Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi:

My brother, sister, and I just lost our dad. We want to know why we should say Kaddish for him. I say his soul will be immortal no matter what? My siblings insist that we all have to say Kaddish in shul every day for 11 months.

Worried about the next world


Dear Worried,

Yes indeed, our tradition teaches us that if the proper procedures are followed, the Jewish soul is immortal. And it teaches that immortality is redundant. That means the soul of a departed loved one lives on in a vertical immortality in heaven and in a horizontal immortality as part of the collective of the eternal Jewish people.

To guarantee that duplex immortality, as a mourner, we believe that you children -sons and daughters alike – must say the Kaddish prayer for 11 months in the synagogue, as an agent on behalf of your father’s soul. Daughters are equally authorized in our tradition to take on this role as an advocate for a parent’s neshamah – his or her soul.

Here is the connection between the vertical immortality of the soul and the recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish. Puzzlingly, this lilting and poetic Kaddish passage does have a certain unique cadence, yet it seems in its words to be no more than a standard glorification of God, nothing about death or dying or the deceased.

Yet this prayer is especially apropos for a mourner because we believe that it is the Aramaic praise that the angels recite in God’s presence in the heavens. You the mourner recite the prayer on behalf of your departed loved one. You do this not to address God with the outpourings of your personal anxiety and vexation. You do this to imagine that you are standing aloft in heaven, like an angel, representing the soul of your beloved departed, knocking on heaven’s door to seek entry for that spirit into a secure, eternal place close to the divine light and near the warmth of God.

That is the vertical dimension to the soul’s immortality.

The horizontal dimension of the immortality of the Jewish soul is another story entirely,

You ask why you must recite the Kaddish in the synagogue for 11 months, and why the mourner has the obligation to lead the services in public in the community.

It is because every Jewish soul achieves a horizontal immortality, going forward eternally through time into the future, by its membership in the people of Israel. Now you might think that the membership of the soul of the departed Jew after his death in the community of Israel is a certainty, a given, automatic, and nothing further need be done to solidify that.

But that is not how it works. To secure a place for a departed soul in the community of Israel, many Jews believe that you must recite the daily Kaddish in the synagogue for 11 months. By doing that, you firmly embed the soul of the departed in our community. And as long as that community, that people, endures, that soul will have a horizontal immortality as part of the collective body of Israel.

It’s an onerous obligation and a privilege for you to have that obligation to recite Kaddish in public on behalf of your dad for 11 months. And at the end of that period, when you will rest from that daily recitation of Kaddish, you will be certain about the continuous duplex immortal life of your father’s dear soul, in the eternity of heaven and in the everlasting perpetuation of the Jewish people on earth.