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Rabbi’s Update 5/8/2024

Dear Friends:

A rabbi was leading his first Shabbat service at his new congregation. When they got to the first Hatzi Kaddish, about half the people in attendance stood up, while the rest remained seated. The people who were standing shouted at the people who were sitting to stand up. The people who were sitting yelled at the other congregants to sit down.

Every time they came to a Kaddish in the service, the same thing happened. The new rabbi was understandably flustered, so as soon as Shabbat was over he phoned his retired predecessor.

“Is it the custom of this congregation to stand for the Kaddish?”, he asked. The retired rabbi said “not exactly.”

“Well, is it the custom to sit for the Kaddish?” Again, the older rabbi replied, “not exactly.”

“Well, things in services were kind of nuts. Every time we got to the Kaddish, half the people stood, half the people stayed seated, and they all started yelling at each other.”

“That’s our custom!”, said the retired rabbi.

I was reminded of this story a couple of weeks ago when teaching my “Understanding the Siddur” session on the Kaddish. One of the questions which I was asked was whether or not everyone is supposed to stand for each Kaddish or not.

This is one of those questions to which there isn’t one clear halachic answer. In fact, there are many different customs Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute noted five different practices, all of which are contained in various halachic sources, raging from it is required to stand for every Kaddish to it is forbidden to stand for the Kaddish (except Mourner’s Kaddish when you are a mourner) as it creates an impression of ostentatious piety. 

In a previous era each community had its own customs and it was expected that everyone follow the customs of their community. But in the United States this is not the norm since people have ancestry from many different places. My general guidance is that if you have definite knowledge of what your family custom is, that is what you should observe. If not, do what seems best or most sensible to you. But at any rate, no one should feel pressured to observe a custom with which they are not familiar nor should they feel they are somehow “less religious” for following the custom with which they are most comfortable. As always, if you have a question please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me.

There is so much happening in the world  that it seems to me a fool’s errand to schedule a specific topic for Adult Education tomorrow night. Instead, I will have another “Ask the Rabbi” session where we can discuss whatever might be on your mind. I hope to see you there.

As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. For my drop-in hours, you do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.

As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment; if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by. 

Additionally, if you know of a Kehilat Shalom congregant or another member of our Jewish community who could use a phone call, please let me know.


Rabbi Charles L. Arian

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