D’var Torah on Sitting/Standing for Kaddish
By Rabbi Jeff Hoffman,
AJR – February 22, 2010
There are differing customs at AJR. Mine (and several others’) must appear to many to be the opposite of the most common custom at AJR because I sit during the Kaddishim when most people stand and I stand during those Kaddishim during which most people sit. And in the larger community, I notice that most Conservative rabbis sit during most Kaddishim and most Orthodox rabbis stand. However, one of the teachers with whom I studied halakhah here at JTS, Rabbi Israel Francus – “who is certainly a traditionalist – sits for most Kaddishim and told me it was because this was the custom of the synagogue of his youth, a Gerer shul.
Furthermore, very often, in a congregation wherein people are not sure whether to stand or sit for a certain prayer, and they see a few people stand, they too will stand – not out of conviction or understanding, but out of embarrassment that they not appear to be irreverent.
There are also two opposing customs regarding standing specifically for Kaddish Yatom, Mourner’s Kaddish. One is to sit in order not appear as though we have lost a parent or other relative. This is probably related to an older superstition, that if we stand for Mourner’s Kaddish, perhaps the Angel of Death will give us a reason or standing. The other is to stand for Kaddish Yatom out of a sense of unity with the mourners.
In truth, there is support for all of the customs because all of this is minhag: Kaddish is a late addition (compared, e.g., to Shema, Amidah). Still, I want to commend to us the source of my custom.
A possible reason for the differing minhagim: A principle and its many exceptions:
Kol davar shebeKedushah ba’ei lemeikam araglohei – For anything related to Kedushah/holiness, one must stand upon one’s feet – (quoted from an unknown passage in the Jerusalem Talmud in Darkhei Moshe by R. Moshe Isserles on Tur, Orah Hayyim, 56, note 5. This is related to a principle in Mishnah Megillah 4:3 that a minyan is needed for certain rituals).
If one acts fully consistently with this principle, one should stand for every Kedushah and Kaddish. This principle was especially endorsed by the great mystic, the Ari, in the 16th C. This principle led Rabbi Moshe Isserles, in 16th century Poland (the Rema), in the Shulhan Arukh to rule that one should stand during every Kaddish.
But there are major exceptions to the original principle in many communities in many generations: While we stand for the Kedushah in the Amidah, we sit for two other Kedushot: Kedushah DeYotser (in the daily Shaharit) and Kedushah DeSidra – also known as U’va LeTsion (in the daily Shaharit as well as in Shabbat and festival Minhah, among other places).
These exceptions brought, among others, the Mishneh Berurah in the 20th C. to comment on Rema‘s comment in the Shulhan Arukh. (who said one must stand for every Kaddish): Yeish omrim she’ein tsarikh la’amod – There are those who say that one does not have to stand.
And who is the yeish omrim, the opinion that says one does not have to stand? The Maharil! The Maharil, R. Ya’acov Moellin, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities in Europe, and a major source of Ashkenazic halakhah lived in Mainz until his death in 1427. He was also known as a great Hazzan. His approach is cited by many authorities since the 15th C., and this is the model that I follow:
(From: Sefer Maharil): Hu lo haya omid bisha’at Kaddish. Akh kol Kaddish shetefaso me’umad, nishar omeid kegon la’ahar Hallel. He would not stand during Kaddish. However, (after) any Kaddish that found him standing, he would remain standing: for example, after Hallel. Since he was already standing for Hallel, he would remain standing for the Kaddish which followed it. (Cited in Mishneh Berurah to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 56:2:7 and in Ba’er Hetev on same passage in Shulhan Arukh, note 7).
Applied to the daily Minhah at AJR:
This is why I sit for the Hatsi Kaddish after Ashrei – I already was sitting for Ashrei. That’s why I sit for the Kaddish Shalem after Tahanun – I already was sitting for Tahanun. And that’s why I stand for Kaddish Yatom – I was already standing for the prayer before it, namely, Alenu.
So, again, I’m not saying anyone’s minhag/custom is wrong, because there is support for several approaches.
My point is for us to know that there is real precedent for many of the customs, including not standing for all of the Kaddishim. And we need not just follow the crowd and stand or sit just because everyone around us is doing so.
An Afterword – How I found the sources for this topic:
I knew from my own study and teaching that the general topic of the laws of prayer in the Tur and the Shulhan Arukh and the commentaries on them are at the beginning of Orah Hayyim, so I did a quick scan and found the correct chapter, namely, Siman 56. But, as my students from Intro/Codes know, I also could have looked in the Table of Contents of the Mishneh Berurah commentary on Orah Hayyim in the Shulhan Arukh.