Kaddish Review

By Evelyn Pockrass Kaddish: Womens Voices

Jewish mourning rituals affect survivors for the remainder of their lives. We remember loved ones in prescribed ways during the first year after their passing and in special ways hereafter…

Kaddish: Women’s Voices edited by Michal Smart and conceived by Barbara Ashkenas, gathers more than fifty short essays by women (mainly Modern Orthodox) about their experiences during the first year after a close relative has died. When a parent dies, part of the traditional observance required of men for eleven months is to attend services three times daily, during which the Kaddish (from the root meaning “holy”) prayer is recited.

Some Orthodox synagogues accept the participation of women in this ritual. The stories in Kaddish reflect the contributor’s experiences, both positive and negative, in carrying out the ritual. Some of he women endued poor treatment and other hardships, but saying Kaddish was nevertheless a great source of comfort and healing for all.

The volume’s layout is appealing; there are twelve chapters, each beginning with a part of the Kaddish prayer (in Aramaic and Hebrew) and a poem in English. Kaddish won a 2013 National Jewish Book Award.

This review appeared in the third issue of Church and Synagogue Library Association’s congregational libraries today.


Kaddish Review in Hakira

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).

Continue reading Kaddish Review in Hakira”

Local women reflect on saying Kaddish

by Johanna GinsbergKaddish: Womens Voices

For a long time, E.M. Broner’s 1994 work, Mornings and Mourning, was the lone women’s voice in the literature on reciting Kaddish. Over the last two decades, that has slowly begun to change.

With the publication last November of Kaddish: Women’s Voices, an anthology by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, the void has been filled by a range of women with different backgrounds, each with a unique story surrounding her commitment to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, even in communities where some see the act as obligatory for men, and suspect among women.

Two of the entries in the collection, which won a National Jewish Book Award in March, come from local women.

For Rabbi Esther Reed of Highland Park, saying Kaddish for her father involved the conflict between remaining authentic and true to herself, while maintaining sensitivity and respect for those in her charge as senior associate director at Rutgers University Hillel.

As a person in mourning, she needed a daily minyan to say Kaddish. But she did not want to disrupt the daily minyan at Rutgers or cause offense among the Orthodox students who attend. “I recognized that the morning minyan was an Orthodox service, where students were not used to seeing a woman in tallit andtefillin,” writes Reed, a Conservative rabbi. “I didn’t want to threaten students who felt that the Orthodox community at Hillel was their ‘home.’”

She continued, “I wasn’t trying to make a statement. I just wanted to say Kaddish.” In the end, she devised a compromise: praying with the tallit and tefillin in a staff member’s office, with a view of the minyan, before joining the Orthodox worshippers to say Kaddish for her father.  Continue reading “Local women reflect on saying Kaddish”

Kaddish wins Skipping Stones Award

by Evlyn GouldKaddish: Womens Voices

Kaddish, Women’s Voices pulls at the heart strings. At times painful, at times funny, and always spiritually rich, it presents the views of many Jewish women on this essential Jewish practice for honoring the passing of our loved ones. Traditionally, the Kaddish Yatom, the Kaddish said for the dead, is read at every Jewish service in which there is a “minyan” or prayer assembly of at least ten men. Following the death of parents, we are commanded to say the Kaddish for a full year as we believe it encourages the soul to rise higher and higher on its heavenly course. It says nothing about death, but praises the source of all life. The traditional teaching requires us to say Kaddish for our parents, for whom the longest period to recite the Kaddish is prescribed. This assumes that because parents have had a decisive role in shaping our lives, we must mourn for a full year. For children, however, we are required to recite the Kaddish for only one month.Of course, there are other rituals for honoring the dead that mark the first week, the first month, the first year,and then the memory of our loved one each passing year at the time of “Yahrzeit” or yearly commemoration of the passing as it is marked on the Jewish calendar. More liberal Jews have added the practice of reciting the Kaddish for the deaths of others and to honor those lost in the Holocaust who have no one to say Kaddish for them.

