Kaddish in Aramaic

August 14, 2015

2 min read


Unfortunately I am saying Kaddish this year for my mother of blessed memory. I noticed that the text of it is especially difficult to pronounce and understand, and I was told it’s because it’s in Aramaic. Why is it in this obscure language and not in Hebrew?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

I’m sorry first of all to hear of your loss. And, yes, many people are quite challenged reciting the Kaddish in its unfamiliar tongue.

There are three reasons I am familiar with why the Kaddish prayer was written in Aramaic.

(1) The Kaddish is an enormously stirring and powerful prayer, beseeching God to usher in the era in which all mankind will recognize His great name. The Zohar explains that the Kaddish has the power to pierce the myriad levels of reality and cause God’s glory to spread throughout the entire creation. We therefore specifically want to say it in a non-sacred language – to spread its lofty words to all levels of existence. Aramaic in particular is considered a very earthy language. The Talmud states that the angels are not able to understand it (Sotah 33a). Thus, by reciting the Kaddish in Aramaic, we bring sanctity directly into Satan’s realm – and defeat him (Beit Yosef O.C. 56 s.v. “aha”, quoting Zohar par. Terumah).

(2) If the angels would understand the Kaddish, they would be jealous of Israel for reciting such a beautiful prayer (and perhaps interfere with its reaching the heavens). We therefore recite it in Aramaic, a language the angels do not understand (Tosafot Brachot 3a s.v. "v'onin").

(3) Since Kaddish is so important and impactful a prayer, the Sages instituted it in a language that would be understandable to all. Thus it was written – and has since remained – in the spoken language of the Jews (which became Aramaic during the Babylonian Exile) (Tosafot Brachot 3a s.v. "v'onin").

An important related idea is that the Kaddish prayer has nothing to do with praying for the dead. It makes no mention of the deceased nor asks for their ascension in heaven. It is rather simply a beautiful prayer asking that God’s name be sanctified – which the Rabbis gave to mourners to recite (especially minors who cannot lead the services) to serve as a merit for the deceased.

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