Controversy over the recital by young Jews in Parliament Square during May 2018 of Mourners’ Kaddish for Palestinians shot while trying to break through the border reflected a misunderstanding about the different ways Kaddish is used in Traditional and Progressive contexts. Mourners’ Kaddish is recited in Traditional settings to commemorate deceased relatives and more rarely other Jews. In Progressive circles it is read communally in unison, very occasionally also for non-Jews. This article questions the appropriateness of reciting Mourners’ Kaddish for the Gaza victims, none of whom were Jewish and whose intentions were uncertain. Instead, an act of text study could have been used to highlight moral ambiguity, followed by Kaddish de-Rabbanan, the traditional coda to a study session. This would have avoided offence to Muslims and to Jews, and have ensured that the act of reciting Kaddish refers in this case not to the dead but to the moral problems raised by their killing.
Jeremy Schonfield is Professor of Liturgy at Leo Baeck College, London, and Supernumerary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.