There's a Minyan Here Tonight/Thoughts on Saying Kaddish

Limelighters Singing There's a Meetin Here Tonight

There's a Minyan Here Tonight

I borrowed the title of this piece from an old folk/gospel tune, There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight which I heard the Limelighters sing many times during a recent PBS fund raiser. The song goes,

There’s a meetin’ here tonight
There’s a meetin’ here tonight
I know you by your friendly face
There’s a meetin’ here tonight
 
 
 

I recently lost my father after his battle with dementia. As part of my home shiva ritual, I requested shiva minyans. My synagogue community obliged and the magic of prayer and community was in my living room for 3 nights. My Rabbi lead one shiva minyan and helped to organize the minyan leaders for the other nights. Without the presence and support of the synagogue communities I belong to and work in, the minyanim would not have been possible.

Saying Kaddish

After my Mom’s passing several years ago, I started exploring what it means to say Kaddish. I bought Anita Diamant’s book, Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead and Mourn as a Jew and looked for information on the web. I found one source which talked about the comforting rhythm of the words, Yitkadal v’itkadash, etc. as they flow from the lips. I was also struck by the idea that the Mourner’s Kaddish is not a prayer for the dead, but rather exalts G-d.

Teaching Adults to Read Hebrew

I tutor and teach adults Hebrew. In my reading fluency classes, adults often request to learn to read the Mourner’s Kaddish. My students are mostly middle agers who have started observing yahrtzeits or are anticipating the death of a loved one such as a parent. We work on each line. I have my students repeat the words. They are in Aramaic and it is often difficult to get our western tongues around each word. Yitkadal, v’itkadash shemei rabah, often comes easily. The difficulty starts with the next phrase B’almah divrah chirutei v’yamlich malchutei. As I comfort and encourage my students to go over these phrases, I explain that variations of this prayer appear in the siddur (Jewish prayer book) after each section of the service is completed.

Kaddish as framework or punctuation

The first time a question in my class arose asking why we have such a prayer, I thought about it. It’s like the Kaddish is a punctuation mark which lets the community know that one part of the service has ended and another is about to begin. Or as one student pointed out recently, ‘it gives those who are slower readers a chance to catch up.’ But then I made the connection to why Kaddish is recited after someone has passed. The prayer doesn’t speak about mourning, it doesn’t talk about helping the neshama or soul (an explanation often given to one of the reasons for reciting this prayer) of the deceased go to a new level, it’s a rhythmic prayer in Aramaic (the common language of the post Biblical era) which was written in that language so all would know the words and be able to recite it. But then I made the connection between the punctuation of a Reader’s Kaddish or Kaddish Shalem makes during the service and the Mourner’s Kaddish. Perhaps the Mourner’s Kaddish is no more than a punctuation on a person’s life. It’s a way to frame the transition of living in the body to living in a different realm. If you believe the teaching that there are a finite number of souls in the universe and we are only visitors in our bodies, than the Mourner’s Kaddish is the perfect escort for the soul of a loved one helping it leave the body and move onto another world.

Even if you don’t subscribe to an afterlife in any form, the Kaddish marks the life of the one who has passed. It’s the exclamation point that exalts G-d. And if the Kaddish marks the sections within the service and a life, what a powerful metaphor! Perhaps prayer is as important as life itself. And since Kaddish whether in the service or the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited only when there’s a minyan, it shows the importance and power of community, that quorum of 10.

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Comments 1 comment

Edie Shapiro 4 years ago

This is a powerful, helpful commentary/explanation of a ritual whose relevance I have long questioned. Thank you for your most thoughtful and evocative words. I am continually pleased and surprised by the relevancy of Jewish ritual as I grow older and enjoy the freedom of individualistic Jewish practice.

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