In many a shiva house, books of consolation and Jewish ritual are as ubiquitous as archival photos and cellophane-wrapped platters of food. You’re likely to find Leon Wieseltier’s “Kaddish,” Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” and perhaps Rabbi Richard Hirsh’s “The Journey of Mourning.” A new book by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, “Kaddish, Women’s Voices” (Urim) belongs on the table.
Smart and Ashkenas have assembled a sisterhood of articulate mourners, 52 women who contribute essays about their experience saying Kaddish. These are women who’ve committed to saying Kaddish regularly with a minyan over the course of 11 months. While many women from Conservative and Reform backgrounds have taken on the obligation and are counted in the minyan, Orthodox women who choose to say Kaddish are still pioneers in many synagogue settings.
In a quote on the book jacket, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin points out that the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik ruled that women may recite the Mourner’s Kaddish from the women’s section of the synagogue — even if she is the only one saying it.
Earlier this month, “Kaddish, Women’s Voices” was awarded a 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Contemporary Jewish Life.
In an interview, Ashkenas, an artist and educator, explains that she began thinking about a book like this while she was in mourning and saying Kaddish at her Orthodox synagogue — she realized that there wasn’t a book from a woman’s perspective. When she mentioned the idea to friends and family, they encouraged her to put together a book of women’s stories. At their first meeting to talk about the possibility of collaborating on the project, Ashkenas and Smart met at a café and heard Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” playing in the background — they discovered that the song was played at Ashkenas’s mother’s and Smart’s father’s funerals. They then brought together a dozen women who had experienced mourning, and began planning the book.
“Loss was the currency of intimacy,” Ashkenas explains.
When they began, the editors thought of the book as geared to Orthodox women, but opened it up to some non-Orthodox voices as well, including a Reform rabbi, as they thought the subject could have wider appeal.
Smart, who teaches widely on Jewish texts and philosophy and pioneered Jewish environmental education, says that when she got started, she expected the essays to be about saying Kaddish. But she was Read the rest of this entry »