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The Origin of the Practice to Stand for Kaddish

When I came across Rabbi Haim Jachter’s fascinating book: “Bridging Traditions: Demystifying Differences Between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews,” (2021), I learned that Sephardim have the practice of sitting during “Kaddish” (unless they are already standing). Rabbi Jachter discussed this issue only briefly. I subsequently came across an article by Professor Simcha Emanuel of Hebrew University which was a detailed analysis of this topic. I am going to summarize Emanuel’s article here. It was published in “Netuim 21,” (2020).

Emanuel first points out that there has always been an issue of body position in Jewish prayer: which prayers are we to stand for, which are we to sit for and which are we to kneel and bow for. The “Kaddish” prayer is just one of many prayers where such an issue arises. The Kaddish prayer (“Yitgadal veyitkadash …”) is not mentioned in Tannaitic or Amoraic literature, so there is no guidance in the Talmud about the proper position. The prayer is mentioned a few times in Geonic literature, and Emanuel finds a few passages which—explicitly or implicitly—take the position that sitting is the proper position.

Emanuel then looks through the early Rishonim and finds no evidence of anyone standing for Kaddish, except, of course, for the chazan.

Then, in the 13th century, he finds some advocating standing, or referring to others who do so:

Avraham—son of Rambam—living in Egypt, writes that one should stand for Kaddish if one has to stand anyway for the next prayer. (For example, in some communities there was a Kaddish right before the Amidah.) But then, he adds that he and some others would stand for any Kaddish.

There is a work from Italy, “Sefer Minhag Tov,” known for many pietistic customs. This work cites a passage from Shabbat 19b: “Whoever answers ‘amen yehei shmei rabbah’ with all his strength will be forgiven all his sins.” He writes that “with all his strength” implies standing. He also recommends standing for all of the kedushot, and for the Torah reading. Later, he concludes that one should stand for the entire prayer service. (The standard printed text of Shabbos 19b is a bit different from the way he cited it.)

A work from Germany by Rabbi Chizkiah from Magdeburg has: “All who stand in synagogue for the recital of ‘barchu,’ ‘yehei shemei rabbah,’ ‘mizmor letodah,’ ‘baruch sheamar,’ and ‘kriyat shema,’ it seems to me that I should stop them, because it is mechzei keyohara …” (looks like excessive haughtiness). This statement is also found in Maharil (died 1427)—in the name of Rabbi Chizkiah—naming Kaddish, Shema and Barchu.

The first source continues with the view of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg: “If anyone asks, one should tell them not to stand. But one does not stop those who have already started because their hearts are in the right place.”

Emanuel then notes that he has found 14 manuscripts that cite a certain passage in the name of the “Yerushalmi.” The earliest is from 1395. The “Yerushalmi” passage first cites Judges 3:20 with an incorrect text: “kum, ki devar י-י eilecha.” The context is a message from Ehud to the Moabite king, Eglon. The verse continues that the king got up. The “Yerushalmi” then states that from here Rabbi Eliezer deduced that when one recites “yehei shemei rabbah” or any matter of kedusha one is required to stand.

Emanuel points out that we do not have such a passage in the Yerushalmi. Moreover, the verse in Judges had used the name “Elokim.” Moreover, Ehud’s statement does not begin with “kum.” It begins with “devar.” It ends with “vayakam meial hakisei—he (the king) got up from the chair.” Emanuel concludes that this passage is not from the Talmud Yerushalmi but is a late derasha that has been erroneously attributed to it. Among traditional sources, Rabbi Isaac Luria and Magen Avraham are some who conclude that the passage was not in the original Talmud Yerushalmi.

(There are many citations of verses in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds that do not match the Masoretic text. See Gilyaon HaShas, Shabbos 55b. That alone is not sufficient to conclude that a passage is not from the Talmud.) Emanuel writes that even though the passage made its way into 14 manuscripts, it initially did not have an impact on halacha.

But in 1552, a work came out with the laws of the Rif (11th century) and the Mordechai (13th century). In the Mordechai section, the printers decided to append additional material that was relevant to the Mordechai’s discussions. In a chapter on his Brachot comments, the passage from the “Yerushalmi” was appended. Another edition of this work came out in 1554, again with this passage. With our “Yerushalmi” passage now making it into printed editions, it began to be cited in a few works of halacha.

But the major influence that the passage had was on Rabbi Moses Isserles (died 1572). In his Darchei Moshe on the Tur, Ohr Hachaim section 56, Rema first cites Maharil for the view that one does not stand for Kaddish unless one is standing already, and one stands through “amen, yehei shmei rabbah.” Then Rema writes (disagreeing with Maharil, who he usually followed): “vehaminhag laamod.” (We do not know why the custom had already changed.) To support this new custom, he adds: “This is what I found in glosses to the Mordechai section in the newly-printed edition,” and he quotes the “Yerushalmi” passage. Thereafter in his comments on the Shulchan Aruch, published in 1570, Rema writes: “veyesh laamod kesheonin Kaddish vechol davar shebekedushah.”

So with the invention of printing, and the added respect that printed material received, and the passage’s influence on the authoritative figure, Rema, this pseudo-Yerushalmi passage ended up making a tremendous difference in halacha for Ashkenazim.

Emanuel points out that the Darchei Moshe was not printed until 1760, even though some poskim were able to consult it long before that. But the “Yerushalmi” certainly influenced what Rema wrote in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, published in 1570. (Okay, the practice had already changed in areas that Rema knew about but Rema could now better support the new practice and, therefore, wrote a clear instruction which all Ashkenazic Jewry would follow.)

Emanuel also observes that there was an underlying desire of many to stand for Kaddish. This helped the “Yerushalmi” get accepted, as people wanted a good source for their practice.

Sephardim often follow Rabbi Isaac Luria. That is what happened here. He was one who disregarded the “Yerushalmi” passage as not authoritative. His view was that one sits during “Kaddish,” unless already standing.

———

A few further points:

Judges 3:20 is cited at Sanhedrin 60a, in the context of punishing one who has recited the name of God. Based on this verse, the judges are required to stand when the witness testifies to exactly what name was said. “Orchot Chayim” is one Rishon who was willing to expand this principle to Kaddish.

Emanuel quoted the text of the Darchei Moshe slightly differently from how it appears in the standard edition. The authoritative תשנג edition of the Tur—published by Machon Yerushalayim—prints the same text that Emanuel did.

It is interesting to note the comments of the Mishna Berurah on Ohr Hachayim 56. He mentions the alternative view of only standing when you were standing already and only through “amen, yehei shmei rabbah.” But concludes: “veyesh lachush ledivrei hamachmirim.”

When Rema wrote in his comments on the Shulchan Aruch “veyesh laamod,” one could take it as one must always stand, but only through “amen, yehei shmei rabbah.” Mishna Berurah raises this possibility, but states the other possibility as well: through the end of the entire Kaddish. When he concludes: “veyesh lachush ledivrei hamachmirim,” presumably that applies here too.

In the 15th century, Maharil and Rabbi Yisrael Isserlein both agreed that the halacha was not to stand, but both decided that they, themselves, would stand through “amen yehei shemei rabbah.”


Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected]. He would like to thank Naftoli Lorch for sending him Emanuel’s article.

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