A well known phenomenon of American Jewry is the widespread recitation of kaddish in memory of deceased parents. Even those Jews who are not particularly observant find deep meaning in reciting kaddish for deceased parents. Even those Jews who otherwise rarely come to weekday minyan find the time to come to synagogue almost every day, three times a day to say kaddish. It strikes me as odd that before and after the death of a parent, these folks had no time to come to services, but as soon as a parent dies, time is found.
I wish there are another way to honor our parents in death. Because it is related to honoring parents after death, saying kaddish has become the most widespread ritual on the American Jewish scene and often the perceived hallmark of piety. It has come to the point where people think that, almost to the exclusion of all other ritual and concern for Jewish law, all that a person has to do is say kaddish for their parent upon their death.
It is interesting to note that kaddish does not speak of death, but rather of sanctifying God’s name and faith in times of distress. Ironically, reciting kaddish has lead to the de-sanctification of God’s name and less faithful activity as people ignore other mitzvot in favor of kaddish.
Saying kaddish is an important for children way to reflect the values and ideals their parents stood for. When a child recites kaddish the deceased parent may be judged more favorably as the faithful recitation of kaddish stands as testimony to the parent’s spiritual legacy.
But here again we must wonder if there is a better way. Certainly greater merit can be brought to deceased parents if their spiritual legacy is more than eleven months of kaddish.
In light of this analysis, I wish to highlight a suggestion made by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch – The Concise Code of Jewish Law. In Chapter 22 (Laws of Mourners Kaddish) he writes: “Though kaddish and prayers are helpful to the departed, they are not of primary importance. What is most essential is that their children proceed in the path of righteousness and, in the manner, bring merit to their parents…A person should command his children to be scrupulous in the observance of a particular mitzvah. Their practice of it will be considered more important than their recitation of Kaddish.”
Along these lines, I recommend a new mourning custom – one that hopefully will have more lasting spiritual and religious staying power. I propose that all parents whose children are not Sabbath observant tell their children that either instead of (or in addition to) saying kaddish for a year that their children should remember them by observing Shabbat for a year.
In the scheme of mitzvot, Shabbat observance is more important than the recitation of kaddish, so if one mitzvah is going to be focused on for the year, better Shabbat than kaddish.
Another, perhaps more compelling reason to focus on Shabbat over kaddish is for the benefit of the grandchildren of the deceased. Children who grow up in a home where Shabbat is observed on a regular basis stand a much better chance of marrying another Jew and building a home where Jewish traditions are observed. Additionally, for all those other than the mourning child, saying kaddish goes largely unnoticed in the home. Shabbat observance encompasses the entire home and atmosphere of the family.
It is time to say Kaddish over Kaddish and welcome new Jewish life.