Ask the Rabbi

April 2019 QUESTION:

I noticed recently that you have changed something about standing for Mourners’ Kaddish at the end of a service. Can you please explain this?

April 2019 ANSWER:

Here goes. The first thing to note is that traditionally, Mourners’ Kaddish is only said by those actively in mourning, or those observing the anniversary of a death (yahrzeit), which is observed on the anniversary of the actual death, unlike shiva and shloshim which are counted from the burial. And our tradition teaches that we “actively mourn” mother, father, sister, brother, son,
daughter, spouse. On the anniversary of the death of these people, we light a yahrzeit candle at home, an attend a service to say Kaddish; it is also traditional to make a charitable contribution in memory of the deceased.
After the Holocaust, many Reform congregations noted that amongst the 6 million who were murdered by the Nazis, there were many who left no one behind to say Kaddish for them, because their entire family was wiped out. And we know that Jews died in this massacre every day of the year. So Reform congregants were invited to rise and say Kaddish for them, every week.
While this is admirable, it blurs the congregation’s awareness of those in mourning, or observing a yahrzeit.
To correct this, I have begun to ask those observing shiva (the first seven days after burial) or shloshim, the first 30 days after burial {which includes shiva}, or the year following a parent’s death, to rise first; alas, there have been too many congregants in these categories for the past year. We read the name of the deceased each Shabbat for 30 days.
Then I ask those who are observing a yahrzeit to rise. Most of those who stand at this time have just heard the name of a loved one read on the Kaddish list.
And then I invite others to rise if they choose to do so. Those who rise at this time may be honouring the victims of the Holocaust, or they may be standing in solidarity with their friends who are in mournin
It is worth noting that Kaddish should be said standing. If you choose not to stand, then you should only participate in the congregational responses, and not say Kaddish in its entirety (at the same time, we know that some people simply cannot stand long enough to say Kaddish, and such folks should of course say Kaddish while seated; but that is not permission for others to do so. Only you know what you can handle). 
One last thought: the list of names that will be read each week for the coming month is published in the temple newsletter. It is a sign of respect to attend the service that week, to say Kaddish. If you cannot be there on the specific date, please let me know what date you will be there, and I will make sure we read the name of your family member on that date (that is better than not saying Kaddish at all).

Leave a Reply