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In some congregations people stand for the Kaddish, in others they sit, and in others some stand and some sit. What is the correct custom?
Sitting or standing for the Kaddish has been a subject of dispute for over 1,000 years. Indeed, Jews have also argued about sitting or standing for the Shema for 2,000 years, but that argument is based on many Talmudic sources (See Levi Ginzberg, Ginzey Schechter, Vol. 1, New York, 1928, p. 456 and Peirushim V’hiddushim Bayerushalmi, Vol. I, New York, 1941, pp. 146-147; Mordechai Margaliot, Hahilukim Shebein Anshey Mizrach U’venei Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem, 1938, pp. 91-94; Yisrael Ta-Shema in Kenishta, Vol. 1 (2001), pp. 53-61 = idem, Hatefillah Ha’ashkenazit Hakeduma, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 91-100; Mordechai Sabatu, Sidra, 22 (2007), pp. 41-55). The Kaddish, on the other hand, is only hinted at in the Talmud (There is a vast literature about the Kaddish. In English, see David de Sola Pool, The Kaddish, New York, 1909 and reprints; Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish, New York, 1998; Encyclopaedia Judaica, second edition, Vol. 11, pp. 695-698). so there are no early sources as to whether it should be recited while sitting or standing.
I shall therefore present five different customs regarding our topic and then state my own opinion:
Rav Natronai Gaon (ninth century) was asked:
A person who enters the synagogue and finds the congregation who are responding to Kedushah or Yehi Shemo Hagadol [ = the refrain of Kaddish] when they are standing [for Kedushah] or sitting [for Kaddish], (I have translated according to Brody (see the following note), p. 135, note 2). may he answer when he is sitting and they are standing or vice versa, or what is the correct practice?
So it is good to do: When they stand, stand; and when they sit, sit; and don’t stand out from the entire congregation (Geonica, Vol. II, pp. 120-121 = Otzar Hage’onim to Berakhot, p. 50, parag. 124 = Teshuvot Rav Natronai, ed. Y. Brody, Jerusalem, 1994, pp. 134-135. Also see an abbreviated version of this responsum in Seder Rav Amram Gaon, ed. Warsaw, fol. 19a = ed. Frumkin, Vol. I, fol. 193a = ed. Goldschmidt, p. 53 = Mahzor Vitry, ed. Horwitz, p. 22, parag. 35).
The questioner was not directly interested in our topic, but we learn from his question that the congregation normally sat for Kaddish.
Rabbi Judah Al-Barceloni (of Barcelona; 11 th -12 th centuries) ruled that when the Sheliah Tzibbur [= Cantor] recites Barekhu, the congregation silently recites the paragraph “Yishtabah V’yitpa’ar V’yitromam” (For this custom, see the Rema in Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 57:1; Yitzhak Baer, Seder Avodat Yisrael,Rodelheim, 1868, p. 76; Ismar Elbogen, Hatefillah B’yisrael B’hitpathutah Hahistorit,Tel Aviv, 1972, p. 13, parag. 7.2; The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Brooklyn, New York, 1994, p. 84). and replies “Barukh Hashem Hamevorakh L’olam Va’ed”
and this is a custom of all Jews in all synagogues to sit seriously bent over (or: with heads bowed) when the Sheliah Tzibbur recites Barekhu. and Rav Amran Gaon wrote the same thing. ( Sefer Ha’itim, ed. Ya’akov Schorr, Cracow, 1903, p. 250).
Rabbi Judah does not mention the Kaddish explicitly, but if the congregation sat for Barekhu, it can be presumed that they also sat for the Kaddish which immediately precedes it.
Maimonides (1135-1204) has a similar approach. He says (Hilkhot Tefillah9:1-5) that the congregation sits until the Amidah and only the Sheliah Tzibbur stands beginning with Kaddish and Barekhu.
Finally, this is also the approach of Rabbi Avraham Hayarhi (1155-1215) in his Sefer Hamanhig, written in Toledo in the year 1204. He writes before the Kaddish of the Shaharit service: “And the Hazzan stands and recites Kaddish” (ed. Refael, Vol. 1, p. 56), i.e. the Hazzan stands but not the congregation.
Rabbi Yehizkiya of Magdeburg (Germany, 13th century) ruled that
those who stand in the synagogue for Barekhu or Yehey Shmey Rabbah [the refrain of the Kaddish] who compare those prayers to Barukh She’amar or the Shema, it seems to me that we protest because it appears like yohara [=haughtiness to appear more observant than others]. and so ruled Rabbi Azriel, unless the person is a well-known Talmid Hakham [Sage]. (Teshuvot Or Zarua, ed. Kahana, parag. 391 = Y. Z. Kahana, Maharam Mirotenberg: Teshuvot, Pesakim Uminhagim, Vol. 1, Jerusalem, 1957, p. 56, parag. 29; also quoted by Leket Yosher, Part 1, p. 17 and Shu”t Maharil Hahadashot, No. 17).
