The Jewish Prayer for the Dead

The Kaddish honors the deceased and helps mourners find peace.
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In the Jewish faith, there are several traditions that are observed during a mourner’s time of grief. One such tradition is the Kaddish, a prayer recited in memory of the dead. The prayer offers a message of hope and is a therapeutic practice for Jews during their time of bereavement.

1 History

The Kaddish is an Aramaic prayer, meaning it was written in the language of the Talmud, and it is nearly 2000 years old. One form of this prayer plays an important role in Jewish mourning traditions, the Burial Kaddish, which is recited after burial and is believed to help elevate the soul of the dead. Although the prayer is recited during the mourning period, it says nothing about the concept of death. Instead the prayer offers a message of hope, focusing on the greatness of God and speaking of a future time when God will redeem the world.

2 Tradition

According to Jewish law, the Kaddish can only be recited when 10 adult Jews gather in a minyan, a quorum for prayer. The prayer is meant to be recited every day during morning, afternoon and evening services, and while mourners are not required to attend all three services, attending at least one service a day is encouraged. Failing that, the Kaddish should at least be recited on the Sabbath. The duration of reciting the Kaddish varies depending upon the relation between the deceased and mourner. Generally the Kaddish is recited for one month, but in the case of a parent’s death, the prayer is usually recited for 11 months.

3 Purpose

The Kaddish has a therapeutic value for mourners. In order to practice the tradition, the mourner must go out in public, to synagogue, to gather with the minyan and recite the prayer. This means interacting with other Jews, which provides an opportunity for communal support in the midst of grief. Tradition provides the mourner with a routine of reciting the Kaddish and attending services. This allows mourners to channel their grief into a positive focus, giving them a means to honor a deceased loved one and find solace in their faith and community.

4 Special Concerns

While the Kaddish has traditionally been considered an obligation for male mourners, the sons and male relatives of the deceased, Jewish laws of mourning in other grieving practices obligate women and men equally. Even in Orthodox synagogues, where women are not counted in the prayer quorum, women are still encouraged to recite the Kaddish. In the case of infant loss and stillborn children, the Kaddish is often de-emphasized. However, in recent years, a Yizkor prayer has been offered for parents to remember the child they lost. The prayer acknowledges the brief life of the child, pays tribute to the memory and claims a promise for eternal life and peace for both the parents and the child.

Amanda Graber has been a writer and editor since 2009. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications. As an editor, she has worked for both a commercial magazine and a children's literary agency. Graber holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University.