Learning during Kaddish

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: I give a shiur to a few people before Shacharit and aim to finish when davening begins, with Rabbi Yishmael/Kaddish D’Rabbanan. Sometimes we are not quite finished then, in which case, we try to answer Kaddish’s main recitations, although we sometimes get caught up and fail to respond. Someone complained that continuing to learn during Kaddish is assur and a disgrace to Kaddish and the people listening to it. I don’t see it that way but said I would ask.

Answer: It is good that you plan to finish by Kaddish. Hopefully you learn with your tallit and tefillin on and have davened up to there. It would be a shame to either need to skip parts of P’sukei D’zimra, speed through it, or be behind the tzibbur. We will focus on Kaddish, as you ask. 

There are three possible objections to a shiur continuing during Kaddish: 1. Listening/answering Kaddish has innate precedence over learning; 2. The learning can transmit one’s rejection or disregard for Kaddish’s content. 3. The learning can disturb those trying to focus on Kaddish

1) One may/should answer the main responses of Kaddish, Kedusha and Barchu in the midst of almost any part of davening (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 66:3). The only debate is whether this is so if one who is davening in one minyan should respond to what he hears from another minyan. On the one hand, there is no Kaddish quota, so that any prompt makes responding important (Igrot Moshe III:89). Others say that the sources on non-participants responding are to permit answering, not obligating it, and so in multi-minyan locations (e.g., the Kotel) one does not have to harm his tefilla by having his focus wander from minyan to minyan (see Tzitz Eliezer XI:3; Yabia Omer VI, OC 20).

Only the study of the loftiest scholars (see Shabbat 11a) can push off the normal requirements of tefilla (Igrot Moshe OC II:27). Some people opt to learn Torah during chazarat hashatz, and even there most poskim oppose it (Mishna Berura 124:17; Kaf Hachayim, OC 124:16). On the other hand, the problem may be that less learned people will speak/not listen without a good reason (Mishna Berura ibid.). Therefore, some permit learning Torah in one’s head (see Dirshu 124:27). However, during Kaddish and Kedusha, one’s mind must be only on them, not learning (Mishna Berura 125:1). 

2) If one is among a minyan who are up to Kri’at Shema, he must say the first pasuk along with them, even if he has already recited Kri’at Shema, in order to not appear reluctant to recite his allegiance to Hashem (Shulchan Aruch, OC 65:2). Poskim extend this idea to other central parts of davening, including such a major joint recitation of praise to Hashem as Kaddish (see Igrot Moshe ibid.). When one is at a minyan, not answering a different minyan need not look a rejection (Tzitz Eliezer ibid.). However, in your case, learning audibly in the beginning of your minyan is publicly indicating that joining everyone in declaring praise of Hashem is not at the top of your priorities, which is included in this problem.

3) The local rav or gabbai can best consider the technical and communal elements of what is an unacceptable disturbance to others. However, the concept is generally applicable. We note that the Mishna Berura (566:12), regarding the minhag to collect tzedaka on a fast day as a “kofer nefesh,” says that the gabbai should not go around announcing it during chazarat hashatz because it disrupts concentration. 

The remaining question is whether these matters apply to the entire Kaddish or just the public’s responses. Regarding chazarat hashatz, l’chatchila one is to listen to every word but answering the berachot (while knowing which one is being said each time) is sufficient b’di’eved (Mishna Berura 124:17). However, regarding Kaddish, the need to listen to every word seems stronger (Mishna Berura 125:1). 

In terms of bottom line, your shul-mate is right. Since stopping learning “on a dime” is difficult, try to stop a little earlier, making Kaddish the absolute endpoint. 


About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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