Rabbi Yehizkiya felt that since everyone sits for Kaddish and Barekhu, it is a form of yohara or haughtiness to stand, and only well-known Sages may do so.
This was the response of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (ca. 1220-1293) to Rabbi Yehizkiya (ibid.): “Of course, one who asks, he is instructed not to stand, but [if he stands], one does not protest, since his heart is directed towards Heaven”. In other words, one who stands for Kaddish and Barekhu is not guilty of yohara; he does so out of true piety and we do not protest.
This was the custom of the Maharil, R. Ya’akov Moellin (Austria, ca. 1360-1427) and the Ari, R. Yitzhak Luria (Safed, 1534-1572). According to his disciple R. Zalman, the Maharil
would not stand neither for Kaddish nor for Barekhu, but any Kaddish that caught him standing, he remained standing until [the Sheliah Tzibbur] finished” Amen, Yehey Shmey Rabbah”. (Minhagey Maharil, ed. Shpitzer, Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 438-439, which is quoted by the Rema in Darkhey Moshe to Orah Hayyim 56 and many others).
Rabbi Hayyim Vital (Safed, 1543-1620) reported in his Sha’ar Hakavanot (end of Drush Hakaddish, fol. 16d) that his teacher, the Ari z”l, would not stand for ” Amen, Yehey Shmey Rabbah”, but if it was the Kaddish after the Amidah of Shaharit or Arvit or Minhah, he would remain standing, complete the reply [of ” Amen, Yehey Shmey Rabbah”] and then sit.
It should be noted that neither the Maharil nor the Ari gives a reason for this custom. The reason may have been simple logic – if one is already standing, he should remain standing until he recites the reply ” Yehey Shmey” which sanctifies God’s name. In any case, they, as usual, had a tremendous influence on subsequent halakhah. Thus, for example, Rabbi Hayyim Benveniste (Turkey, 1603-1673) says in Sheyarey Knesset Hagedolah (to Orah Hayyim 55, on the Tur, parag. 1) that he changed his own custom after he read about the custom of the Maharil. Similarly, the Hida, Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulay (Israel and Italy, 1724-1806) says that we must follow the Ari because the Kabbalists of our generation follow the Ari ( Shiyurey Berakhah to Orah Hayyim 56, subparag. 1 = Responsa Tov Ayin, No. 18, parag. 32 = Responsa Tuv Ta’am, No. 32, p. 30 quoted in Sinai 109 , p. 243).
Indeed, modern Iraqi authorities such as R. Ya’akov Hayyim Sofer (1870-1939; Kaf Hahayyim to Orah Hayyim 56, parag 20), R. Yitzhak Nissim (1896-1981) in his Responsa Yein Hatov (Jerusalem, 1979, No. 30) and R. Ovadiah Yosef (born 1920) in his Responsa Yehaveh Da’at (Vol. 3, No. 4) all follow the Ari. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef adds that this is the custom of the Sefaradim and Oriental Jews.
This is the opinion of Massekhet Soferim (21:5, ed. Higger, p. 358):
[On Shabbat] after the Torah scroll is returned to its place, they recite Kaddish. to teach that Kaddish is not recited on Rosh Hodesh, fastdays, Monday and Thursday, Hol Hamoed, Hanukkah, Purim until they return the Torah scroll to its place, when the people stand and they respond Yehey Shmey Rabbah while standing.
Massekhet Soferim is considered by many modern scholars to be a Palestinian work from the eighth century. Recently, Rabbi Debra Reed Blank has shown that the third section (Chapters 10-21) was written in Europe, perhaps in Italy or Byzantium, from which it made its way to Ashkenaz where it was widely used beginning in the 11 th century (Debra Reed Blank, Soferim: A Commentary to Chapters 10-12 and a Reconsideration of the Evidence, Ph.D. dissertation, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1998; idem, JQR 90/1-2 (July-October 1999), pp. 4-5, note 10). In any case, this passage was ignored by most subsequent authorities, but it is early evidence of the custom to stand for Kaddish.
Despite the Maharil’s custom as reported by R. Zalman (see above), in a responsum published recently from a manuscript ( Shu”t Maharil Hahadashot, No. 17) he justifies those who stand for the Kaddish “out of honor and praise for the Oneness of God”.
