht Says:

        You’re right. I was thinking about Rav Yonasan Eibeschutz, my mistake. I guess I was thinking RY”E, a mnemonic that both Rabbis share.

  2. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    Okay, sometimes things can get confusing, I almost got mixed up myself between RYE and RYE ;-). They are buried right near each other actually, according to what Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman writes in one of his published studies, many of which are online at I see.

  3. S. Says:

    To add to Rafi’s point, R. Yaakov Emden had a little more exposure than average to the different minhagim of Sefardim and Ashkenazim and was indeed in a position of making a (admittedly subjective) judgment about which are superior, as he did in the case of Ashkenazic havara.

    While I agree that it is important to seek defenses for one’s own practices, R Yaakov Emden too is a man de’amar, and the Chasam Sofer’s prima facie assumption that Ashkenazic practice has a good reason which makes it the best way is flawed so long as he didn’t have the opportunity to really see both and compare them, much less the other rabbenei Ashkenaz who did not promote a change. Perhaps they too would have found the Sephardic way to be superior if they had seen it. Many who saw the methods of Sephardic education in Amsterdam found it to be superior to that of the Ashkenazim, for example. And who knows, if their recommendations had been adopted a century earlier, maybe there would not have been some of the negative fallout when educational reform was mandated by Joseph II, recommended by Wessely, etc.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      And perhaps the Sepharadim would have found the Ashkenazic singular way of kaddish superior had they seen it? 😉

      Is there an element of the grass is greener on the Sepharadic side here perhaps? I think that many Ashkenazim have been hit by that bug over the years (and quite a few Sepharadim think things are better on the Ashkenazic side, witness the trend by many of them to prefer Ashkenazic Yeshivos to their own).

      Re methods of education, that is another matter. It should be kept in mind, however, that Ashkenazi education was not monolithic, neither over the vast swath of Ashkenazi territory, nor over the centuries. Yeshivos in Lita before Rav Chaim Brisker were different than afterward. Yeshivos five hundred years ago were different than those one hundred years ago. Yeshivos in Central Europe were at times different than those in Eastern Europe. That goes for advanced Yeshivos as well as chadorim.

      I also want to question whether seeing things in person is prerequisite, sine qua non, to making comparisons and evaluating things. It could be helpful, but to make it the determining factor, assuming that the one who saw both practices with his own eyes necessarily understands the issue better than someone that didn’t, seems to be granting it too much power and overdoing it to me. When you are talking about a gaon of the caliber of the חתם סופר, with such great wisdom and Torah vision, he could dissect an issue very well and be יורד לעומקו even without seeing the practice in person, as evidenced in this תשובה.

      • rafihecht Says:

        …There are many beautiful elements that each culture on a global level has. For example, with music, Sepharadim are admittedly more musical, and the sales in the Jewish music industry reflect this. Go to and count how many Sephardic albums there are, and factor in the percentage of Ashkenaz singers to Sepharadic singers.

        As far as education goes, the reality is that once upon a time very few people went to Yeshiva, as Yeshiva was meant for the intellectual elite. Those that weren’t in Yeshiva learned Halacha and Minhag from their parents, which in reality is the best way to learn a Mesorah. Over time, Ashkenazim went ahead and opened up so many Yeshivas and eventually accepted just about anyone coming in. Sepharadim had their Yeshivot, but didn’t expand as much, leading to fewer Yeshivot. Not only that, but Sepharadi Yeshivot are notoriously more expensive than Ashkenazi Yeshivas, leading many cash-strapped Sepharadim to attend Ashkenazi Yeshivas. Granted, there’s a percentage cap on Sepharadi students per Ashkenaz class, but that’s another story.

      • S. Says:

        >And perhaps the Sepharadim would have found the Ashkenazic singular way of kaddish superior had they seen it?


        >Is there an element of the grass is greener on the Sepharadic side here perhaps?

        Not me. I am a lover and defender of Ashkenaz. I even mostly abandoned the academic method of transliteration in my blogging in favor of havara ashkenazis (albeit not rigidly; mostly in the domain of using s for tav rafeh) to make the point that it is legitimate and there are worthwhile things to read or hear with that havara (or should I say “havoro”), which is what I use as well.

        *That* said, there is today an element of Ashkenazic dominance (eastern European variety) over Sephardi mesorah and I think that should be resisted, much the same way as eastern dominance over Yekkishe Ashkenaz should be resisted.

        At the same time, I *also* feel that just saying things like “and our minhag is better” or more beautiful needs something beyond a list of who said it and who supported it. Even the reason given here seems designed to support the retention of the minhag. What, R Y Emden didn’t get what kaddish is all about?

        >I also want to question whether seeing things in person is prerequisite, sine qua non, to making comparisons and evaluating things.

        I’m not saying it definitely is, but it is something to bear in mind concerning the relative merit of R Y Emden’s position and the Chasam Sofer’s. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer was involved in bigger fish to fry and we know that he elevated minhogim to a certain level of importance on tactical grounds. If this wasn’t a major issue two generations earlier, maybe it isn’t a major issue today.

        This is not to ch”v cut the Chasam Sofer down to size, but again, we must remember that R. Yaavetz wasn’t a minor leaguer either.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        What can I say, I can’t rule someone who is on the line, esp. on the mainline, out of line, can I? 😉

        Just recall that the Chasam Sofer was following in the way of the רא”ש in his assumption of the greatness of the Ashkenazic mesorah. And that RYE was not unequivocal re this aspect of kaddish, as Rav Hamburger pointed out.

        One of the aspects of this that I found interesting was the Chasam Sofer engaging Rav Yaakov Emden here. Two giants of Ashkenaz, who I assume never met. I don’t know how often he did it in his writings. How common or uncommon is it?

