If a loved one of the Jewish faith has passed away, you may be invited to a Kaddish service held in their memory. As someone who is not a part of the Jewish faith, you may be unsure of what to expect, how to act, and what this service involves. If you are invited, you are most certainly welcome, and members of the Jewish faith are generally very open to outsiders. Still, knowing the following basic facts about Kaddish should make you feel more comfortable in attending.
Kaddish is a specific prayer.
Kaddish is a prayer that has been composed slowly over the years by various teachers, prophets, and scholars. It was initially recited at festivals. As the prayer not only honors God but also speaks to honor the souls of the deceased, it is now more commonly recited as a way to memorialize the dead, either during a funeral or after the funeral at a separate service. The prayer itself is written mostly in Aramaic, with some portions written in Hebrew. As someone who is not of the Jewish faith, you probably won't understand the words spoken during Kaddish, but you can still admire the beauty of the prayer's form and its significance.
Kaddish is spoken facing Jerusalem.
It is traditional for participants to kneel and face Jerusalem when they recite Kaddish. Many Jewish temples are oriented so that the seats already face Jerusalem, so you will probably just kneel down on a kneeling stand in front of the pew. It's considered appropriate to bow your head in reverence while the prayer is being recited, even if you are not saying the words yourself.
Sometimes Kaddish is only spoken by the men.
In the traditional, Orthodox Jewish faith, only the men would say Kaddish. Women would remain silent and meditate on the words of the prayer. In many more progressive, reformed Jewish synagogues, men and women will recite Kaddish. Either way, as an outsider who does not know Aramaic, you will probably just stay silent and observe.
Occasionally, portions of the prayer are chanted.
Again, whether or not this occurs will depend on the exact synagogue where Kaddish is held. But do not be surprised if part of the prayer is chanted; it is a way to add beauty to the words and show greater respect for the deceased and their soul.
Hopefully you now have a better idea of what to expect when you attend Kaddish in honor of your beloved friend.
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