7. Order of Precedence
In the past, it was customary in Ashkenaz that only one person recited Kaddish. When there were several mourners who needed to say Kaddish, it became necessary to establish an order of precedence. However, today most Ashkenazim and all Sephardim follow the custom that everyone who must say Kaddish recites it together. Even if the entire congregation recites Kaddish and there is no one there to answer Amen, that does not invalidate the Kaddish. However, lechatchilah it is preferable that there be at least two people there who can respond Amen (Kaf HaChaim 55:31). When two or more people recite Kaddish, they should try to say it in unison and should therefore stand next to each other. If the synagogue is large and it is difficult for them to gather in one place, each person may recite Kaddish in his place and those around him answer Amen.
When there are two mourners who know how to lead the prayer service and both are acceptable to the congregation, it is necessary to follow an order of precedence. This is the rule: one who is in the middle of the first seven days of mourning (shivah) takes precedence over one who is in his first thirty days (sheloshim), and someone who is in his first thirty days has priority over one who is in his year of mourning. One who is commemorating a yahrtzeit is equivalent to being in the first thirty days of mourning. If there are two mourners who are equal in status, they should divide the three daily prayers between them. They can even split the Shacharit service in such a way that one recites the main part of the prayer until after Tachanun, and the other leads from Ashrei until the conclusion of the prayer service, and then the following day they switch (Bei’ur Halachah 132, Ma’amar Kaddishin).
Saying Kaddish for a Person Who Does Not Have an Adult Son
A minor whose mother or father died says Kaddish for his parent though he has not yet reached the age of mitzvot (bar mitzvah). Mourner’s Kaddish was instituted for that purpose, since a child cannot lead the prayer service in order to facilitate the ascent of his parent’s soul. Therefore, the Chachamim instituted Kaddish (Rama, Yoreh De’ah 376:4). Even if the minor has not yet reached the age of understanding, the Kaddish is read to him; the young orphan repeats the Kaddish word for word, and the congregation answers Amen. (According to the Ari, it is important to be strict and have an adult say the Mourner’s Kaddish with the minor, because that Kaddish is included in the twelve Kaddishim that are necessary to hear every day. See further in this book 23:10.)
In the case of a man or woman who was not privileged to leave behind a son, a God-fearing grandson may say Kaddish for him or her the whole year. This is possible even if the deceased has a son who is not God-fearing and does not go to synagogue to recite Kaddish. A grandson from a son takes precedence over a grandson from a daughter. If the deceased does not have a grandson yet, but has a son-in-law, the son-in-law should say Kaddish. The grandson and son-in-law are permitted to say Kaddish only when one of their own parents is deceased, or if their parents agree to his reciting Kaddish while they are living. However, someone whose parents are strict that he not say Kaddish while they are both alive may not recite the Kaddish for his grandparent or in-law.
When the deceased does not have a son, grandson, or son-in-law, the father of the deceased recites the Kaddish. If his father is also dead, the brother or nephew says Kaddish.
When none of these relatives can say Kaddish for the deceased, part of the inheritance money should be used to hire a God-fearing person to recite Kaddish for him. It is good to hire someone who is engrossed in Torah. If there is someone in the family who is occupied with Torah study, he takes precedence over a stranger. The monetary compensation for the Kaddish is important in order to ensure the fulfillment of its recital. Furthermore, by employing someone who is involved in Torah or a poor person who has children to support, the deceased will acquire more merit. 7
If a minor who already reached the age of understanding passes away, his father must say Kaddish for him or her (Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 376:3). There are those who have the custom to say Kaddish even for a small baby (see Pnei Baruch 34:30).
One who hires himself out to recite Kaddish may do so for a number of people, on condition that he ends up saying at least one Kaddish a day for each of the deceased (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, part 1, 254, and see Pnei Baruch 34:23-28).
It is proper for an adopted son to say Kaddish for his adoptive parents. All the more so, if the adoptive parent does not have another son, it is a mitzvah for the adopted son to say Kaddish (Yalkut Yosef, part 7, 23:13). It is also good for a righteous convert (ger tzedek) to say Kaddish for his gentile parents (Yalkut Yosef, part 7, 23:14, and Piskei Teshuvot 132:20).