Thursday, March 22, 2007

More Thoughts About Kaddish Styles

As I mentioned before, the shul I usually go to maintains the old Ashkenazic custom of having only one person say Qaddish at a time. Possibly because of this, they include an extra mizmor of Tehillim after Shahhris in the morning, and three extra ones after Ma‘ariv at night, so that more people have an opportunity to say Kaddish before, after, or in between each 'reading'.

Most other synagogues, on the other hand, follow the originally Sefardic custom of everyone who needs to or wants to saying Caddish all at the same time.

So far, as expected, I've come to the conclusion that I prefer the Old Ashkenazic custom. Especially with the traditional Western Ashkenazic tune they use for Qaddish at the Yekke shul, and the one person going up in front next to the sheliahh tzibur (or ohrer-forrer as Lipman, MarGavriel, and I sometimes say) and calling out the call-and-response prayer loud and clear. It's fairly dramatic. It's how I imagine the 'original kaddish' was — an unambiguous declaration of praise and awe for God. Even now, after for hundreds of years since it first became associated with death and mourning, becoming seen as a mourner's prayer, or prayer for the dead, in this setting I really feel its striking declaration — [even when life sucks,] God is great; [even when life sucks,] I will praise the Creator, though even all the songs in the world could never come close to truly and accurately describing God.

Compared to that, mumbling haltingly in unison is nothing but melancholy. It breaks the flow of the service. It stops and starts in fits and jumps. It polyphonically rumbles, each mourner lost in their own paticular grief, moving to their own pace. This isn't a negative statement I'm making; I appreciate the melancholy, although I prefer the dramatic. The dramatic is showy; the melancholy is personal. It makes you stop what you're doing. If the Dramatic-style Qaddish is shouting from mountaintops, Melancholy-style Caddish is a meditative pause in the mud at the side of a creek. It lacks tune. It lacks passion. It rips away all the dramatic, artistic, self-conscious trappings of communal prayer, and leaves you alone with your loss and your self.

Dramatic Kaddish makes me feel like I'm doing something for my father.

Melancholy Kaddish drops his memory on my chest like a megalithic cairn.

11 Comments:

Blogger Lipman said...

Most other synagogues, on the other hand, follow the originally Sefardic custom of everyone who needs to or wants to saying Caddish all at the same time.

It might be an originally Sefardic custom, but I'm less than sure it's the original Sefardic custom, which, I suppose, is the same as in your shul. Still more original is for the mourner to ore fore including, but not highlighting kaddeishem. The normal (in my view) maaref, for instance, doesn't even have any yosem kaddesh, only full kaddesh between 18 and Oleine.

Concerning the lack of implying mourning, that reminds me of the puzzled looks I get when I answer the question "How are you?" by "Terrible. Boruch hashem." when I've got one of those nasty migraine headaches.

3/23/2007 3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Possibly because of this, they include an extra mizmor of Tehillim after Shahhris in the morning, and three extra ones after Ma‘ariv at night, so that more people have an opportunity to say Kaddish before, after, or in between each 'reading'."

IIRC, the mizmor in the morning is ancient Ashkenazic custom, predating the one for everyone to say shir shel yom. So I assume it was not put there for kaddish specifically. I would assume the same for three after arvis.

3/23/2007 4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only more congregations would do it the old Ashkenazic way.

Why not have some reversion to old Ashkenazic minhag, for a change, instead of diluting and removing it time and time again. It has significant power and appeal, as this posts notes well.

Enough is enough, is it not ?

3/23/2007 4:26 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

why three spellings of קדיש?

3/23/2007 1:33 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Lipman:

At only one point in my life so far have i been able to think fast enough to respond to someone's response of "barukh Hashem" with "—le‘olam, amein ve’amein, i know; but how are YOU doing?" :-P

Anonymous:

Interesting point about the mizmorim. If you read my previous post on Qaddish, you'll see some comments from PsychoToddler expressing the emotional connection people have to saying Kaddish every time. That's not the kind of thing it's easy to convince people to let go of, even if you can convince them that the older way is 'more authentic'.

E-Kvetcher:

Why not? :-)

3/23/2007 2:59 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Was it the Gerrer Rebbe who asked a bocher, and on getting the standard "boruch hashem", smilingly repeated: I asked "How are you", not "How frum are you"?

3/24/2007 3:15 PM  
Anonymous just a girl said...

That sounds like a very nice way of saying kaddish, but what about women who would like to say kaddish? It doesn't really give them the oppertunity to do so. Otherwise, I'm all for it.

3/25/2007 4:10 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Powerful post. And I agree about the wonderfully declamatory nature of the old Ashkenazzic tune.

3/25/2007 4:23 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

just a girl:

this is actually one of the proofs that women *can* say kaddish; there are attested examples of women coming to little shuls in previous centuries and being the One Person Saying Kaddish from the entrance to the men's section.

3/25/2007 7:21 AM  
Anonymous hotshot2000 said...

I have been in places with perfect coordination, and that too is a powerful experience. Interestingly, they were mostly (entirely? I can't recall) in Conservative shuls, and onyl sometimes with the rabbi/cantor/non-avel sha"tz keeping the pace.

3/25/2007 9:01 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

hotshot2000:

cool. i assume in places like that you have a homogenous culture of what it's "supposed" to sound like, so it's easier for everyone to do the same thing.

btw, are you who i think you are, if i remember correctly?

3/25/2007 10:02 PM  

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