During a session of Ask the Rabbi last Shabbat, there was an inquiry whether it was permissible to recite Kaddish when alone. I responded by speaking about the customary practice of having a minyan when saying Kaddish. However, I said that there may be circumstances when a quorum of ten Jewish adults is not possible and I thought it better to say Kaddish than to forego doing so.
In later research, I discovered that there is precedent for my response. Some years ago, a Reform rabbi asked, "It often happens that an older person no longer can come to the synagogue; or, a sick person is confined to the hospital room or to the home. Such people frequently read the service in the prayer book. Occasionally, when it is the yahrzeit of a parent or another close relative, such worshippers wish to say the Kaddish. Is it permissible to say the Kaddish without a quorum (minyan) of the congregation?"
The Responsa Committee, the leading authorities of Jewish law and practice in the Reform Movement wrote, “Precisely this question was asked of the Chaplaincy Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board during wartime. Soldiers on lonely duty - for example, coast guardsmen patrolling isolated sections of the coast - wished to say Kaddish on the yahrzeit of their parents. The answer that we gave was based upon an analogy between the Kaddish and the T’filah. We said: ‘Just as in the case of the T’filah, it is preferable to say it with the congregation and yet it is permitted to be said silently alone, so the Kaddish, which is primarily part of the congregational response, may also be recited silently alone.’”
Even given this precedent, I do want to acknowledge that it is customary to have a minyan to say Kaddish. As with other prayers such as the Bar’chu and K’dushah, sanctifying God’s name is done when there are at least ten Jewish adults present. There is extensive discussion in the Shulchan Aruch about this practice(Orach Chayim 55).
There is room within Judaism to interpret whether it is permissible to recite Kaddish when alone. However, reducing the question to one of legality misses a vital element I neglected to mention last Shabbat Evening. Saying Kaddish with a minyan represents praising God and remembering one’s loved one in the presence of community. In our congregation, if anyone in our congregation is in need of a minyan, congregants are ready to respond to this request. When someone is sitting shiva, friends come to the home so that the mourner can recite Kaddish. When there is an unveiling of a memorial stone at the cemetery, close friends can be there to offer their support.
Within our congregation, one does not have to be a friend or even an acquaintance of the mourner to respond to the need for a minyan. I find it very meaningful that our Chevra Chesed committee makes sure there is a minyan whenever needed. I know many times mourners have been comforted by this expression of communal support.
As a synagogue, one of our core values is being a community in the full sense of the word. We are more than collection of individuals that share a building. Times of sadness are made more bearable by our communal support for one another. Our simchas are enhanced as we celebrate together moments of great joy.