by R. Gil Student
Most Jews of all backgrounds recognize the custom to recite Kaddish for a parent and attempt to observe it, even if only partially. However, the recitation of Kaddish is sometimes appropriate for a relative other than a parent. In this brief essay, we will examine the background of this practice and its practical implications.
I. Kaddish Background
Maseches Sofrim (19:12) discusses a mourner reciting Kaddish. Many commentaries and codes relay the midrashic tale of Rabbi Akiva to whom someone deceased appeared. The deceased said that he had sinned during his life and now was suffering great punishment for his deeds. Rabbi Akiva taught the deceased’s son to recite Kaddish, which saved the deceased from punishment. From this we learn that Kaddish serves to atone for the deceased’s sins. While we do not want to accuse anyone of wickedness, since everyone sins in some way, their sons recite Kaddish for them. However, since the wicked are punished for 12 months,1 we take care to recite Kaddish for less than that length to avoid implying that our parents are wicked.2
Fundamentally, a congregation should recite 7 Kaddishes each day3 — 4 at Shacharis in the morning, 2 at Mincha in the afternoon, and 1 at Maariv at night. The Arizal taught based on Kabbalah that a congregation should recite an additional 5 Kaddishes to total 12 each day —6 at Shacharis, 3 at Mincha and 3 at Maariv.4 Primarily, a mourner recites Kaddish by leading the prayers, at which point he recites most of the Kaddishes above. However, many people are not capable of leading the full prayer service. For Shacharis, an alternative is leading the end of the service, i.e. Ashrei and Uva Letzion, through the end. Because many mourners cannot do that either, they have the option of merely reciting Mourner’s Kaddish.5 This is particularly true of children, who are not allowed to lead the prayers, but also true of people who have difficulty leading.
Continued on the website of Igud HaRabbonim: link