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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 02_14_2014
02/14/2014 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 14, 2014

 

Kaddish is one of the most moving and mysterious prayers we know. Perhaps it’s because Kaddish isn’t a prayer at all. Kaddish is an ancient praise to God. Its meaning is found in the timing of its recital. Ironically, it says nothing about grief, sorrow or salvation. As a praise, it lifts us out of our despair by turning us towards life’s hope found in God’s presence.

                The custom of reciting Kaddish varies regionally. Traditionally, Kaddish is recited only by mourners. By definition, mourners are those who are grieving the loss of a spouse, brother, sister, father, mother, son or daughter. Others may mourn but they are not expected to observe mourning rituals and are not relieved of daily religious obligations. In the synagogue, rituals vary regionally and locally. In a traditional setting only the mourners rise and recite Kaddish. The congregation responds in specific places within the recitation of the Kaddish. In Reform congregations, it is often the custom for the entire congregation to rise and recite Kaddish after the entire yahrtzeit list is read aloud. There are basically two reasons for this: 1) in a post-Holocaust world, were it not for us there would be no one to recite Kaddish for those who perished; and, 2) when the congregation stands with the mourners it demonstrates our support in their grief. All these and other reasons have led to the familiar customs we now observe.

                In our Gordon Chapel, beginning about 13 years ago, another custom was introduced. Those who come to worship are invited to rise where they are and a member of the family calls out the name of their beloved before the congregation rises and joins them in reciting Kaddish, but the entire yahrtzeit list is not read aloud. If a family member doesn’t attend then their loved one’s name isn’t read. This custom was recently questioned because there are names that are not read aloud either by family or the rabbi, but whose memory should be honored as beloved departed members of the congregation. After an important conversation with the Worship Committee, I resolved to address the question with an answer.

                After much thought, I concluded that we have a duty to honor our beloved dead by reciting their names aloud. We want to honor the names of those who perished in the Holocaust. We want to acknowledge that some older members of the congregation cannot physically attend services. And, we recognize that live-streaming worship permits those who cannot attend to worship with us from home. Thus, the rabbi should read all the names aloud enabling us to honor all our beloved dead whether we are physically in the Chapel or at home. Rising to honor a beloved family member remains a special part of the Chapel custom, so in order to preserve it, too, the following custom will be observed in the Gordon Chapel going forward: 1) the rabbi will introduce Kaddish and read all the names on the yahrtzeit list including names of those who were laid to rest in recent days; 2) as names are called, members of the family of the deceased may rise at their places if they choose to do so; and, 3) upon completion of the reading of the yahrtzeit list, the whole congregation will be invited to rise to recite Kaddish together. The directions will be given by the rabbi in the Gordon Chapel services.

                In the sanctuary, when we read the entire yahrtzeit list, it might happen that family members will rise, without instructions to do so, when their beloved’s name is read aloud. That is perfectly fine and when the reading of names is concluded we’ll all rise to recite Kaddish, together. The rabbis, cantor and members of the Worship Committee trust that this custom will honor all those who once worshiped with us that they may remain in our hearts and minds with abiding love and peace.

                Shabbat Shalom.

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