JStandard: Do Angels Speak Aramaic?

My Dear Rabbi column (May 3) sparked an urgent letter to the editor at the Jewish Standard. I answered it.
The Dear Rabbi Column, “ ...based on timeless Talmudic wisdom” (May 3), writes the following about the Kaddish: “Yet this prayer is especially apropos for a mourner because we believe that it is the Aramaic praise that the angels recite in God’s presence in the heavens.”

1.The Talmud (Shabbos 12 A) states that the angels do not understand and certainly do not communicate in Aramaic.

2.The prophets, Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 3, inform us of the praises that the angels recite to God, verses that are incorporated in the daily prayers as the Kedusha, not the Kaddish.

3.The rabbis have explained that the unique quality of the Kaddish, which elevates it even beyond the Kedusha ( Berachos 21 B), derives from the fact that it is the result of human initiative.

Israel Polak

Dear Rabbi, aka Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy, replies:

I thank Mr. Polak for his letter. My column targets the issues of people, not of angels. Since I have not yet been to heaven, I can only speculate on the language skills of angels and their activities based on the assertions of our traditions. The Talmud passage Mr. Polak refers to cites the individual view of one rabbi regarding the language skills of angels. Other authoritative rabbis in the Talmud and later times argue that some angels do know Aramaic or that the question is moot, because angels know what you are thinking. Putting the language and angel issues aside, I do agree, as I proposed in my column, that the Kaddish is a powerful prayer of praise, a “human initiative” that mourners recite here on earth to act as if they are intercessors to gain heavenly immortality for the soul of a departed loved one.


Anonymous said...

Can you give any sources to what you are saying? ie which rabbis in the Talmud argue that angels know Aramaic or know what we are thinking?

Tzvee Zahavy said...

See for instance elomdus, Talking in Learning, http://elomdus.blogspot.com/2008/03/do-angels-know-aramaic.html

"As an interesting aside Tosafos in Shabbos d"h She'ein mention that the angel Gavriel is an exception and does understand aramaic. He brings a gemara in Sotah 33a to prove it because it says that the angel Gavriel taught Yosef HaTzaddik all 70 languages.

"Finally, Tosafos end with an interesting question. How can it be that the angels don't understand aramaic if they can even understand what a person is thinking!?"