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What is the Kaddish?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2016
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The Kaddish is a Jewish prayer that honors the glory of God. Numerous different forms of this prayer are used in the Jewish community, including several forms which are used during daily prayer in a synagogue, shul, or temple. In addition, a special form of the Kaddish is said by mourners, causing some people to associate it specifically with mourning.

This prayer was originally written in Aramaic, the language spoken widely by many early Jewish people. The name “Kaddish” comes from the Aramaic qaddis, which means “holy” or “sacred."

During worship, several forms of this prayer are used to separate various parts of the services. A Kaddish may be said between various readings of holy text, for example, and at the opening and close of services. A unique form for mourners is said during funeral ceremonies, with specific mourners saying the mourner's Kaddish every day for a set period of time which depends on the relationship between the mourner and the deceased. Despite its associations with mourning, this prayer does not mention death at all.

Another prayer, the El Maleh Rachamim, is used to pray for the soul of the deceased. When the mourner's Kaddish is said during services, all of those present are expected to join in, as the members of the congregation are all considered mourners, although the congregation is not required to join in on repetitions of the prayer said by specific mourners such as parents and siblings.

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The Kaddish varies between various sects of Judaism, and because it comes in so many different forms, visitors may at times find themselves confused when the it is said. Many shuls provide printed forms of their Kaddish in Hebrew, offering a transliteration for people who cannot read Hebrew, along with an English translation. Like other prayers of praise, this prayer honors God and his greatness, along with his compassion, and many versions also include specific prayers of thanks for his treatment of the Jewish people.

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