by Yehuda Shurpin
In this new era of COVID-19, when virtually all synagogues are closed and almost no one is able to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men), many are tempted to say the Kaddish (which is chanted in honor of loved ones who have passed on) even while alone. Why can’t this be done?
The Importance of Kaddish
Before we get to the minyan aspect, let’s talk a bit about Kaddish.
I cannot overstate the importance and merit there is in both saying Kaddish and listening attentively and responding appropriately when it is said by another. This holds true for both for the Kaddeshim said by the chazzan (prayer leader) and the mourners.
In addition to bringing merit to the living, reciting Mourner’s Kaddish does wonders for the souls of the deceased. It not only helps them as they face judgment in heaven and eases their passage to the World to Come, but also allows them to continue on to even higher spiritual planes (which is why it is said every year on the anniversary of passing).
Kaddish=Public Declaration of G‑d’s Holiness
The underlying theme of the Kaddish prayer is the glorification, magnification and sanctification of G‑d.
As you can read in Why Are 10 Men Needed for a Minyan?, anything that is a davar shebikedushah, a declaration of G‑d’s holiness such as Kaddish, Barechu or Kedushah, requires at least a minyan present.1
In fact, if you look at the very text of Kaddish, you can see that it is structured to be said in the presence of others. For example: “In your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon, and say, Amen.” Thus, much of it doesn’t make much sense if it is recited alone.
Furthermore, one of the very reasons why Kaddish is considered such a merit for the departed is because the one who chants it leads the entire group in prayer.
What to Do When Kaddish Is Impossible
The greatest merit for the deceased is when one of their own sons recites the Kaddish. The next best option is to arrange for a close relative (e.g., son-in-law) or sibling to recite it (on condition that their own parents are no longer alive).2
If this isn’t feasible, then one can arrange for anyone who no longer has parents living to recite the Kaddish. In this case, it is preferable to pay for its recitation, rather than have the person do it as a favor. This way (a) the person saying it is considered even more of an emissary (bringing more merit to the deceased), and (b) there is greater assurance that it will in fact be recited. This is especially true when the payment for Kaddish recitation supports an orphan, the poor or a needy Torah scholar.3
In this vein, Chabad.org has partnered with Colel Chabad (the oldest continuously operating charity of its kind in Israel) to offer the recitation of Kaddish for the 11 months after the passing and/or annually on the anniversary of passing.
In the Era of Coronavirus
Due to the extraordinary situation in which we now find ourselves, Chabad.org has arranged a special (free) service in which Kaddish is said in a safe and government-approved environment for all those who cannot do it themselves.
Even More Important than Kaddish
When the vast majority of us are precluded from saying Kaddish as usual, it’s normal to feel distressed. Keep in mind that although saying Kaddish and leading the prayer services are a source of merit for the departed, it is even more important for the deceased that their children and descendants follow the path of righteousness they modeled.
The Zohar says that just as a son honors his parents with food, drink and clothing during their lifetimes, he must honor them even more after they pass away! If he walks a bad path, he brings them disgrace. But if he walks a righteous path, he honors them in This World and in the World to Come. When this happens, G‑d has mercy on the deceased and seats them in a place of prominence.4
So in our current situation, mourners are encouraged to add in good deeds and Torah study (especially Mishnayot) in the merit of their loved ones. And when one can influence others to do the same, it has an even more powerful impact and merit for the deceased.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a number of telling letters to a Jewish activist and educator who often traveled in order to strengthen Jewish education and would need to miss the recital of Kaddish from time to time. In one such letter, the Rebbe writes:
I already wrote to you about this situation a number of times. It is simple that the satisfaction and elevation of the soul cannot come at the expense of a decrease in Torah and mitzvahs. And after all, Jewish education is the foundation for this, and the merit of the public is dependent upon this (much more than Kaddish). From this it is understood that you should not decrease in your efforts for Jewish education, and on the contrary, you should add in it.
And in order that you should not miss (as much as possible) in what was discussed, there is room, in addition to you saying Kaddish when possible, to hire someone else to recite it . . .5
On the flip side, if possible, a person should endeavor to recite Kaddish himself rather than have someone else do it, as it is more meritorious if the descendants themselves recite it.6
May we merit the day when there will be no more death and we will once again be reunited with our loved ones, with the coming of the Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead!
|1.||Talmud, Megillah 23b. To explain the derivation of the concept in the Talmud: Elsewhere it is written, הבדלו מתוך העדה—“Separate yourselves from amidst the congregation” (Numbers 16:21). Noting that the same word (תוך) appears in both verses, a verbal association transmitted by tradition [i.e., a gezeirah shavah] postulates that just as the latter verse speaks about a congregation (עדה), so, too, does the former verse speak about a congregation. And a congregation comprises no fewer than ten people, as it is written, עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת — “How long will this evil congregation persist?” (Numbers 14:27). This verse refers to the spies, who numbered twelve; subtract two for Yehoshua and Calev (who were righteous), and ten remain.|
|2.||See Nitei Gavriel, Hilchot Aveilut, vol. 2, ch. 49, regarding the parameters for when and for whom Kaddish is recited. There are some more complicated situations and a rabbi should be consulted.|
|3.||See Bet Yosef, Yoreh Deiah 403; Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 132:2; and Machatzit Hashekel ad loc.|
|4.||See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:21, citing the Zohar.|
|5.||Igrot Kodesh, vol. 19, p. 291; see also Igrot Kodesh, vol. 19, p. 272.|
|6.||The Rebbe himself writes about this at some length to one who wrote about hiring someone else to recite Kaddish; see More Le’dor Navuch, vol. 3, p. 106. Of course, this is not related to hiring an additional Kaddish-sayer as a backup in case the mourners accidentally forget to say it.|