American Reform Responsa

120. Standing During Recital of Kaddish

(Vol. XXIV, 1914, pp. 152-153)

The question of the propriety of standing during the recital of the mourner's Kaddish must be answered from the viewpoint of the Kaddish in general. The mourner's Kaddish had its origin in early Talmudic, if not pre-Talmudic times, as can be seen in the Testament of Abraham, Version A, XIV (see Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Kaddish"), according to which Abraham is the author of the Kaddish Yatom (cf. also Tobit IV:17, and my Toledot Ha-ikarim I, 80). But this was only in connection with the Birkat Avelim in the first week of mourning (Soferim XIX.12: "Umotse sham aleihem beracha, ve-achar kach omer Kaddish"). The Kaddish of the mourner during the first year is a late institution, first introduced about the 12th century in Germany, and from all that I can see, the mourner was regarded as the substitute for the Chazan.

Now there is a controversy whether the congregation should rise for every Kaddish or only for special ones. (Cf. Rambam, Yad, Hil. Tefila IX.1,5,8; Sh.A., Orach Chayim, Hil. Berachot 53.1; Turei Zahav, 1 and 56; 1 Haggah, and Magen Avraham 4). This controversy has never been authoritatively decided, and the minhag varies according to the countries and congregations (in Poland the congregation remains seated; in Bohemia it rises). But there is no doubt that the Chazan should always recite the Kaddish standing. Consequently, the mourner, who is considered the substitute of the Chazan, should also stand. In some congregations, only one of the mourners (according to the established order of precedence) is admitted to the front row to recite the Kaddish aloud, while the rest of the mourners repeat silently or in a low voice. In our Reform congregations, where the rabbi recites the Kaddish and the mourners repeat silently, none of them evidently can be considered a substitute for the Chazan. Nevertheless, it is evident that the old idea of the mourner reciting the Kaddish before the congregation still exists, and this minhag should be continued, except in rare cases where there is definite and sufficient reason for not doing so.

Can a Distinction Be Made Between the Dead?

If this question refers to the preceding, I would suggest that the mourners stand at all recitals of the Kaddish for the dead, for whom mourning is a legal duty (viz., relative in the first degree). If this question is general, I refer to Yoreh De-a, Hil. Avelut, where certain distinctions are set forth as the established din and minhag.

The Educational Value of Yahrzeit

The Yahrzeit as a permanent institution in connection with the recital of Kaddish appears first in Germany about the 14th century, but since it goes back to an ancient practice known in Talmudic literature ("Taanit beyom shemet bo aviv ve-imo," Nedarim), and since its good influence is evident in manifold ways, I would strongly favor its retention as far as possible.

In addition, as chairman of the committee, I would say that while much may be adduced in favor of the individual mourner's rising for the Kaddish as the outflow of the soul, longing for comfort to be found in submission to God's will, in conformity with tradition--there is also a consideration for, and a sense of sympathy with, the mourner expressed by the whole congregation rising for Kaddish, wherever it is introduced. The decision of the question must therefore be left to the congregation.

In general, I would here refer to the ancient Rabbinical dictum, "Mitoch shelo lishmah ba lishmah," "A good practice, even if not done for its own sake, but for some less spiritual motive, should still be encouraged, since it may eventually lead to a more spiritual view," because it applies to the so-called "Kaddish Jew," who attends divine service only in honor of his dead parents. While religion is not merely piety, nevertheless, filial piety shown by the mourners may in the end lead to a more permanently religious attitude.

K. Kohler


In some Reform congregations the traditional custom has been continued of having all mourners who desire to do so--men and women alike--rise for the Kaddish. We concur in Dr. Kohler's judgment, appended to the 1914 responsum above, that there is no reason to press for discontinuing that custom. But it is clear that in a large number of congregations, the custom has grown and flourished to have the entire congregation rise and recite the Kaddish as a community. The original reason for the institution of this custom was to provide a sense of unity and community support for the mourners. Tragically, a second reason has evolved. The Holocaust makes mourners out of all Jews, and that ongoing sense of loss is expressed through the congregation's rising and unison recitation of the Kaddish.

Responsa Committee (1980)

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.