Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kaddish As Part of Our Caring Community

By David Berg

According to the song we sing as we carry Torah around the synagogue, the song taken from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the world is based on three principles: the Torah, worship and the performance of good deeds. The study of Torah and worship lead us to the performance of good deeds, and through these good deeds we create a good name. Our good name brings honor to our forebears, from whom we received our names.

In the beginning pages of Gates of Prayer, there is a writing that says, essentially, that a people will survive only if it remembers its ancestors. And so we have survived for millennia. We can remember them in many ways, in our prayer (Eloheinu v’Elohay avotainu v’emotanu – “God of our fathers and our mothers”), offering the Yizkor prayer on Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, as well as the reciting of the Kaddish during the initial days of mourning and on the anniversaries of their deaths. Interestingly, although the Kaddish prayer is associated with death and its remembrance, there is no mention of death. And although it is a doxology, a praising of G-d, there is no mention of G-d’s name.

The Kaddish prayer originated early in the Common Era, and was originally recited at the conclusion of a sermon, the study of a specific portion of Torah or other course of study. In addition to glorifying G-d’s name, it praised the teacher-rabbi as well as the students and the students’ students. The language of the Kaddish, like the language of sermons back then, was Aramaic, the common language of the Jews of that era. Towards the end of the first century C.E. or beginning of the second, the portion of the Kaddish “al Yisrael…” praising the people of Israel, the rabbi(s) and the students was omitted and the remainder became known as the “mourner’s Kaddish’, the form with which we are most familiar.

There are also other forms of the Kaddish, among them, the Chatzi Kaddish, (the “half Kaddish”) commonly occurring as punctuation for the service, and yet another form of the Kaddish that traditionally is recited only at the grave.

For the past twenty years or so, Temple Beth Shalom has been blessed with a lay led minyan which meets on Monday and Thursday mornings at 7:00 am. This group fulfills all three of the basic principles mentioned above. We read from Torah, we pray, and we provide a venue for those in mourning or commemorating the anniversary of a loved one’s death to recite the Kaddish in the presence of a minyan, as is traditional.

Our weekday minyan is a community that is open to all. We have had temple members and non-temple members join us in our service. From time to time, people who have come to recite Kaddish have stayed on as frequent members of our group. We invite you to join us, whether occasionally or regularly, to help others fulfill their mourning obligations, to perform the three principles on which the world rests, and to become part of our community.

We look forward to welcoming you. May the memory of your own loved ones continue to be for a blessing.

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