  4. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    “Sepharadi Yeshivot are notoriously more expensive than Ashkenazi Yeshivas, leading many cash-strapped Sepharadim to attend Ashkenazi Yeshivas.”

    You sure about that? You mean in Eretz Yisroel? North America? Elsewhere?

    We have to make sure to keep perspective here. Perhaps some readers can get the wrong impression at times.

    Sepharadim and Ashkenazim are brothers. We have the same Torah. We should learn from and respect each other, and that has been the derech of gedolei Yisroel.

    Rav Hamburger gave some shiurim in which he detailed things Ashkenazim have adopted from Sepharadim and things Sepharadim adopted from Ashkenazim. Maybe I will write about that more in the future, biezras Hashem.

    So just because we write sometimes about different shitos and minhogim, does not mean that we don’t respect our dear Sepharadic brothers. It is the way of Torah to debate and argue about Torah, dinim, minhogim..Just like we don’t always agree with our own family and spouse and sometimes debate with them. But that doesn’t mean we are enemies. Chas veshalom!

    • rafihecht Says:

      No doubt about it. Of course we’re brothers of the same Book (99% of it anyways – see which is why I think we can get away with comments like this 🙂 (j/k)

      In any case, it’s true that we take from one another a lot as well as respect one another greatly. To do things strictly like Minhag Lita or Galicia, you need to still live in those regions. The fact that we have moved from there instantly affects our Minhagim, since our current society directly affects our culture whether we like to believe it or not.

      As for Sepharadi Yeshivot, my point of reference was in the United States, where schools like the Magen David Yeshiva in New York, which charges a lot more than, say, the MO Yeshiva of Flatbush, which also charges a lot of money.

      With regards to a quota system, read YNet’s article on what R’ Ovadia Yosef says about them when dealing with the Emanuel school issue way back (

    • rafihecht Says:

      Also, I have a number of Sepharadi friends who attest to the pricing difference here in America.

  5. Richie Says:

    I note with interest your reference to the Chasam Sofer and the view that only one person says Kaddish. I attended a shiur this last Shabbos on the subject of “Women Speakers”. As part of the shiur the question of women singing was also raised. As far as I remember, the Chasam Sofer mentions (the Ashkenaz opinion – my addition here) that if more than one woman is singing then it is OK. In fact, my mesora is that if women and men are singing together and the women are not louder than the men then it is OK (e.g. Zemiros at the Shabbos table). The reason given by the Chasam Sofer is that Sh’tei Kolos Lo Mishtamei (two voices cannot be heard). This is the same reason given by R’ SR Hirsch (in Teshuvos) why only one person says Kaddish. So there seems to be a pattern to the Ashkenaz Mesora on this.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for stopping by.

      What you refer to re singing is not from the חתם סופר, but rather from the שרידי אש, who was of Litvishe background, but later moved to Germany, later to Switzerland, and was circa a century after the Chasam Sofer, in a different time and milieu. We cannot automatically assume that the Chasam Sofer would have concurred. Since the Chasam Sofer was known for his zealousness and resistance to change, it seems quite debatable.

      You raised the matter of the talmudic klal of תרי קלי לא משתמעי. Actually, if you examine the teshuvoh closely you will see that the Chasam Sofer did not invoke that, but rather argued on a somewhat different basis. I do believe that others raise it in regard to this issue, but I do not see it here.

      Re a teshuvoh from Rav Hirsch on the issue of only one person saying kaddish – I am not aware of such. Can you tell me where it is exactly?

      In general, we can perhaps use this opportunity to try to refine our definition and understanding of תרי קלי לא משתמעי. To render ‘two voices are not heard’ literally doesn’t seem to be completely accurate, despite the fact that sometimes sounds can cancel out each other, which people may read about in science or science fiction books. I would say that a better translation would be that two or multiple voices are not individually heard. They become a mixed, mangled, and relatively undifferentiated mass of sound that cannot be totally heard in the way that single voices without interference can be.

      • S. Says:

        On תרי קלי see the ChasaN Sofer (who does not raise it in terms of zemiros, but in general.).

        Re the ChasaM Sofer, this doesn’t seem to me to be a question of change. Was it previously the practice for women not to sing zemiros? Lav davka. Nevertheless as far as I know he did not address this, while his grandson does.

      • Richie Says:

        Yes, thanks “S.”, you beat me to it. I was just about to write this, when I read your post. I spoke to the Maggid Shiur this Shabbos afternoon, who informed me, as you say, that the Teshuvo comes from the Chasan Sofer, grandson of the Chasam Sofer.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        It should be noted that the Chasan Sofer says there that he is not certain about it (נסתפקתי). He does not give an unequivocal ruling, or for that manner, a ruling at all. He just discusses various sides of the issue.

  6. Richie Says:

    The Teshuva from R’ SR Hirsch is in the Artscroll שמש מרפא on page ט.

  7. ChasamSoferEynkl Says:

    RafiHecht writes, “For example, with music, Sepharadim are admittedly more musical.” How can one make such a statement? Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim have demonstrated great musical ability. In Eastern Europe, for example, Ashkenazi Jews basically functioned as a musical caste and (except in a later period in parts of what is now Hungary and Romania, where Roma/Gypsies also formed such a caste), Ashkenazi Jewish musicians played for both Jewish and non-Jewish weddings, etc. Moreover, we need only look at the tremendous number of Ashkenazi violin (Heifetz, Menuin, Stern, Perlman, etc.) and piano (Horowitz, Rubenshtein, Ashkenazi, etc.) geniuses to know that Ashkenazim are not less musical than Sephardim.

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