Wednesday, 13 November 2013

saying kaddish...


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. 

6 comments:

Sarah M said...

Many men who say Kaddish stumble through the words and find themselves questioning their feelings at times when emotions are complex and raw. May you always have reasons to praise God and may He always bless you, your life partner and your offspring.

Ruth W said...

Amen

Justin Wise said...

Beautiful. Thank you for saying all of this - I'm left feeling touched and illuminated by what you've written.

Yona V said...

Chazak!

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this. It seems there is a need for a service or mourning framework for such a tragedy, designed by women incorporating women's prayers. You might be just the person with the knowledge, experience and research skills, to create such a ceremony. It would really help women express their grief and start the healing process within a religious framework, and would be an important addition to women's tefillot. Would you consider it?

Adam B said...

There's a box at the end of the comment form that asks me to prove i'm not a robot. I think that's what we'd be without this tapestry of interconnected feelings.