Question: May multiple mourners recite Kaddish Yasom together, or is it preferable for only one mourner to recite Kaddish Yasom on behalf of all the mourners in the shul?
Short Answer: While Sefardim have long had the minhag to allow all mourners to recite Kaddish together, the minhag of Ashkenazim has only recently been that all mourners recite Kaddish together. The mourners should be careful to recite the words of the Kaddish simultaneously and at the same pace.
I. Minhag Ashkenaz
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 376:4) appears to understand minhag Ashkenaz that only one mourner recites Kaddish for everyone. Indeed, the Rama discusses the hierarchy of Kaddish reciting, ruling which mourner takes precedence in certain situations.
Similarly, the Nit’ei Gavriel (Aveilus 47:1) cites numerous m’farshim who discuss which mourner takes precedence in reciting Kaddish in certain situations, implying that the minhag was that only one mourner at a time recited Kaddish.
Notably, the Nishmas Yisrael (2:31) cites the sefer Takanos B’Yisrael (Vol. 4, p. 203) who explains that Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l enacted a g’zeirah when cholera was spreading through Europe and killing many individuals that all mourners may recite Kaddish together, due to the large amount of mourners. However, once the disease subsided baruch Hashem, he removed the g’zeirah and reverted back to the minhag of only one mourner reciting the Kaddish.
II. Reason Behind the Minhag
The Nit’ei Gavriel (ibid) cites the Shulchan HaTohar who explains that since Kaddish Yasom was only initially enacted with the intent that one mourner would recite Kaddish, it is detrimental for the neshamah of the deceased when more than one mourner recites it.
However, the more standard explanation for why only one mourner recites Kaddish Yasom in minhag Ashkenaz is because of the dictum in the Gemara (Megillah 21b) that “trei kalei lo mishtamei” – that one cannot hear two voices talking at the same time. See Nit’ei Gavriel (ibid) and Nishmas Yisrael (ibid).
The Chasam Sofer (1:159) adds that since the power of Kaddish Yasom lies in the response of the tzibur (as detailed further in Article #1 of this series), the tzibur must be able to hear and answer to Kaddish Yasom. By definition, Kaddish Yasom must thus only be recited by one mourner.
III. Minhag Sefard
At first glance, the minhag of Sefardim would appear to be the same as minhag Ashkenaz. Indeed, the Beis Yosef (Yoreh Dei’ah 403) cites Rishonim who discuss whether a mourner who lives in a different city has the right to join the rotation of Kaddish reciters in the city he is visiting, implying that only one mourner recited the Kaddish. However, minhag S’farad is that all mourners recited the Kaddish together. See Kovetz Yesed HaMeir (165:74).
Moreover, the Ba’er Heiteiv (Orach Chayim 55:1) cites the Halachos K’tanos who discusses the proper way for the tzibur to answer Amen where one mourner is a few words ahead of another mourner in the recitation of Kaddish, implying that multiple mourners recited Kaddish together. The Nit’ei Gavriel (ibid) cites the Binyan Tzion (122) and Chasam Sofer (ibid) who note that this Ba’er Heiteiv is not surprising, as the Ba’er Heiteiv was Sefardi, and the minhag Sefardim is for all mourners to recite Kaddish together, as they recite many of the t’filos aloud in unison.
IV. Current Practice
In most shuls, whether Ashkenaz or S’farad, all the mourners recite Kaddish Yasom together. What is the basis for this minhag? What about the above-mentioned problem of “trei kalei lo mishtamei” – that one cannot hear two voices talking at the same time?
As an initial matter, and in light of the fact that Sefardim recite many of the t’filos aloud in unison, the Binyan Tzion (ibid) suggests that Sefardim rely on an exception (see Megillah ibid) to the rule of “trei kalei lo mishtamei” – that two voices can be heard when dealing with a “chaviv” (loosely translated as “special”) prayer, such as Megillas Esther and Hallel. The Binyan Tzion explains that this exception shows us that two voices can truly be heard when the listener is extremely focused (or accustomed to listening to two voices at the same time), and thus Sefardim recite Kaddish Yasom in unison. [A good exposition of this answer is found in an article by R’ Aryeh Lebowitz on the Torah Musings blog, available at https://www.torahmusings.com/2014/01/may-multiple-people-say-kaddish-simultaneously/#rf4-20327.]
Another answer is proposed by the Divrei Iggeres (cited in the sefer HaBari V’HaShema, Vol. 2, p. 208). Since the whole institution of Kaddish Yasom is a minhag to honor the deceased, the last thing that we need is to cause fights in our communities and shuls about who takes precedence in reciting the Kaddish. Thus, the current minhag of all mourners reciting the Kaddish together developed. [While the Divrei Iggeres compares this joint recitation to the takanah of each individual reciting bentching by themselves, the sefer HaBari V’HaShema questions the comparison in light of the fact that bentching is required regardless of how many people are eating bread].
Finally, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:42), while citing the Chazon Ish who was very careful to only allow one mourner to recite the Kaddish, nevertheless explains our current practice of having multiple mourners recite it together. According to Rav Sternbuch, the problem of “trei kalei lo mishtamei” only applies when the two voices are not recited simultaneously but are staggered a bit. When the two voices, however, are reciting the words of the Kaddish simultaneously, there is no worry that the two voices cannot be heard.
Similarly, the Gesher HaChayim (30:10) rules that if the mourners want to recite Kaddish together, they should be careful to recite the words of the Kaddish simultaneously and at the same pace.
Next Week’s Topic: May a woman say Kaddish Yasom for a deceased?