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By the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank

Rabbi Rafi RankDear Cyber Rav,

A couple weeks ago, I attended my niece’s Bat Mitzvah at a Reform synagogue in New Jersey.  It was a different kind of service, one that I can never imagine being comfortable with, but one custom I found particularly meaningful.  When it came time for the Mourner’s Kaddish, everyone rose.  Not everyone said it, but everyone rose.  I felt as if we were supporting the mourners in the congregation who were saying kaddish, and it seemed so right, I wonder why we don’t do it in our own synagogue.

Sit, Stand, Sit, Stand�A Jewish "Exercist"


Dear Jewish Exercist,

You know, I agree with you, and it is a beautiful custom, one which I happen not promote.  But first, let’s try to understand the custom.  I have heard it explained as you did, as a means of supporting the mourners.  That’s lovely!  And I’ve also heard it said that the congregation stands in memory of all those for whom kaddish will never be said, particularly our families who were slaughtered in the Shoah.  Again, a beautiful sentiment if ever there was one.  Nevertheless, I discourage the practice, and many who know my approach on matters of death will understand why.

In our tradition, being an “avel” or a mourner is a legal category.  It is defined as a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, son or daughter.  I say it’s a legal category because clearly, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and cousins mourn too, and their grief can be as heartfelt as a closer relative, but the tradition does not identify them as avelim or mourners.  In this way, tradition limits those who officially mourn, which is a very important function for a tradition that emphasizes joy and celebration over sorrow and grief.  I do not mean to discredit the memory of all those who have no one to say kaddish for them.  But no one gets kaddish said for them forever.  As for the victims of Shoah, they too deserve to be remembered, and they are, on Yom HaShoah.  That is their yahrzeit and it should be observed religiously.  But we don’t need to say kaddish for them ever time we go to synagogue.

Just to be perfectly clear, I am not saying that the custom of that Reform synagogue is wrong.  I am saying that there is ample good reason to follow another custom, our own, which is precisely to remain seated during Mourner’s Kaddish unless we ourselves are obligated to recite the kaddish
I hope you haven’t gotten too exercised over this one!  Be well and I’m glad that when it came to the CyberShul, you stood up and spoke your mind—that’s always commendable.

The Cyber Rav

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