Kaddish: Denominational Differences

The Jewish denominations choreograph mourner's Kaddish in different ways.

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Though much of mourning is a private experience, saying Kaddish for a loved one takes place in public. After the week of shiva, mourners step out of their homes and quiet spaces, joining with others in a synagogue to recite this memorial prayer.  

There are a variety of Kaddish practices in different communities. These practices most often diverge along Jewish denominational lines.

Kaddish in Reform Communities

In most Reform communities, mourner’s Kaddish is recited once at the end of every prayer service. Typically everyone rises and recites mourner’s Kaddish together–including those who are not in an “official” period of mourning for a relative. Rabbi Mark Washofsky in his guide to contemporary Reform practice suggests the reason for this practice is that “after the Holocaust, there are many Jews who have no one but ourselves to say Kaddish for them.” In some Reform communities mourners rise first, and say the names of their loved ones, and then everyone else rises and joins in the Kaddish together.

Various Reform responsa have permitted Kaddish to be recited even in a situation where a minyan (quorum of 10 adults) is not present. Some Reform congregations, especially in small communities, embrace this leniency and recite Kaddish with a group of fewer than 10 present. Other Reform communities stick to the requirement of 10, stressing the essential Jewish value of public worship. In general, in Reform communities, Kaddish practices are more intuitive, based on a particular mourner’s feelings and needs, rather than specific rules about who should say Kaddish, in what context, and for how long. Kaddish is a powerful anchor to tradition for Reform Jews, but this translates into different practices for different mourners.

Many Reform communities only have services on Shabbat, though some Reform congregations do meet for prayer daily–and these synagogues offer the option of daily Kaddish.

Kaddish in Conservative and Orthodox Communities

In Orthodox services mourners stand to recite Kaddish, and the rest of the congregation typically stands along with them (but quietly). In Conservative services it is more common for mourners to stand and recite Kaddish while the rest of the community sits (also quietly). In both Conservative and Orthodox services mourner’s Kaddish is recited once or more than once at the beginning of services, and once or more than once at the end of services. The total number of Kaddishes is likely to be a bit higher at an Orthodox service, where a number of short prayers are added at the beginning and end of services, and Kaddish is often recited in conjunction with these.

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Shoshanna Lockshin is a former editor at MyJewishLearning.com.

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