tonight I said kaddish for the first time. perhaps it was something I should have said 3 years ago. but tonight I said it for a good reason. It was to mark the end of mesechet shekalim, a particular section of the Talmud, as part of the daf yomi cycle. I was the only person in the weekly gathering who had actually learnt every page, and so it fell on me to stumble through the words.
A bit of background. Kaddish is mainly known as being the prayer that a mourner recites in the period of time immediately following the loss of a close family member. But I lost a baby, late miscarriage, and in that circumstance kaddish is not said. But the kaddish, which is basically a prayer that praises God, is also said as liturgical punctuation to highlight and emphasis particular prayers and occasions. By saying the kaddish at the conclusion of a section of study, it turns it from an intellectual act into something perhaps spiritual. Praising God. Not something I wanted to do 3 years ago, and not certain how I feel about it now....
I was not prepared or had expected to say the hadran (conclusion prayer after completing a section of Talmud) and kaddish tonight. But I think that had Michael, the rabbi who teaches this weekly round-up of daf yomi, if he had given me any prior notice I would have agonised and fretted, got anxious and probably would have resolved the internal conflict by just not turning up. And there were so many reasons for awkward stumbling. I am a woman who grew up in orthodox synagogues. Prayer is whispered. I am not used to raising my voice in prayer for others to hear, let alone lead. it’s odd and regrettable how conditioned I am... and the language is tricky and unfamiliar Aramaic... and the content is not something I am comfortable in reciting, with praise for God and blessings for my offspring, I didn’t want the words to leave my mouth and so they got stuck in my throat.
I am not at all upset with Michael for putting me in that position. (although I did feel that with every stumble and falter I was proving why women should not study Talmud, and exposing myself for the sham of a serious student that I am....) I am very touched that he asked me, brought in other students to make up the quorate of ten, didn’t ask if anyone minded if a woman said this prayer but just got on with it... exactly what you want in a rabbi really. He was following the script, in the situation when one completes a section of Talmud study one says this.... But a script, a set ritual, a way of publicly acknowledging something, that was sorely missing 3 years ago. And since then, while some may think I should be over it by now, I have been angrily kicking back. Amongst a whole context of hurt and pain.
My taking on the daf yomi learning, studying a page of Talmud a day, is an attempt to chart some sort of path with my strong ambivalent relationship to traditional jewish texts, life, everything. I constantly question myself why am I doing this, why am I still doing any of this, and there are days I want to throw the damn book to the floor. I haven’t come to any conclusions as to why I am still doing it. not really. But there are days when the learning flows, ideas click together and then I hate myself for enjoying it.... it’s complicated. Perhaps it is just the simple act of having something on the to-do list every day, regulating my time and anchoring me as I rage on. Each section that I have completed is worthy of acknowledging. And so I falter with the script, and turn my learning into a stumbling prayer of bitterly swallowed words.