This article traces the origins and rapid spread of the Mourner's Kaddish, a liturgical custom first attested in late twelfth- early thirteenth-century Ashkenazic halakhic texts. While scholars have traditionally linked it to the martyrological needs of post-1096 Ashkenazic communities, this article suggests that the rise of the Mourner's Kaddish was one manifestation of a broader shift in medieval Jewish conceptions of the afterlife. An analysis of the exemplum that provided the new custom with a myth of origins reveals carefully inserted allusions and symbolism, which together propound a coherent theology of eschatology, divine recompense, and intercessory prayer. This theology closely mirrors doctrinal developments underway in Christian Europe - specifically the birth of purgatory and its accompanying commemorative and intercessory practices. The exemplum, moreover, couches its message in subtly polemical terms, criticizing and ridiculing those very elements of Christian belief and practice that were being covertly incorporated into the Jewish liturgical realm.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Religious studies
- Literature and Literary Theory