Monday, April 27, 2009


Pop-Pop Bill, age three
Billie Bob - SWMBO’s daddy - circa age three.

Today - the third day of the month of Iyyar in the Jewish calendar - is Billie Bob’s twenty-third yahrzeit. SWMBO joined me at morning minyan today, where she recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to honor her father’s memory, following a tradition that dates back to sometime in the thirteenth century C.E.

The Kaddish itself is much older, dating back over two millennia. Originally a doxology recited at the conclusion of a session of Torah or Talmud study, it was considered a component of the daily prayer service by the sixth century C.E. It is mostly in Aramaic, with the concluding words in Hebrew - presumably for those few who, back in the day, did not speak Aramaic.

While the Mourner’s Kaddish is popularly thought of as the Jewish prayer for the dead, that distinction properly belongs to Eil Malei Rachamim (“Father of Compassion”). The Kaddish makes no mention of death. It is an affirmation of God’s kingship:

Magnified and sanctified be [God’s] great Name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon; and let us say “Amen.”

[Response:] May His great Name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the Name of the Holy One - blessed be He - beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and let us say “Amen.”

May the prayers and supplications of the whole house of Israel be accepted by their Father in heaven; and let us say “Amen.”

May there be abundant peace from heaven and life, for us and for all Israel; and let us say “Amen.”

He who creates peace in His high places, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and let us say “Amen.”

Take a close look at the first paragraph. Tinker with the wording a little and leave the conceptual framework intact - and look what you get:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Why, it’s the Lord’s Prayer! Which makes perfect sense, because that certain Galilean Carpenter would have known the Kaddish in all its varieties, with the added convenience of its being (mostly) in Aramaic - his own vernacular.

Which brings us back to Billie Bob. Bill, who was Jewish by choice, would have known those words as a youngster before becoming familiar with them as part of the Kaddish.

He would have been eighty years old now, if he had lived. Alas, it was not to be... but I’ll bet he’d be happy to know that we still keep a supply of his Sooper-Seekrit Seasoning Blend on hand for those occasions when we get a jones for a smoked brisket.

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