The Long Kaddish

The Long Kaddish

I did something unusual last Shabbat at the conclusion of davening. I sat down.

Fortunately, no one else in the room needed to recite the Kaddish, and so we went straight to the similar-sounding, but worlds-apart, Kiddush.

Shortly before my mother’s yahrzeit last year, my wife’s uncle died, with no one to say the mourner’s prayer for him. The family would pay a stranger to have the uncle’s name in mind when he says Kaddish. But I felt someone who knew him and could picture his face should say it, too. So, on a rabbi’s advice, I asked my father’s permission to say the Kaddish voluntarily while he is still alive. Since it was not a blood relative, I would say it only when I’m with a minyan, not daily. That honor should be reserved for parents.

And so, for nearly two years (Kaddish is recited for 11 months), I had that last word at shul, with other mourners at Shabbat davening. Strangely, though I have a decent memory and read Hebrew well, I never quite committed to memory the long version, known as the Rabbis’ Kaddish – recited with varying frequency depending on the nusach, or style of davening, during morning services.

Sometimes between services I’d test myself and get most of it right. But the passage of difficult text in the middle has been a stumbling block for many a mourner, from what I’ve seen. The best I could do is memorize the siddur pages it’s on for quick access. Even after 16, 18 months I’d still get a bit nervous as it approached, worried that I’d mess it up publicly.

An example, it seems, of passive resistance. I guess it was reluctance to get too comfortable with the Kaddish that kept me from mastering the Long Kaddish. It’s meant to be respected, kept available, but never too familiar.

Maybe that’s what the rabbis had in mind when they wrote it.

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