February 22, 2024
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February 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In my 18 years in the rabbinate I have seen and learned a tremendous amount about human behavior. I often say that my job allows me to see people at their very best and at their very worst, plus the whole gamut in between.

Perhaps the most powerful experience I deal with regularly is what someone must do when a loved one is lost. Of course we deal with funeral and shiva arrangements, but what happens after? People, regardless of their background and levels of shul attendance, often turn to ritual practice to commemorate and honor their dearly departed. This almost always comes in the form of the Mourners’ Kaddish. I have been amazed (in a very positive way) by how someone who had perhaps not stepped foot in a shul in years, can find the ability to attend thrice daily after the loss of a loved one. Is it honor? Is it guilt? Is it something else? The reasons may be different, but the result is always the same: We now have a regular shul-goer. Yes, it may only be for 30 days or 11 months, but as they say, I will take what I can get.

As we close our reading of Sefer Bereishis this week, we read of Yaakov Avinu’s closing words to all of his children. Chazal tell us that Yaakov was worried that perhaps all of his children were not worthy of continuing the covenantal mission that began with Avraham Avinu. At his bedside, the 12 tribes assured him that all was in order. Yaakov indeed had all of his “Kaddishels.”

Realistically speaking, this is what we all want in life. We work so hard, we insist, and we daven continuously that our children should follow in the proper derech. Perhaps the greatest affirmation of those efforts comes in the form of grandchildren who live a life guided by Torah and tradition.

Truthfully, I have a very personal agenda. There are many accomplishments over the course of my rabbinic career of which I am grateful and proud. However, at the top of my list is my family. My wife and I have been extremely blessed with five beautiful and very independent daughters. We constantly work on developing their sense of self and of Yiddishkeit. There is no wallflower among them, and we love it!

Allow me to say that I am no feminist. I am as traditional as they come and I often shudder at halachic innovations that seem to take us down a slippery slope. When it comes to women’s issues though, I have over the years seen things through a different lens. This is perhaps through the lens of my daughters’ eyes. Let’s face it, we (still) live in a very male-dominated world. This is especially true when it comes to Jewish ritual. In fact, when we just read of the 70 souls who came down to Egypt with Yaakov, there were only three women in the count. One of them (Yocheved) is not even listed explicitly.

Our Jewish daughters today are smarter and more sophisticated than ever. We offer them (I hope) the same educational and Jewish experiences that we offer our sons. I fully recognize and respect that men and women have very different roles in Judaism. I am not advocating for major changes that require us to tear down any sacred walls. What I am asking for is generated by a very personal question. Who will say Kaddish for me? A son-in-law? A hired hand? What about my very capable daughters themselves? Will they take on the weighty responsibility?

This very question has led me to be sensitive to the needs of women who want to honor their loved ones by saying Kaddish regularly in shul. I have seen and heard too many horror stories of women who have been shunned in their own beloved places of prayer while trying to cope with an immeasurable loss. Some women barely have access in their own shuls to the Ezras Nashim so that they can recite Kaddish. (This is not the forum to debate the halachic validity of women reciting Kaddish, but in my opinion there is plenty of ground to absolutely and unquestionably allow it.) I respectfully implore all the minyan regulars to be sensitive to this as well. Surely you remember the cathartic feelings that came along with your recitation of Kaddish. Should a woman’s feelings of loss and need for ritual be negated out of hand based on your discomfort?

I don’t think it would be asking too much to respect the feelings of those who bravely attend shul daily on the other side of the mechitza. It would not hurt us to regulate our pace of Kaddish recitation or to call out the pages so that we can accommodate all who are reciting. It would not hurt to us to pass the pushke to the women’s section. In a time when achdus is often spoken of as a need in our communities, perhaps the best place to begin is right in our own sanctuaries.

I don’t know if my daughters will choose to say Kaddish for me or not. What is certain is that they know they will have the option. I just hope they will have a place where they can go and feel comfortable with their choices.

Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff is the rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim, Livingston.

By Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff

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