In the average synagogue, there are only a few instances during Shabbat morning services in which most or all congregants stop chatting. It usually happens during the Musaf repetition, rabbi’s sermon and weekly announcements. It also happens during the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Showing respect during the Mourner’s Kaddish is important because mourners deserve maximum support and understanding. In fact, if it is early in the day and you cross paths with a mourner, do not greet them with a “good morning” greeting because they might misconstrue it as a crass and insensitive “good mourning” wish. There is nothing good about having to mourn, but if you are in mourning, then there is something good about saying the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The Mourner’s Kaddish is an approximately 2,000-year-old prayer, traditionally recited in memory of the deceased. Ideally, the prayer should be recited three times a day, during Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv and it is required for those mourning a deceased parent, spouse, sibling or child. It is customary to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for a parent for an entire year and thereafter to do so annually on the yahrzeit, or Hebrew anniversary, and Yom Kippur during the Yizkor service. Other than eating, sleeping and breathing, it might be the only thing a mourner does every single day for an entire year.
The Mourner’s Kaddish was composed in Aramaic, which is why it sounds different than many other prayers and some scholars suggest that it was originally recited following a rabbi’s sermon. It was not recited to mourn the lost time wasted listening to a lousy sermon. One tricky aspect of the Mourner’s Kaddish is coordinating recitals among multiple mourners.
On any given shabbat in any given shul, one is likely to find at least two people who need to say Kaddish. In that event, an important issue invariably arises: who should take the lead? There are no hard and fast rules and there does not necessarily need to be a lead, but sometimes it can help. This is true especially for new mourners or those davening in a shul that is not their own. It is like when a professional sports team is on the road playing an away game.
Under those circumstances, the unchartered waters of an unfamiliar setting can make the Mourner’s Kaddish recitation awkward, uncomfortable and even stressful. Other things in life can be awkward, uncomfortable and stressful, like introducing your romantic interest to your nosy, overly judgmental and innately disapproving parents who only want to discuss whether your romantic interest has any doctors, lawyers or renowned rabbis in their lineage. When a mourner is feeling lonely and/or unsure, it is in those moments that a leader is needed, someone to start the Kaddish and set the tone, sort of like a marathon pacesetter.
Bear in mind saying the Mourner’s Kaddish is a serious matter and the recitation should be made in only appropriate circumstances. In other words, if your favorite professional sports team loses an important game, do not say Kaddish, even if it is a sudden-death playoff game. If your favorite rock or klezmer band breaks up, do not say Kaddish, even if you are a die-hard fan. If your favorite restaurant stops making your favorite dish, do not say Kaddish, even if the dish is to die for.
Final thought: From a very selfish, Darwinian perspective, it is better to say Kaddish for someone else than to have someone else say it for you.