16 Kaddish Facts Every Jew Should Know
By Yehuda Altein
1. Kaddish Is Praise to G‑d
Kaddish is a Jewish text, in which we declare our prayerful wish that G‑d’s great name be exalted and praised (among other meaningful declarations and requests). It is recited with a quorum, numerous times during daily services and at other religious functions, most notably by relatives in memory of a deceased person.
Read: What Is Kaddish?
2. Kaddish Means “Sanctification”
The word kaddish means sanctification. Its recitation brings holiness to G‑d’s name, declaring our perfect faith that He is the Creator of the world and that everything occurs by His will.
Read: Why Do Mourners Recite Kaddish?
3. It’s in Aramaic
Unlike most prayers which are recited in Hebrew, the text of Kaddish is in Aramaic. Aramaic was the vernacular of the Jews of Babylonia in Talmudic times (when this prayer took shape), and is the language in which the Talmud and the Zohar were written.
Read: Why Is the Kaddish in Aramaic?
4. The Central Line Is ‘Yehei Shemei Rabba’
The central line of Kaddish reads, “Yehei shemei rabba mevorach le’olam u’le’olmei olmaya—May His great name be blessed forever and ever.” The Talmud tells us that when a person recites this phrase with full concentration, any evil judgment that has been decreed against that person on High will be annulled, even if it is 70 years old.1
Read: What’s the Main Point of the Kaddish?
5. The Congregation Has a Role
Kaddish is usually recited either by the chazzan (leader of the prayers) or a mourner. Nevertheless, it is an interactive prayer in which the entire congregation takes part. At specific intervals, the congregation responds “amen!” to the leader’s words, and the ‘yehei shemei rabba’ phrase is also recited together aloud.
Read: Where Does the Term “Amen” Come From?
6. It Is Only Said in the Presence of a Minyan
Kaddish may only be said in the presence of a minyan—a quorum of 10 adult Jewish males.
The underlying theme of the Kaddish prayer is the glorification, magnification, and sanctification of G‑d. Jewish law requires any prayer that is a declaration of G‑d’s holiness—such as Kaddish, Barechu, or Kedushah—to be said only in the presence of a minyan.
Read: Why Is a Minyan Needed for Kaddish?
7. ‘Half Kaddish’ Is Not Half
There are four primary types of Kaddish: Half Kaddish, Whole Kaddish, Rabbis’ Kaddish, and Mourner’s Kaddish.
The Half Kaddish serves as a breakpoint to divide between various segments of the prayers (e.g., between the “Verses of Praise” and the blessings recited before the Shema). Being the shortest of the four gives it its name, Half Kaddish. However, this moniker is by no means exact: It is, in fact, roughly two-thirds the size of the Whole Kaddish.
8. Whole Kaddish Comes After Prayers
The Whole Kaddish is said by the chazzan after the repetition of the Amidah. It comprises the entire text of the Half Kaddish, plus an additional three phrases. In the first of these three (“titkabel”), unique to the Whole Kaddish, we entreat from G‑d that He accept the prayers and requests of all Jews wherever they may be.
Read: Are There Different Kinds of Kaddish?
9. Rabbis’ Kaddish Follows Torah Study
This Kaddish is said whenever 10 Jews learn Torah together, hence the name “Rabbis’ Kaddish.” Since there are several places in our prayers that are actually not prayers but Torah teachings, this Kaddish is said then as well.
10. Mourner’s Kaddish Is Not Mournful
Perhaps the most well-known of the four, Mourner’s Kaddish is recited by sons in the memory of a deceased parent. It is said toward the end of the daily prayers during the 11 months following the burial, and on the yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) each year that follows.
Mourners also recite Kaddish at the conclusion of a burial. The text of this kaddish differs from the standard Mourner’s Kaddish, including additional phrases praying for the resurrection of the dead and an end to all suffering.
Although commonly associated with mourning and tears, the content of Mourner’s Kaddish is anything but mournful. As with other types of Kaddish, it declares our prayerful wish that G‑d’s great name be exalted and praised throughout the world for eternity, conveys our request that G‑d hasten the coming of Moshiach, and beseeches G‑d to send all Jews an abundance of peace.
What else can be done in the memory of a loved one? Read: The Basics
11. The Big Ones End With Taking Three Steps Back
With the exception of the Half Kaddish, Kaddish ends with the well-known phrase, “Oseh shalom bimromav … — He Who makes peace in His heavens shall make peace for us and all of Israel, and say ‘amen!’”
Before saying this phrase, the one reciting Kaddish takes three steps backward, similar to a person retreating respectfully upon concluding an audience with a king.
Read: Why We Take Three Steps Back
12. Mourner’s Kaddish Benefits Parents
In addition to being a merit for the living, reciting Mourner’s Kaddish does wonders for the souls of the deceased. It helps them as they face judgment in heaven and eases their passage to the World to Come, allowing them to continue on to even higher spiritual planes (which is why it is said every year on the anniversary of passing).
Read: Why Say Kaddish for a Dad Who Abandoned Me?
13. Mourner’s Kaddish Is Often Said as a Chorus
It used to be customary in Ashkenazi communities that only one mourner would recite Mourner’s Kaddish on behalf of all mourners, but starting about two centuries ago it became more prevalent for all mourners to recite the Kaddish aloud in unison.
Read: Why and When Did Mourners Start Saying Kaddish Together?
14. Mourners Say Kaddish for Eleven Months and Then Annually
Sons say Kaddish for their fathers and mothers for the first 11 months (less one day) after their passing, and every year on the anniversary of their passing (according to the Jewish calendar).
Calculate when to observe yahrzeit in any year with our yahrzeit calculator.
15. Yemenites Incorporated Maimonides in Their Kaddish
The Yemenite community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, traditionally dating from the days of King Solomon. In the 12th century, they kept up a correspondence with Maimonides, whose encouraging replies include a long letter known as Iggeret Teiman (Epistle to Yemen).
To display their reverence, the Yemenite community of that time added a passage to the Kaddish prayer dedicated to him: “In your lifetime, in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel, and in the lifetime of our teacher Moses ben Maimon…”
Read: Maimonides’ Responsa
16. Sephardim and Chassidim Say ‘Viyatzmach’
It is not uncommon for a congregant to enter a new synagogue and be puzzled upon hearing a slightly different version of a prayer than what they are accustomed to. One example is the Kaddish. Sephardim and those who follow chassidic tradition incorporate the phrase, “Viyatzmach purkanei viykarev mishichei—May He bring forth His redemption and hasten the coming of His Moshiach.” However, this phrase is omitted by other Ashkenazi groups.
Learn to say Kaddish like a pro with our Interactive Kaddish Trainer.