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Can Women say Kaddish?

I do not see this as a feminist issue at all. This is a human issue.
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When a parent dies one of the things done during the year long mourning period is to say Kaddish. This is usually done by a son. The idea behind that is to build up Zechuyos (merit) for the Niftar (the deceased).

The reason we do that is based on the idea that most people do not live a sin free life and before one merits his final place in Olam HaBa, the soul has to go through a ‘cleansing period’ whereby it pays for sins it committed during its brief stay in the body. By doing things in the merit of the Niftar it is hoped that the punishment it gets during this ‘cleansing period’ will be reduced.

This is a universal practice in Judaism. No matter how great – or not so great – the deceased parent was, assuming he was not a Rasha the practice is to say Kaddish for the same amount of time (11 months. Saying Kaddish for more than 11 months implies that the deceased was a Rasha). Why Kaddish was established as opposed to other ways of bringing merit to the deceased is beyond the scope of this post.

The question arises as to whether a woman can say Kaddish for a parent. There are differences of opinion about that. I am not here to Paskin. That is beyond my pay grade. But I believe there are Poskim that permit it.You would think that a woman saying Kaddish for a parent in Shul was tantamount to using profanity the way some people react to it. That is not OK. From a letter submitted to JOFA:

No, you can’t say kaddish because you’re a woman… Shh! Why can’t you keep your voice quiet!? We can hear you over the mechitza!… [The silence when no one says amen to my kaddish recitation]… You know, it doesn’t actually count when a daughter says kaddish… Couldn’t you get your husband or father to say kaddish instead?… It would be much more respectful if you didn’t say kaddish… Is there a man who is REALLY saying kaddish for your mom?

No one has a right to criticize any woman for saying Kaddish for a deceased parent. No matter what their opinion is about the permissibly or effectiveness of it. To say the things said to one such woman contained in this letter (reproduced above), is not only insensitive, but in my view a disgusting psychological abuse of another human being. An abuse of the type Chazal had some very harsh words for: Kol HaMelaben Pnei Chavero B’Rabim K’ilu Shofech Damo! Embarrassing some one publicly is tantamount to murder.

Kayla Jacobs submitted this letter as a reason for needing JOFA – the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

I submit that she does not need JOFA for that. I am not a member of JOFA and I am as outraged by such comments as she and any Orthodox Feminist is. Justifiably so. But do we really need a Feminist organization to protest this kind of insensitivity on the part of some ignorant people? Or do we need common sense?

Where is the empathy? Where is the Jewish Soul? Where is the brain?!

What kind of human being would insult a woman who is expressing the best way she knows how her mourning for a parent?

I do not see this as a feminist issue at all. This is a human issue. And if there are more than a few people in the religious world who are like this, the fault lies in the Chinuch they get. Either in the home or in the school. Or both.

Not that they aren’t entitled to their views with respect to who gets to say Kaddish and who doesn’t. Honorable people can disagree about that. But in how to treat a fellow human being. Especially one who is suffering the loss of a parent. The disgusting comments contained in that letter is not how that is done. Those kinds of statements can only lead down a different road. One that will require offspring to say Kaddish for more than 11 months.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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13 Responses to “Can Women say Kaddish?”

  1. Chaiya Eitan says:

    Why in the world not????

  2. SJ Cottrell says:

    Kaddish, Ohio?

  3. Chaiya Eitan says:

    There’s a Kaddish, Ohio???

  4. I share the concern and also agree that a halachic opinion is above my pay grade. Liked the expression. I do know that the idea of kaddish is having offspring who learn Torah and do mitzvot to give their parents or other relatives merit in the next world. Maybe people need to lower the profile of Kaddish a little bit.

  5. Charlie Hall says:

    Women have been saying kaddish for 400 years.

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    (Prior to that time, it was more common to have a single mourner recite kaddish for the entire congregration of mourners.)

  7. Fred Taub says:

    I have a bigger question: Why is it your concern?

  8. Fred, why is it my concern? Because there are people who feel bad because they are discouraged from saying Kaddish, usually single women, etc. who don't have anyone male willing to go to shul and do it. I understand these people and feel their pain. When a parent dies, you don't always know how to deal with it. The solution should be between you and your local rabbi, if you have one. Sometimes that's the problem, too.

  9. Charlie Hall says:

    In the Western European tradition — which was the first nusach here in America and the only one here for well over a century — women have been saying kaddish for 400 years. I attended evening services tonight at Shearith Israel in Manhattan (founded 1654) and there were women reciting (the much longer Sefardic) kaddish. It is hard to see how something that long established could possibly be asur.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    And I have to admit I don't understand the "why is it my concern" question. As educated Jews we are supposed — well, actually, commanded — to investigate questions like this. We even get zechut for investigations of no practical relevance today, such as when we learn about the avodah in the Temple.

  11. Charlie, the logical fallacy here is that the shul existed since 1654 but that doesn't mean they always had women saying kaddish. Also BTW (pedantics' corner) the Sefardic kaddish is longer, but not that much longer — try the Yemenite for length!

  12. Charlie Hall says:

    Yehoshua, their parent congregation in Amsterdam was where women first recited Kaddish 400 years ago.

    I've never prayed in a Yemenite congregation. There is one in NYC but I've never visited it.

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