In previous posts (especially this one), we have discussed the old minhog that only one person recites kaddish at a time, and how, in the modern era (circa the last two centuries), many congregations abandoned it, and adopted a different practice in which basically קדיש was ‘deregulated’, with preferences and limitations removed, under questionable circumstances. The posts engendered much attention and interest. This new, French revolution influenced, laissez-faire kaddish practice, was thought by some to be a panacea, offering great benefits, with little or no cost.
Time and experience, however, have shown us, that the new way was not an unalloyed boon, and has cost us dearly in terms of decline in quality of the kaddish experience. Essentially, we traded higher quality of kaddish recitation for higher quantity of same. Now that many decades and generations have passed, with the wisdom endowed by time and experience, it seems only logical and fair that we take a second look, and reassess the changes that were made. Were they really necessary? Should they be left in place? Or perhaps we should consider reverting, returning to the way of kaddish recitation of our ancestors, the singular kaddish.
QUESTIONABLE RATIONALE BEHIND THE CHANGE
One of the main justifications given for the abandonment of the old singular Ashkenazic kaddish minhog by those who did so was a claim that it caused many arguments and that allowing anyone to say kaddish would make them disappear. We know, of course, that גדול השלום, great is peace, the greatest כלי מחזיק ברכה (blessing containing vessel), as we are taught in the משנה.
This claim, however, I think needs to be carefully scrutinized. Is it necessarily, inherently so, that the old minhog causes מחלוקת? A re-examination of the matter is in order, I believe.
TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK
There are various congregations that still, to this day, to one degree or another,continue to practice the old minhog. Some are of German-Jewish descent, who hold fast to minhag Ashkenaz. Others are very traditional Litvaks, for example followers of the Chazon Ish, the Telz Yeshiva, and ישיבת בית התלמוד in New York. I am not aware of them being torn asunder with constant machlokes due to it. They have somehow managed to continue davening for decades without fisticuffs breaking out over kaddish every other day or week, as one might think would happen if you listened to the pessimists and the naysayers.
EXAGGERATED FEARS AND CHANGED TIMES
I think that a good case can be made that the claim that the singular kaddish caused a great deal of machlokes was exaggerated even centuries ago, when it was made, even if not entirely fabricated. I could understand that it may have been somewhat of a problem on occasion, especially among Jews with little Torah education, עמי הארץ, who thought that the קדיש was the do all and end all means of honoring and assisting their dearly departed ones. In those days there were many such Jews among the frum masses.
But even if it was a large problem then, however, nowadays, thank G-d, אכשר דרא, the situation has changed for the better in terms of Torah education. We now have so many more Yidden with advanced Torah educations under their belts. תלמידים and תלמידי חכמים that can understand, with proper education, that kaddish is not the end all and do all of Yiddishkeit and doing for niftarim (see the section entitled Kaddish Is Not The Only Thing One Can Do For A Niftar here). בשלמא in the past, when the masses were not so educated and might seriously fight over kaddish…….but nowadays? Nowadays, when people voluntarily seek out various חומרות and הידורים (stringencies and beautifications) for their עבודת ה (divine service)? Why not here too, in this case, return to the old, preferred way of doing things?
As an aside, when discussing this, a friend of mine, Reb A., wondered what statement is made about Rabbinic authority and discipline in a place where people would not be restrained from falling into serious feuding if they wouldn’t get the kaddish assignment they wished. Another friend, Rabbi S., commented that the (Sepharadic) group kaddish can also cause arguments
GIVING THE SINGULAR KADDISH A TRY
Of course I realize that it would not be a simple matter to bring the singular kaddish back in places where it has been lost. Many people now are ignorant of it, and many others are so used to the new way of most congregations in recent generations, that change would be difficult.
However, I think that there might be some מנינים, some congregations, perhaps newly starting out, perhaps of בני עליה, spiritual seekers, who would be open to considering adopting the singular kaddish practice as their standard. And who knows, perhaps if it worked well for them, others might follow as time goes along.
THE SOLUTION: EDUCATION, NOT ALTERATION
The singular kaddish is viable nowadays just as it has been for centuries. To stubbornly maintain a defeatist attitude that no one nowadays can handle it, and that by definition even fine Jews will descend into regular feuding due to it is wrong, and unduly pessimistic.
Just as other כיבודים (synagogal honors), such as aliyos to the Torah, which are given only to a select few, do not regularly set off rioting by those who weren’t chosen for them (at least not where I daven ;-), so too those who don’t get exactly what they may wish in terms of kaddish recitation can control themselves and wait for a time when they will be chosen for such.
A strong, thorough, and comprehensive educational campaign should accompany the singular kaddish, to gain the understanding and cooperation of the ציבור involved. If people are properly educated and led, the singular kaddish can have a future and could even regain ground and market share it has lost in recent times, with the consent and desire of congregations.
In a future, companion post ,אי”ה, I hope to go more into detail re resources, educational and otherwise, supporting congregations who practice the singular kaddish. For now I will stop here and let you mull over the above.
A singular kaddish for a singular nation. Sounds like a good match to me. 🙂