While in Orthodox Jewish practice, women are “relieved” of this commandment or “mitzvah” (good deed), as they are not burdened by any time-bound “mitzvoth,” Kaddish, Women’s Voices presents what we might call the “other side” of the performance of this “mitzvah.” By other side, I mean at least two different things. First, we recite the Kaddish not only to honor the dead, but to help ourselves heal from the loss. We ritualize our response to death and we do so in community. Among Conservative, Reform, Renewal or Reconstructionist Jews, a community of ten may be made up of women and/or of men, and Kaddish is recited by all concerned regardless of gender. In these congregations, women do perform time-bound holy deeds. Second, as this book shows us so eloquently, women benefit tremendously from being able to participate in this age-old practice. In this book, we meet many women from all branches of Judaism talking about the meaningfulness of this prayer. We read their testimonials and witness the power of this prayer in their lives, in their mourning, and in the healing of the wounds of their losses. Some women speak of parents, some of children. All of them reach deeply into their own hearts and ours.  Continue reading Kaddish wins Skipping Stones Award”

How Jewish texts can help women — rabbis included —  through trying transitions

This book review first appeared in Lilith Magazine, Spring 2014Kaddish: Womens Voices

Rabbi-editors Sue Levi Elwell and Nancy Fuchs Kreimer invited women rabbis, scholars and activists to share the Jewish texts they
have found themselves applying in their own lives. The contributors to Chapters of the Heart: Jewish Women Sharing the Torah of Our Lives (Cascade Books, $26) include Julie Greenberg, Judith Plaskow, Blu Greenberg and Wendy Zierler. Rabbi Hara Person writes of raising a son and finding wisdom in stories of the biblical King David. Rabbi Rachel Adler observes her mother’s cognitive slide into forgetting, and the book of Lamentations is Adler’s benchmark. Rabbi Laura Geller looks back many decades to her divorce, examining it through the lens of Sarah and Abraham setting out on a journey when they were no longer young. And here is Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg on coming to a mature understanding of her professional role:

As a congregational rabbi I felt great pressure to be someone who was always interested in others. Always. The truth is I was not always interested. I also had to demonstrate how “spiritual,” “deep,” “serious and seriously Jewish” I am. Especially as someone in the early wave of female rabbis, I felt so compelled to get it right. Shoring up a persona of “spiritual” has a grave downside, like any persona — intellectual, manager, healer, etc. So much energy is invested in the persona, the false God, that the true God, the true life force, one’s unique passion, is concealed, and at worst, even buried alive….

At the Passover seder we are invited to lay back on super comfortable chairs or to just “lounge around.” Reclining as free people counters restlessness. We place the body in a position of repose, in a place of faith and trust. This posture opens a door to relaxing the fretting brow and the urge to pace the floor. When I am relaxed in my body, my mind is relaxed as well. I have a chance to ponder relationships, causes and consequences. I have the opportunity to live purposefully at whatever stage of life.

In the new book Kaddish: Women’s Voices (Urim, $27.95) editors Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas gather 52 reflections on the experience of mourning. Belda Lindenbaum writes here, “For some women it is no longer a lonely experience. Still, the road to understanding women’s spiritual needs and making room for them, both figuratively and physically, is a long one, and we have barely begun the journey. Most of the liturgy is wonderfully poetic. A phrase that is dear to me appears in the morning prayers; You have changed my mourning into dancing/You have removed my sackcloth and girded me with joy/So that I might praise You and not remain silent/God, my God, forever will I thank You. Is this not a paradigm for loss and acceptance? For me, it also speaks to women’s need to be seen and heard within Judaism. If God sees us and hears us, and acknowledges us as part of God’s community, then where is man?”

Kaddish, From A Woman’s Perspective

By Sandee Brawarsky kaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

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 Continue reading “Kaddish, From A Woman’s Perspective”

A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section

By Shelley Richman CohenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

It is hard to believe that it is four years since Nathaniel’s passing. I still feel his presence throughout the day and miss his warm, smiling face and upbeat outlook. The name Nathaniel means “gift of God,” and that is what he was. He woke up almost every day with a smile, eager to greet the world. An optimist by nature, the words “no” or “can’t” were not a part of his vocabulary. He viewed life as a series of opportunities to explore and experience. Although never seeking the limelight, he always desired to be where the action was. He loved people and places, and was always ready to try something new. Although Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive deteriorative disease, reversed the normal course of his life, he managed to enjoy all that he could participate in.

From the time of Nathaniel’s diagnosis at age 6 he began to decline. He lost his ability to walk at age 8 1/2 and by his early teens was fast becoming a quadriplegic. Instead of being a mother who slowly let her child grow toward independence, I was forced by necessity to be a mother who had to involve herself in every aspect of my child’s life. From showering, to toileting, to dressing and feeding, as Nathaniel deteriorated his every function became the responsibility of those who loved him most, his family.

With his death at age 21, on that cold day in April, my constant physical orchestrations ended, but my emotional desire to care for my son did not. The desire to do for one’s child does not die with that child.