Indeed, standing for every Kaddish became the standard practice among many Ashkenazic Jews, due to the influence of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Rema (Cracow, 1525-1572). In his glosses to Shulkhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 56:1, he writes: “One should stand when responding [to the] Kaddish and every Davar Shebikdushah [ = Holy thing which requires a minyan]”.
In his Darkhey Moshe to the Tur( Orah Hayyim 56, parag. 3), the Rema says:
and the custom is to stand, and so I found in the glosses to the Mordekhai in the new edition of the Talmud to chapter Tefillat Hashahar: “In the Yerushalmi: ‘Stand up for I want to tell you the word of God’ – from here Rabbi Elazar said: When they respond Yehey Shmey etc. and every Davar Shebikdusha they must stand on their feet”.
As many have pointed out, this passage is very problematic because:
However, regarding problem “a”, the passage is, in fact, found in Shiltey Hagiborim to the Mordekhai to Berakhot, Chapter 4, parag. 5. Shiltey Hagiborim was published by Rabbi Yehoshua Boaz in Italy in 1544. As for problem “b”, the quotation is not in the Yerushalmi, but medieval authorities frequently refer to a midrash as the Yerushalmi (There is a vast literature on this subject. See, for example, Levi Ginzberg, Peirushim V’hiddushim Bayerushalmi (above, note 1), Hebrew Introduction, p. 29). As for problem “c”, the verse quoted is a paraphrase of Judges 3:5 in which Ehud Ben Gera says to Eglon King of Moab: “I want to tell you the word of God, and [Eglon] stood up from the chair”. Indeed, a similar midrash is found in Bemidbar Rabbah 16:27 = Tanhuma Buber to Parashat Shelah, appendix 9, fol. 40b. Thus, the Rema’s point is that we learn from the midrash on Judges 3:5 that if a non-Jewish king stands up to hear the word of God, how much the more so should Jews stand up for Kaddish and Devarim Shebikdushah.
The Rema’s ruling was accepted by many, including the Magen Avraham to Shulhan Arukh ad loc., subparag. 4 and a rabbi quoted by the Hida (see above) who says “and so is the custom among all Jewish communities”. Rabbi Hayyim Benveniste adds ( Knesset Hagedolah to Orah Hayyim 56): “And so I saw is the custom among many pious men, to stand when they recite all Devarim Shebikdushah”. R. Shneyer Zalman of Liady ( Shulhan Arukh Harav 56:6) and R. Shlomo Ganzfried ( Kitzur Shulhan Arukh 15:6) also ruled according to the Rema.
Others agreed with the Rema, but suggested other proof texts. Some quoted Numbers 23:18 and Bemidbar Rabbah thereto (20:20) in which Balaam tells Balak to stand up and listen: “You may not sit when the words of God are being spoken” ( Bigdey Yesha, Orah Hayyim 56; R. Shlomo Kluger, Responsa Shenot Hayyim, No. 81; R. Ya’akov Schorr in his notes to Sefer Ha’ittim, Cracow, 1903, p. 250, note 27).
Others quote Sanhedrin 60a, where Rabbi Yitzhak bar Ami says that when judges hear testimony about a blasphemer they must stand, just as Eglon stood to hear “the word of God” (R. Shmuel Kellin, Mahatzit Hashekelto Orah Hayyim56; R. Judah Assod, Responsa Yehudah Ya’aleh, No. 11).
Rabbi Kaufman Kohler (1843-1926), a leader of the Reform movement, wrote in 1914 that the entire congregation should rise for the Mourner’s Kaddish to express sympathy with the mourner (American Reform Responsa, New York, 1983, No. 120).
Finally, Rabbi Mordechai Aryeh Wald, a Conservative Rabbi, advocated in 1952 that the entire congregation rise for Mourner’s Kaddish. If we rise for Hallel, a Sefer Torah, Birkat Kohanim, the Amidah, Viduy, Shofar and the Omer – why should we sit for the Kaddish? He also stressed that this gives comfort and moral support to the mourners. This is especially important in our day, when many mourners are not observant and we need to make them feel welcome in our synagogues (Conservative Judaism 8/3, April 1952, pp. 25-32 = David Golinkin, ed. Proceedings of the CJLS 1927-1970, Jerusalem, 1997, pp. 1038-1045; Hebrew).
It is clear that this custom is an example of ” nahara nahara upashtey” [ = every river has its own course; Hullin 18b] – there are many different customs and each is legitimate. However, I would like to advocate the last approach – of standing for every Kaddish – for three reasons:
3 Shvat 5768
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Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.