by Joel B. Wolowelsky
This anthology speaks to women who are considering acting on the permissibility of saying Kaddish. 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).