Perhaps the time has come to eliminate the Mourner's Kaddish.
In my two decades in the rabbinate, countless men and women have told me that by coming regularly to the synagogue to recite the Mourner's Kaddish following a loved one’s death, they have discovered or reconnected with their faith; they have developed deep and significant friendships; they have felt a greater sense of community; and their lives have become richer and fuller for the experience.
Indeed, perhaps there is no greater declaration of faith than the Mourner's Kaddish. In this ancient Aramaic prayer, the leader – in this case, the mourner – invites those in attendance to praise God. The congregation, moved by the spirit of the leader, responds to this call to praise. The act is made even more laudable when a mourner serves as the prayer leader because human nature might cause a mourner to question or to challenge God’s strength, God’s goodness, or even God’s existence. However, if a mourner finds the courage and the faith to praise God’s name then the congregation too should feel such inspiration.
Moreover, by reciting the Mourner's Kaddish, the mourner often reports feeling closer to the deceased loved one through this daily act of memory and spiritual connection. After all, not only does the mourner receive credit as it were for proclaiming his/her faith in God,1 but the deceased whom the mourner is remembering is elevated even higher among the rungs of the afterlife.2
Herein, however, lies the problem: too many of us wait for our parents to die before we regularly join a minyan or prayer service to honor and to remember our parents or our siblings through the recitation of the Kaddish. Wouldn’t it be better for adult children to invite their parents or for parents to invite their children to sit together in the synagogue or for siblings to invite each other to the synagogue … when everyone is still alive?3
In this way, parents, adult children, and siblings together could praise God’s name. In this way, parents, children and siblings could discover or reconnect with their faith; develop deep and significant friendships, feel a greater sense of community; and have their lives become richer and fuller for the intergenerational act of observing Jewish traditions as part of a community. In this way, too, parents, children, and siblings could spend more meaningful time together while still in the land of the living.
Perhaps by eliminating the Mourner's Kaddish, we all will feel compelled to use our time on earth to strengthen our relationships now because there will be no opportunities for connection after our loved ones die. Perhaps by eliminating the Mourner's Kaddish, we will feel compelled to lead holy lives now because there will be no possibility for further elevation after we die, other than what we ourselves merit from how we behave in the land of the living.
Perhaps by eliminating the Mourner's Kaddish, young and old alike will discover or reconnect with their faith; develop deep and significant friendships, feel a greater sense of community; and have their lives become richer and fuller for the intergenerational act of observing Jewish traditions as part of a community.
So, what do you think: should we eliminate the Mourner's Kaddish?
Okay, I am not actually advocating for the elimination of the Mourner's Kaddish. In fact, I think mourners engaged in daily prayer is an absolutely beautiful ritual with limitless reward. Rather, I am pleading with my fellow Jews to call their parents or to call their adult children or to call their siblings and to invite them to sit with you in the sanctuary, not to mention at Shabbat dinner and Shabbat lunch. It’s a couple hours of your life … but the rewards are truly immeasurable.
So, nu? Why wait for Kaddish? Start now, together …
1Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 3a and 57a
2Otsar Ha-Geonim, Midrash Konen,
3This assumes, of course, that parents and adult children live in the same area.