Due to the importance of the Kaddish, the laws pertaining to it resemble the laws of the Amidah prayer. Therefore, the person reciting the Kaddish must stand, customarily with his legs together. Also, just as it is forbidden to pass within the four amot of a person praying the Amidah (see earlier in this book, 18:18), so too, it is forbidden to pass within four amot of a person reciting Kaddish. This prohibition applies until the end of the Half-Kaddish (Birkei Yosef; Kaf HaChaim 55:9).
Some say that since the Kaddish is considered to be a matter of sanctity, the congregation must stand when the main section of Kaddish is recited, or at least until they answer “Yehei Shemei rabba…” (Rama; Mishnah Berurah 56:7-8). Similarly, it is necessary to stand when responding to Barchu (Mishnah Berurah 146:18). Some say that it is not obligatory to stand for matters of sanctity, yet those who were standing at the beginning of Kaddish must remain standing, and those who were sitting before it began may continue to sit, which is also how the Ari practiced (Maharil; Kaf HaChaim 56:20; 146:20-21).
Before the chazan reaches the last portion of the Kaddish, he performs the actions done at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei. He bows and takes three steps back. He then bows to the left and says, “Oseh shalom bimromav”, bows to his right and says, “Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu”, and then bows in front of him and says, “V’al kol Yisrael v’imru Amen” (Shulchan Aruch 56:5; 123:1).
Some follow the custom that the chazan bows slightly at every place in which the congregation answers Amen. Others bow at different places, and there are those who do not bow at all.
There are differing customs regarding the response of “Yehei Shemei rabba….” According to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) minhagim, we conclude, “L’alam ul’almei almaya.” According to the Chassidic and Yemenite (Shami) custom, we add “Yitbarach” as well. According to the Sephardic minhag, we recite until “d’amiran b’alma.” Another difference is that after “Berich Hu,” the Ashkenazim answer “Berich Hu” and according to the Sephardic minhag, whoever succeeds in finishing until “d’amiran b’alma” responds Amen, and whoever does not, refrains from responding to “Berich Hu.”
When a person answers “Amen Yehei Shemei rabba…” he should pause between “Amen” and “Yehei Shemei rabba,” for Amen is a response to what the chazan said previously, and “Yehei Shemei rabba” is a praise in itself (Mishnah Berurah 56:2).
. However, Kaf HaChaim 56:36 writes that the chazan takes three steps back only in Kaddish-Titkabal, since it is connected to the Amidah prayer, but concerning the remaining Kaddishim that are not linked to the Amidah, there is no reason to step backwards. Still, Yabia Omer 5:9 supports the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, that in all Kaddishim he takes three steps back. A possible explanation is that the essence of the Kaddish is considered similar to the Amidah, and that alone necessitates taking three steps back. This is the minhag of all Ashkenazim.
. The Shulchan Aruch 56:4 writes that the chazan bows at five places during the Kaddish, when saying: 1) “Yitgadal,” 2) “Yehei Shemei Rabba,” 3) “Yitbarach,” 4) “Berich Hu,” and 5) “Amen” (at the end of the Half-Kaddish). The Kaf HaChaim 56:35 writes in the name of a number of Acharonim that he bows every time the congregation responds Amen. It seems that even according to his minhag, the chazan bows at only five places; however, he bows at the five places in which the congregation responds Amen in the Half-Kaddish. The Gra questions these bows, for he maintains that it is wrong to add more bows than the ones the Chachamim instituted for the Shemoneh Esrei. The Aruch HaShulchan 56:7 answers that the bows performed in the Kaddish are minor, unlike those in Shemoneh Esrei, and therefore they are not considered additions to what the Chachamim established.
. The Beit Yosef summarizes the opinions and writes in the name of the Rambam, Rashi, Kolbo, and Rabbi David Abudraham that one only says until “almaya,” which adds up to a total of 28 letters, and that is Minhag Ashkenaz. However, the Midrash writes that one must be very careful not to separate the words “almaya” and “Yitbarach,” and that someone who does is punished. Therefore, many became accustomed to saying until “d’amiran b’alma,” a total of 28 words. So, it seems, is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch 56:3. This is also written in Kaf HaChaim 33. Minhag Chassidim, based on Rabbi Yosef Gik’atlya, is to say until “Yitbarach,” thereby attaching “almaya” to “Yitbarach.” The Magen Avraham writes that this is an ancient custom. However, the opinion of the Gra, based on the Rishonim, is not to recite “Yitbarach” because this word begins a different praise. The Mishnah Berurah 15 provides a possible solution – if one says “Yitbarach” after an interruption of a breath, perhaps even according to the Gra, the recital of “Yitbarach” would be permissible.
According to the Mishnah Berurah 56:15, if he reaches a point in prayer in which it is forbidden to interrupt, he may answer only until “almaya.” Kaf HaChaim 33 writes that he says everything until “d’amiran b’alma.” Yalkut Yosef 66:1 maintains that between paragraphs or berachot he responds to everything, and in the middle of paragraphs or berachot he answers until “Yitbarach.”
The Shulchan Aruch 55:2 writes that after the conclusion of “Yehei Shemei rabba…,” when the chazan says “Yitbarach,” the congregation responds Amen. Today, only the Yemenites practice this way. According to the Sephardic minhag, in which they continue to say until “d’amiran b’alma,” it is impossible to succeed in responding Amen after “Yitbarach,” and even to “Berich Hu” they do not always succeed in answering. That is also what is written in Kaf HaChaim 56:29, that according to the Kavanot, one does not respond Amen after “Yitbarach.”
It is better to respond to the Kaddish in accordance with the custom of the one reciting it (“Berich Hu,” “Amen,” etc.), as explained earlier in this book 6:5. However, this is usually not the practice, and therefore many are accustomed to answering according to their own minhag, despite the fact that it appears slightly like “Lo Titgodedu” (fragmenting the nation into divergent groups with different practices).