Jewish belief in the afterlife is affirmed in almost all of the Jewish rituals of mourning. Of these, by far the best known is the recitation of the Kaddish prayer by the mourner.

In addition to being recited at the graveside, the Mourner’s Kaddish is said during every prayer service. Ideally, a mourner recites the Mourner’s Kaddish at three prayer services each day for 11 months after the death (usually of a parent, although Kaddish may be said for others). It is then recited every year on the anniversary of the death (yahrtzeit).

Kaddish, in different versions, is actually recited numerous times during services. Written in Aramaic, the common language of the Talmudic era, Kaddish makes almost no reference to death. Rather, the text of Kaddish is all about the greatness of God and the kindness He does for the world.

Mourning the loss of a parent is a year long event, although there are different stages of intensity.  Psychologists have noted that death often evokes many emotions: guilt, sorrow, anger, etc. The sages recognized that, given human nature, a person experiencing these emotions might feel isolated from, or angry at, God. The text of Kaddish is a reminder that God runs the world and always has our best interests in mind, although we may not realize it.

That the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited for only 11 months after death is based on the kabbalistic understanding that only a truly evil soul goes through an entire year of “cleansing” in Gehinnom. By stopping Kaddish after 11 months, a person affirms that their departed parent was a righteous person.

The responsibility for Kaddish falls on the child, as the recitiation of Kaddish elevates the departed soul in the heavenly sphere. If there is no one able to recite Kaddish, a righteous person should be hired to do so.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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