When Nathaniel passed away, we in his immediate family were obligated to say Kaddish for the shloshim, the thirty-day period of mourning. My husband, Ruvan, my other children, Jonathan and Jackie, and I were steadfast in taking on this chiyuv (halachic obligation). After all, didn’t Nathaniel deserve this last act of devotion? As the days of that first month dwindled, Ruvan told me that he wanted to take on the obligation of saying Kaddish for the full eleven months. The minute he said that, I too knew that I wanted to take on this longer obligation, as well. Had Nathaniel had the zechut, the privilege of living a full healthy life, chances are he would have had children to say Kaddish for him. Since that was not to be his fate, who would be more appropriate to say Kaddish for him than his mother? I carried him in my womb, I birthed him, and I orchestrated the life he led. For his 21 years our lives—his and mine—were inextricably bound together. It was out of a profound sense of loss that I took on the commitment to say Kaddish.

At that moment, I don’t think I fully grasped what saying Kaddish would really mean. Yes, I knew it was Continue reading “A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section”

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Nathan RosenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

This excellent collection consists of fifty-two insightful essays addressing the various experiences and issues faced by women mourners who recite Kaddish. The book is very helpful and thought provoking for individual mourners and for the Jewish community as a whole. The contributors come from a wide range of Jewish denominations, backgrounds, religious involvement and education. The writers share their viewpoints and reveal their courage in confronting difficult situations. All testify to the ways in which reciting Kaddish invoked deep spiritual and meaningful experiences. Several of the essays portray the warm presence of community support and solace and the establishment or affirmation of their involvement with Jewish communal life. For them, the recitation of Kaddish indeed served to sanctify God’s name. Others portray synagogues and minyanim where the opposite occurred. At a time where community is most needed, the mourners were set adrift and even faced outright hostility and ostracism. There, the communal response reflected a lack of respect for the dead, the wounding of the mourner and a desecration of God’s name.

This book is well worth purchasing and reading. The essays reflect individual and common experiences and issues that may be unique to women or may be shared by all mourners. Readers will find that many essays speak directly to them on many levels.

This review first appeared in AJL Reviews

A Review of Kaddish, Women’s Voices

by Francisca GoldsmithkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

More than 50 women writers contributed personal essays to this unique collection. It provides readers with considerable insight into the role of women in the contemporary Jewish community, framing their stories within the place of the Kaddish tradition of Jewish mourning. In essays written expressly for this volume, the authors bring to the table an array of cultural backgrounds, including the urban U.S. Northeast, India, and Israel. Because of the nature of the Kaddish tradition, each woman self-identifies as Jewish, but together the women range from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform and even nonpracticing. They have grieved for parents, children, and siblings. Many are comfortable with their roles as active participants in a traditionally male expression, and a few eschew taking that participatory role. In addition to providing a dynamic view of feminism and Judaism, the collection coheres as a community of women experienced in mourning as a human sensibility, opening the titular theme to others who may feel alone in their bereavement.

This review originally appeared in Booklist.

‘Kaddish, Women’s Voices’ depicts struggle between modernity and modern Orthodoxy

by Rabbi Jack Riemer kaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Rabbi Norman Lamm once said that when modernity fights with the liberal movements in Judaism, it is not a fair fight because modernity always wins, and that when modernity fights with the right wing of Orthodoxy, it is not a fair fight because the right wing always wins. Kaddish, Women’s Voices is a book in which modernity fights with modern Orthodoxy, and the results are fascinating.

Fifty-two women write their accounts of what it was like for them to say the Kaddish prayer for their deceased loved ones in the daily minyanim of modern Orthodox synagogues.

Two emotions wrestle within these women. One is anger. They were not feminists, and they were not asking for the removal of the mechitza or for the right to lead services. They were only looking for minimal respect for their right to be there and minimal courtesy for their sincere religious yearnings, but they report that in many places they did not receive either. They tell of places where men walked out when they said Kaddish, where the tzedaka box was never carried over to their section, and where they were made to feel unwanted and invisible. They tell what it felt like when the lights were lit in the men’s section, and no one remembered or bothered to light them in the women’s section as well.

But anger is not the only, or even the most important, emotion in this book. These women describe, as many men have, the powerful spiritual effect that saying Kaddish every day had on them.

One woman writes, “Even as I hit upon its limits, I Continue reading “‘Kaddish, Women’s Voices’ depicts struggle between modernity and modern Orthodoxy”