Today on Yom Hazikaron, the Day Of Remembrance for the fallen soldiers of Israel and victims of terrorism, e.g. civilian victims of Palestinian political violence, the Kaddish is explained by Israel Yaoz (see below) But first the pure text of the prayer is provided:
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May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.
May his great name be blessed, forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he- above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.
This is a short summary of what Avigdor Shinan, Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in 2009 (ISBN 978-965-13-2082-8) about one of the most important prayers in Judaism, the Kaddisch..
Even most of the non-religeous Jews pray the Kaddish though they often may not fully understand its implications. The Kaddish is the prayer for the dead.
It is in the Arameic language, while almost every other traditional Jewish prayer is in biblical Hebrew. It begins with: „Be His name exalted and sanctified!“ Everybody knows which name is meant here, but the holy name itself is never being mentioned. Instead it is represented by „Adonai“ (= my LORD).
Every prayer in the Sidur is related to biblical events or biblical relations, but not so this prayer.
In the Kaddish there is no word mentioning the dead, or death, or pain, or yearning or suffering. It is all about gloryfing the name of God and His justice in all of His decisions, whether they bring to us good or even suffering.
In the Mishna, the „Verbal Torah“ of the second century C.E., there is no mentioning of what developed later into the Kaddish.
To his own surprise, Prof. Shinan found a first hint to the beginnings of the Kaddish in the Sermon on the Mount of Jeshua: „When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you… This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …“ (Mattew 6:6-9).
Most likely Jesus was teaching this prayer to his disciples in Arameic. It is a very personal prayer between man and his creator and was used in different variations. It was „not a fixed formula, and not a community prayer for use the synagoge or in religious congregations, and so it was not necessity to be mentioned in the Mishna“.
I don´t want to go into further details of the long and complicated history of the Kaddish in the past, but I want to sum up, what the Kaddish is today: It is the standard prayer of the bereaved for children, for parents, for close relatives or for other loved ones, to commemorate them, and to pray for their eternal salvation.
A strong influence to the formation and practice of the Kaddish has come from the hard times of cruel persecution, during the crusades and the many pogroms. In these traumatic events it granted some comfort and consolation to the suffering, in praising the holy name of God who is just even when man does not understand it. There might have been even some christian influence, like some commemorating ceremonies and the custom of lighting candles for the dead.
May be it was not so much the unfamiliar (Arameic) words of the Kaddish, or its theological meaning, but much more so some subconscious feeling of being in a comforting communion with the whole people of Israel, her long history of suffering, and with her strong collective hope for a better future, what made the Kaddish into such a strong tradition. The soft murmuring of this prayer might also have had a genuine comforting influence on the mood of the bereaved.