The author shares a Conservative perspective on issues surrounding the obligation to say Kaddish. Excerpted with permission from "Death and Mourning: A Time for Weeping, A Time for Healing," in Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism, edited by Rela Mintz Geffen (Jewish Publication Society).
Together with sitting shiva [the seven days of intensive mourning following the burial of a family member], saying Kaddish is the most familiar and widely observed of all Jewish mourning practices. During shiva and afterward, at each of the daily services, mourners recite Kaddish yatom (mourners’ Kaddish). Many mourners try to attend Shaharit services in the morning and Minhah/Maariv in the late afternoon in order not to miss an opportunity to recite this prayer, but many rabbis rule that attending one service a day fulfills the mourner’s obligation. Kaddish may be recited only when a quorum of 10 Jews–a minyan–is present.
Alternatives to Kaddish
When a person finds it difficult or impossible to say Kaddish in the synagogue [or any place that a minyan gathers] at least once a day, certain alternatives are available. A mourner may read each day a chapter from the Torah or the Prophets or study a Mishnah [an early Jewish legal text] or a passage from the Talmud. Such study would also reflect well on the person’s Jewish upbringing and hence on her parents. It is unfortunate that most people are unaware of this option, so that if they find it impossible to attend services, thinking there is no legitimate substitute they do nothing at all.
Women and Kaddish
The recitation of Kaddish for nearly a year is traditionally viewed as an obligation upon the sons of the deceased, not upon the daughters. However, since Jewish laws of mourning in every other area obligate women in the same way that they obligate men, it follows that women should feel the same duty men feel and recite Kaddish in a synagogue at least once a day. Even in Orthodox synagogues, where women are not counted for the prayer quorum and where they sit separately from men, a woman may recite Kaddish along with the men from her own seat, just as she recites other prayers from her place during the course of the service. A daughter who is Jewishly knowledgeable and committed to regular synagogue attendance honors the memory of the deceased parent just as much as a learned and observant son does.
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