Parts of the prayer’s text originate as far back as the First Century B.C.E. It was written in Aramaic, the most commonly spoken language amongst Jews in that time, with the intention that everyone should be able to understand the text.
Kaddish first started being said in Jewish houses of study (batei midrash) after a rabbi and teacher gave a Torah lecture, people would stand and give praise to G-d. After a rabbi or teacher died, students would assemble to study in his memory, and the rabbi’s son would be honored with leading the prayer. As time went on, reciting Kaddish became the traditional tribute custom rather than only studying in the person’s honor.
The Mourners Kaddish
The most notable Kaddish is The Mourner’s Kaddish (Kaddish Yatom- literally Orphan’s Kaddish). Its text dates back to the time period
after the Talmud was completed, known as the Geonic period (approximately 600-900 C.E. The agreed-upon custom is for a child to recite Kaddish for a parent.
This obligation is an extension of the 5th of the 10 Commandments of “Honor Thy Father and Mother.”
One would assume that honoring our parents applies only while they are alive. However, Judaism reveres the dead, in addition to parental veneration. This places an even larger importance on honoring our parents after they pass.
Reciting Kaddish for a parent’s soul within the first 11 months of their burial, and on each subsequent Yahrtzeit (i.e, anniversary of death) is one of the last practical ways to be able to fulfill the 5th Commandment of honoring your parents. While the preferable option is for an immediate relative or any blood relative to be the one to recite Kaddish, in instances where that is not possible, anyone may recite Kaddish for someone who has died.
The custom of reciting Kaddish on behalf of others is as old as Kaddish itself.
Years ago, when many in the world were illiterate and were unable to pronounce the words of the prayer, others were hired to recite Kaddish by the relatives of the deceased. Today, most people are not able to read or speak Aramaic, creating an even greater need. If you need Kaddish to be recited, Click Here for more information about arranging Kaddish to be recited in loving memory.