Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Is there anyone who has Yahrtzeit?" "I mean man"

My experiences in shul are those of a man's.  I'm on the side of the mechitza (divider between men's and women's sections) that can daven from the Amud (act as prayer leader).  I'm on the side that gives the D'vrei Torah (Torah talks), that gets called up to the Torah, and from which the Rabbi, Assistant Rabbis, and Gabbai come from.  I'm on the side that gets handshakes after davening and an occasional "yisher koach" (good job) from a fellow congregant.

But I'm aware there are women mourners as well.  I don't often hear the women mourners saying kaddish unless I am the only man saying kaddish. As there are usually many more male kaddish sayers, I seat myself in the middle of the men's section, about thirty feet from where the women are, and the men, it seems to me, recite their kaddishes louder than do the women. It's possible to ignore their presence because they are not central to the prayer service--I don't, but I'm pretty sure others do. I know the Rabbi doesn't.  At the shul where I usually daven, women are permitted, even encouraged, to say kaddish.  Women saying kaddish is an accepted reality in the Modern Orthodox world today, unlike twenty or thirty years ago.  I know their experience saying kaddish is different than mine.  I'm not sure exactly how, though in my conversation with women saying kaddish, I get the sense their experience is more private.   In a way, the women who come to morning minyan to say kaddish are heroic--a man is expected to do this; they are doing it even without a sense that they "have" to.

Before Mincha (the afternoon service) yesterday, one of the younger rabbis, the regular Gabbai being absent, announced as usual, "is there anyone who has Yahrzeit (the anniversary of a parent's death) for a parent?" What he meant was: is there any man who has Yahrtzeit, as such a person has priority to lead prayers.  A voice from the women's section responded, "yes, I do."  In an awkward moment, the rabbi then had to clarify what he meant.  (He should have acknowledged the woman's Yahrzeit before doing so.) A woman mourner told me that the regular Gabbai avoids this matter by asking if anyone has Yahrtzeit for "his" parent.   To add to the discomfort I felt, the d'var halacha the rabbi gave between Mincha and Ma'ariv just happened by to deal with women's exemption from the requirement of fulfilling time bound positive commandments (the last Mishna of the second chapter of Masechet Brachot).

After the services, I spoke to the woman who had Yahrzeit to express solidarity with her loss.  Still, the events left me feeling uneasy.  Half the people in the world who have lost a parent are women.  I subscribe to traditional Jewish practice, thus I daven in Orthodox synagogues.  Still, I wish that the shul could provide as much support to the women saying kaddish as it has given me during my kaddish year.

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