Understanding the Kaddish, the Jewish Mourner's Prayer

The term Kaddish, derives from the same root as kedushah, holiness. Though the Kaddish never mentions death or loss, the most well-known is the Mourner’s Kaddish, which has come to be associated with memorializing the death of someone close to you.

In Ecclesiastes 12:6 our sages offer the image of a silver cord that connects your soul to all souls that have ever been and to the Unity of All Being, in this life and if there is one, the next. The Mourner's Kaddish is said on each day of the mourning process, and annually on the anniversary of the person's death, and four times a year during the Yizkor service which is offered on the eighth day of Passover, the second day of Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Shemini Atzeret.

If you have recited the Kaddish as a mourner, perhaps you also sensed the silver cord embroidering a gradual closure of holiness over the raw hole in your life that comes with loss. Access to this life line runs throughout every service, because there are several types of Kaddishin a service, providing silver “ladders” of spirit from one major section to the next--Hatzi (Half) Kaddish, Kaddish Shalem(Whole), Kaddish Yatom (Mourner’s Kaddish, sometimes called Kaddish Titkabeil), Kaddish d’Rabbanan (for honoring teachers living and deceased), and one adapted for completing a volume (tractate) of Talmudor an order of Mishna, and another adapted for funerals

Even while engaged in their own dying, many people express comfort in the knowledge their children, or friends, will attend services to say Kaddish to honor their memory. And, what if you don’t live where there is a minyan, ten people, with whom to say Kaddish? Sign up for a year on Zoom or Skype, and request that the minyanof your life, your friends and family, join you on video-conference! 

Kaddish’s gentle rhythmic words come to form a mantra of comfort for mourners. Itbegins by emphasizing a connection to how awesome what we are involved in is:

Yitgadal, v’yitkadash, sh’may rabba    

May “the Name” [all the amazing,
combined facets of Creation; i.e.,
That Which Is Becoming]
grow greater and holier

Kaddish is about holiness in all manifestations. It is essentially a Jewish definition and affirmation of G*d as the big picture we will never be able to back up far enough from our location within creation to comprehend; we just know we didn't invent creation ourselves.

Short and long forms of Kaddish link each section of every service, forming a life line within prayer. Kaddishis intended to help us hold onto the mystery and awe of That Which Makes for Life. What any human can see and understand of “It” is limited, in the words of the Kaddish, this is because, “It”:

l’aylah min kahl birhatah                               
is really higher than any blessings,
v’sheerahtah, toosh b’hah-tah                        
songs, praises
and comfort
dah’ahmee-rahn b’ahl-mah.
Utter-able in this world.

One of the functions of daily services based at a congregation is to create a destination for hearts broken open with grief, hearts leaping in joy, hearts reaching for connection in a group of common interest and mutual understanding, who share a desire for grounding, strength and connection for the day.

Many report feeling incomplete when a death goes unmarked by some form of this ritual. A delay-mourning-now, pay-in-emotional-perpetuity problem develops. Though some will disagree from certain perspectives on Jewish law, psycho-spiritually it is always possible for you, whether male or female, to engage in the healing integration of a loss supported by the saying of Kaddish. In the beginning the Aramaic words may feel foreign and awkward, by the end of a healthy term of mourning, the phrases are familiar friends. This practice helps to transform the pain of loss from the memory of their dying to the mitzvah of honoring how they lived and will live on in your memory as a source of love, learning and inspiration.


It is never too late to bring kedushah, holiness, wholeness, closure and memory to loss. Here is a full transliteration of the Kaddish:

Yitgadal, v’yitkadash,sh’mei raba,

b’alma divra chiruteih,

v’yamlich malchuteih,

b’chayeichon uv’yomeichon

uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisra’eil,

ba’agala uviz’man kariv.

V’im’ru: amein.

Y’hei sh’meih raba m’varach l’alam ul’almei almaya.

During the Ten Days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, add the words in parenthesis:

Yitbarach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar,

v’yitromam, v’yitnasei, v’yit’hadar,

v’yitaleih, v’yit’halal sh’meih d’kud’sha.

B’rich hu.

L’eila (ul’eila) min kol bir’chata, v’shirata,

tushb’chata, v’nech’mata, da’amiran b’alma.

V’im’ru: amein.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya

v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisra’eil.

V’imru: amein.

Oseh shalom bim’romav,

hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol Yisra’eil.

V’im’ru: amein.