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Notes from Limmud 2004

The Aramaic of the Kaddish

Uri Melammed

[These talk notes would require more heavy commenting for a general audience than I am prepared to put the time into (besides, I'm not sure how interested a general audience would be in this subject); consequently this presentation is not intended for non-Hebrew readers or those not familiar with the Kaddish.]


The term Kaddish is an adjective, grammatically speaking. קדיש is also used to refer to an angel in the Book of Daniel (4:10). (He uses the words מלאך עיר and קדיש).

In the Talmud, (Shabbat 119a), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said everyone who replies אמן יהא שמה רבא [in the Kaddish], all his sins are washed away.

Tractate Sotah: every time the people of Israel enter shuls or בתי מדרש and are answering אמן יהא שמה רבא, G-d in Heaven nods.

"Praise be the King that there are people praising him in his house" (Berachot 3a).

Some of the Sages try to ?rebuke the text because it is in Aramaic, but most do not, because you have Aramaic in the Bible. The Sages referred to the קדיש as "awesome praise"—this was before it was in use for mourning. Also before all the many extra adjectives were added to it. It is ??ercised but not canonised, so it is difficult to say what was the original version.

Now the Destruction of the Temple is not mentioned in the Kaddish, so it must have been written before the Temple was destroyed.

Referring to the mixture of language in it, a famous philologist wrote: "Every language developed according to nature [טבע]: טפשות [stupidity], בארות [ignorance], עצלות [laziness]." Since this text was always recited, it was asking to be a victim of these.

For the kaddish recited at the end of leyning the Sephardim distinguish between אגדה and תורה שבעל פה, and תורה שכתוב. [I do not understand the significance of this.]

As well as the five common types of kaddish [half kaddish, full kaddish, mourners' kaddish, kaddish derabbanan and the kaddish in the burial service], the Yemenites had a special kaddish for centuries that mentioned the name of the Rambam [Maimonides]. [See notes on Maimonides and the Jews of Yemen (by the same speaker)׃] In earlier eras the kaddish mentioned the name of the ראש גלות [Exilarch] in Babylon, and the Yemenites kept this custom with the Rambam's name for centuries afterwards (thirteenth century - quoted by the Ramban [Nachmanides] and Bartenura)׃ There is also a long/full Kaddish at a סיום and the Yemenites say it all the time.

The Kaddish in depth

יתגדל ויתקדש1 שמה רבה (אמן)2 בעלמה די ברא3 כרעותה4 ,וימליך מלכותה5, 8 ,בחייכון וביומיכון ובחיי דכל בית ישראל בעגלה6 ובזמן קריב ואמרו אמן׃

יהא שמה רבא מברך לעלם ולעלמי עלמיא׃7

,יתברך וישתבח ויתפאר ויתרומם ויתנשא, ויתהדר ויתעלה ויתהלל9 שמה דקדשה בריך הוא (אמן)10 לעלא מן כל ברכתא ושירתא תשבחתא11 ונחמתא, דאמירן בעלמא ואמרו אמן׃

על ישראל ועל רבנן ועל תלמידיהון ועל כל תלמידי תלמידיהון12, ועל כל־מאן דעסקין באוריתא די באתרא הדין ודי בכל־אתר ואתר יהא להון ולכון שלמא רבא חנא וחסדא ורחמין וחיין אריכין, ומזונא רויחא ופורקנא, מן־קדם אבוהון דבשמיא ואמרו אמן׃

יהא שלמא רבא מן שמיא וחיים טובים14, עלינו ועל כל ישראל, ואמרו אמן׃13

עושה שלום במרומיו, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל ואמרו אמן׃

1. Cf Ezekiel 8:23: וְהִתְגִדִלְתִי וְהִתְקִדִשְתִי. An unusual grammatical form. The Gra wrote underneath the phrase לשון עברי [Hebrew language] which meant it was to refer to a Hebrew text; but some people took this literally, which was the origin of יִתְגַדֵל וְיִתְקַדֵש as opposed to יִתְגַדַל וְיִתְקַדַש—but even this is not grammatically accurate. The use of a צרה [ ֵ] here is a late innovation; you find פתח [ ַ] in old Hebrew in the תנ״ך.

2. A late addition; the Whole Kaddish originally was a ?flat text from the beginning to the end. This word is in Hebrew. It is an audience response that has become incorporated into the text before the destruction of the Temple. It is Hebrew because there is no Aramaic equivalent.

3. In some versions these are one word, דיברא.

4. Hebrew רצי = Aramaic רעי, "will". The Syriac translation of the Book of Ruth is called, punningly, רעות.

5. In the Yemenite tradition וַיִמְלוֹך. The normal word וַיַמְלִיך is Hebrew; ימלוך is an Aramaic form, but then מלכותא is a direct object, not the ?causative as in וַיַמְלִיך. A direct object is not needed; it is used to strengthen the text: מלך מלוכה—cf. similar examples in Hebrew. "He will truly reign."

6. A root meaning to fasten or hurry in Arabic and Ugaritic (i.e. separate from the homophone meaning cart in Hebrew [hence the line about wishing pregnant women בעגלה ובזמן קריב]).

7. Based on Daniel 2:30: לְהֱוֵא שְמֵה דִי־אֱלָהָא מְבָרַך מִן עָלְמָא וְעַד עָלְמָא But this form is Middle Aramaic; not the same as in the time of Daniel. In Daniel the king, Nebuchadrezzar, had a dream and called his advisers to solve it. Only Daniel can solve it. The difference with the story of Joseph is that Nebuchadrezzar had forgotten the dream and Daniel had to tell him both the dream and its interpretation. When Daniel was praying to G-d for inspiration he used this phrase לְהֱוֵא, not יְהֵא: this form is only used in Daniel and for this verse in the תנ״ך. This is only otherwise found in the Babylonian Talmud. The change was to avoid confusion with the Tetragrammaton (particularly since ה and א are interchangeable in Daniel). This change was made by the Sages, but what would actually be said was יְהֱוֵא. The Sages tried to avoid this in the Kaddish by going for the optative form יְהֵא—"may his great name be blessed".

8. Sephardim and Yemenites add synonymical phrases—וְיַצְמַח פּוּרְקָנֵיה וֵיקָרֵב מְשִיחֵיה—"May He cause salvation to flourish and bring His Messiah"—plus also in Yemen וְיִפְרוֹק עַמֵיה—"and He will redeem his people." It is also said in the Kaddish of the Rambam.

9. According to the Tur (fourteenth century), who moved from Germany to Spain. He excludes ויתהלל.

10. Ashkenazim say בריך הוא. This is not just a repetition but refers to the next sentence, according to the משנה תורה.

11. תִּשבחתא variant (Hebrew).

12. The same wording as in יקום פרקן.

13. An expanded list in the Sephardi tradition.

14. טובים here, אריכין above. Note that אַרוּכִּים [as in לְחַיִים אַרוּכִּים] derives from a different verb form to אַרוּכִים; the first is not found in the תנ״ך.

word I don't understand

Date: 2006-04-27 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] curious-reader.livejournal.com
What is the "Gra" and what language is "Ugaritic"?

I cannot comment on the Aramaic or Hebrew. My Hebrew is very poor on children's book level and don't know Aramaic at all. I know the Kadish of course. Your text is interesting, anyway.

Re: word I don't understand

Date: 2006-04-27 04:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Don't know. <googles> The Vilna Gaon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilna_Gaon).

and what language is "Ugaritic"?

A language spoken in northern Syria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugaritic) closely related to Biblical Hebrew.


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