Why do mourners need to recite Kaddish? What is the difference between Kaddish and Kiddush?

Charles Friedman, Boca Raton, Florida

Kiddush and Kaddish are two separate prayers, recited on different occasions, and serve different functions. But they do have a common denominator.

Jews pray three times a day, and Kaddish is an integral part of these prayers. During each service, Kaddish may be recited numerous times, and has various versions. While mourners often lead the services, this is not always the case. Some of the Kaddish versions are automatically recited by whoever is leading the services, regardless of whether or not he is a mourner. The version which is exclusive to mourners is the Kaddish Yasom (literally: ‘Orphan’s Kaddish’), and is commonly known as the ‘Mourner’s Kaddish’.

It may come as a surprise to many people to learn about the actual content of Kaddish. It is not a prayer asking for the welfare of the deceased. In fact, there is no explicit reference in the text of Kaddish to death or mourning. Really, the prayer focuses on exalting and sanctifying the Name of G-d. Rabbinic Tradition enlightens us as to the main function served by this prayer, and the reason it plays such a central role in a mourner’s observance. Sanctifying G-d’s Name in a public forum — which is accomplished by reciting Kaddish in the company of a Minyan (quorum of ten) — is considered a mitzvah (good deed) of the highest order. Such a noble act serves to generate abundant merit. In the aftermath of suffering a loss, a concerned mourner desires that their loved one should find eternal peace and happiness in the Afterlife. Through Kaddish recital, the mourner actually adds to the departed’s store of merits, by performing this potent deed. In so doing, he assists his loved one in attaining the reward and bliss of the World to Come.

Kiddush is a blessing recited by all Jewish families at specific festive occasions: namely, the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. It is recited over a cup of wine, in the context of beginning a festive meal. The word does sound similar to Kaddish, and for good reason: they share the same root. The Hebrew word ‘Kodesh’ refers to holiness or sanctification, and the two types of prayers we have been discussing both stem from this root-word, and share this quality. When one recites Kaddish, he sanctifies the Name of G-d. One says Kiddush to sanctify and consecrate those special days.

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