Kaddish Review in Hakira

August 4, 2014

by Joel B. Wolowelsky

This anthology speaks to women who are considering acting on the permissibility of saying Kaddish.Kaddish: Womens Voices But it also speaks to those living in a community where no women say Kaddish-where (aided by a sensationalist-seeking press) the image of women saying Kaddish is that of the Women of the Wall protesting at the Kotel wearing talit and tefilin. It helps them understand how halakhic authorities of the first order actually did permit it-because in these communities a woman wanting to say Kaddish is no different from her wanting to eat in a sukkah. She does so not “to be like a man,” but to be like a member of the family now able, because of unprecedented increased opportunities in Jewish education, to more fully participate in the traditional mourner’s expression of grief and loss. Indeed, the reminiscences in this anthology generally give poignant testimony to Eisenberg’s portrayal of the women’s motivation to say Kaddish. These are not the Women of the Wall engaged in a public protest to challenge halakhic norms. These are simply heartbroken mourners using a time-honored and legitimate norm to confront and express their grief. This will no doubt come as a surprise to some people.

The anthology also gives the opportunity to hear of the pain some experienced when their motives were wrongly denigrated.

 Once, the tenth man in a Mincha minyan-a personal acquaintance of mine-walked out just as Kaddish was starting, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to say Kaddish as a result. My internal struggle to be kind and understanding vs. feeling angry and resentful was a serious challenge at times (217).

Once, I had a rather toxic experience, ironically at the school that I was running. When it came time for Kaddish at a Maariv minyan, after an evening event for families, I joined in. I heard murmurs and whispers from the men’s section and could feel eyes piercing through me. When I mustered up the courage, I looked up. Jaws were dropped. Some men left the room, asking whether this was a school for Reform Rabbis. I have never felt more humiliated as a member of the Orthodox community than during the time that I said Kaddish for my mother (141).

We were going to Atlantic City. I knew there was an Orthodox community near our hotel, and I called the rabbi to ask where I could find a minyan the next morning. He told me, “There is none.” I asked about the yeshiva high school and he said, “No.” I asked if he knew where I could go to say Kaddish, and he answered: “Why don’t you call the Conservative rabbi?” I’m sure if my husband had called him to find a minyan, he would have had no problem. I did call the Conservative rabbi, and he was so nice! He told me he would make a mechitza for me and have a minyan. I went the next morning and was relieved and honored that he went out of his way for me (112).

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Can education alone save the Jewish People?

February 15, 2012

by Robert Eli Rubinstein

Since biblical times, we Jews have been a famously contrary lot, and the erosion of traditional values in the modern period has only deepened the divisions. Yet there is a single article of faith proclaimed with startling unanimity and certitude by all who profess to care about the survival of the Jewish people.

From one end of the broad Jewish spectrum to the other, from secular humanists to the most rigidly devout, Jewish education is promoted as the key to securing the Jewish future. In last week’s CJN, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman added his powerful voice to the chorus. As he put it, “Nothing is more crucial to advancing this goal [of ensuring the continuation of a strong Jewish identity] than Jewish education. At all levels, from the earliest age in the home, through formal and informal education at all levels, there is no alternative to exposing the next generation to Jewish values, traditions and identity.”

I began entertaining doubts about the conventional wisdom regarding Jewish education years ago, and these have only increased as I raised my own children and became ever more involved in the lay leadership of the Jewish schools they attended. Let me make clear that I am not saying I no longer value Jewish education. Rather, what I mean is that in the distant past, the lives of our people were suffused with a critical mass of Jewish content, and this preserved in them a strong sense of self as Jews. Today, however, the great majority of Jews wish to replace the actual practice of Judaism with mere knowledge of Judaism. As a consequence of this shift, we tend to have overblown and unrealistic expectations regarding the efficacy of Jewish education in building Jewish identity.

In 1986, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario region, commissioned a “Task Force on Assimilation, Intermarriage and Jewish Identity”, which I was privileged to co-chair. Following an intensive investigative process, the taskforce issued a report setting forth recommendations for counteracting the erosion of affiliation among Jews. Looking back, I am struck by the fact that almost all the recommendations involved promoting Jewish education in one form or another. In the years since, our community’s deep conviction that Jewish education is the panacea for assimilation has continued to grow, as reflected by its ever-expanding investment in Jewish educational facilities and resources. Yet parallel to this trend and notwithstanding our heroic efforts, we have witnessed a relentless increase in the rate of attrition.

Some years ago, I was visiting in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighbourhood heavily populated by readily identifiable chassidic Jews. While strolling along the main street on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I came across a group of Read the rest of this entry »