Kaddish

Kaddish Lyrics
There are many forms of Kaddish, the sanctification which is one of Judaism’s most familiar prayers. Yet, even though the original form of kaddish had nothing to do with death or loss, and was used in other ways liturgically, the best known usage is as the Mourners’ Kaddish,Kaddish Yatom. This surely has to do with the fact that many Jews return to synagogue after a long hiatus – or come even for the first time – in order to say Kaddish after the loss of a loved one. The sense of duty associated with kaddish goes very deep into the Jewish soul – and the words ring eerily in our minds.

There are many strange aspects of using the kaddish for the mourner. First of all, there is no mention of death or loss at all. Instead the entire prayer is characterized by the praising and magnification of God’s Name. A string of synonyms meaning, “great, magnified, high, praised, blessed” follow one upon the other. Some might say that it is a strange time to be “happy” with God – after the death of a loved one. Indeed, tradition dating back to Abraham has us arguing with God, wrestling with God, holding God to account. How weird then to praise God – and endlessly – just at the time when we might find ourselves most angry with God and the workings of the universe.

Another oddity perhaps consists in the fact that, despite the fact that we are sanctifying God’s Name in Kaddish, no actual name of God appears in it.

One of the more traditional readings of the Mourners Kaddish teaches that by stating it, we are arguing before the divine court over the soul of the deceased. We, as the children and close relatives, are trying to assume a passage into the better realms of heaven.

The teaching whose tail end you catch on the CD track, differs from this. It comes to me third hand as from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. According to Carlebach, the function of the Kaddish is not so much to argue before God or for us to say it at all! Instead, we should understand that when we say Kaddish, we are channeling the lost ones in our words. We are saying that which they, if they could now speak, would tell us about where they find themselves now.

The core of the Kaddish prayer – in all its forms – constitutes the main part of this chant. It derives largely from the Aramaic of the book of Daniel, chapter two, verse twenty: Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever (or from world to world).

It later becomes the more familiar Aramaic: Yhei Shmei Rabba mevorach. l’olam u-l-olmei almaya.

I also add a feminine version of this, so that we also chant, May Her great name be praised. I also add two more phrases on this recording:

May His/Her name be blessed (in Hebrew), as well as a section taken from the Kaddish itself: “Beyond all blessing and song.”

This chant has proven so popular among listeners to the CD (as well as to those who come to kirtans), that we have decided to record a studio version of it, with some interesting changes, we hope. The chant – like most of the CD – is meant to be used liturgically; so, we hope that synagogues and and other groups will use it, whether in call-and-response form or not.