Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Getting Used to a Year of Kaddish

Shiva is now over.

Thanks to everyone who called, visited, IM'd, emailed, or left blog comments... now it's time to get back to life. At some point during the shiva, someone told my brother that it seems as if the mourning customs of shiva are meant to keep you all cooped up inside for so long that once it's over you want nothing else but to go back and reintegrate into normal life. Of course, with the additional sheloshim and year restrictions for mourning a parent, it's not quite normal.

I've been discovering just how hard it is to execute a properly-synchronized kaddish with other people saying it. Now I understand why it always seems in shul as if everyone saying kaddish is going at their own pace; unless you're trained to listen to others' sounds and produce your own at the same time (as PT explained) it's very hard to monitor other people's kaddish and sync yours up with theirs.

The shul I usually go to has the old Ashkenazic custom of having only one person say kaddish at a time. They also have an additional mizmor of Tehillim after Shahhris, and three after Ma‘ariv, that kaddishes can be inserted before, between and after, in order so that everyone gets a turn. I may prefer that method, although if there's a large number of people saying kaddish it may end up that someone doesn't get a chance; that part doesn't sound so good. But I'll see when I go home later today or this week.


Blogger Elie said...

Steg: Welcome back to the world and blogosphere. May you find a full measure of nechama for your father, Z'L.

When I lost my dad three years ago, I found both kaddish and the daily grind of shul-attendance to be extremely difficult to get used to. In fact my very first blog post (after "hello, blogosphere") was on this subject. But despite the long adjustment period, saying kaddish did eventually start to feel like a way of connecting with my father after he was gone, and I was even sorry when the eleven months ended and I could no longer do so on a daily basis.

As for Shiva, I once wrote (sorry if this sounds a bit too cynical/heretical!) that it is similar to the pathology of "cutters" - people who deliberately inflict physical pain on themselves to take their mind off their mental anguish. In certain ways, the shiva experience is like that - and not only because of the uncomfortable chairs. The very taxing nature of the process is, to a degree, a way to protect oneself from the deeper emotions that may otherwise be unbearable.

2/28/2007 10:05 AM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I told you on the phone that for me, Kaddish is very therapeutic. I don't know if it's doing anything for my Dad, a"h, but it's doing wonders for my self-esteem. I feel like I'm doing something.

I don't care much for your shul's minhag. If it were me, I'd go somewhere else. It seems they're robbing you of your opportunity to do this.

OTOH some people may feel relieved of the responsibility in a place like that.

Oh, and for synchronization, stand close to one of the louder guys.

2/28/2007 10:29 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Shivve: When I went through this, it reminded me of newer experimental approaches in psychology. There's a school saying that with "difficult" children who oppose their parents, for example when they refuse their long-time adoptive parents, the parent should clutch the child so it can hardly move - best under professional supervision. Astonishingly, as a rule, the child will first be even madder, cry with anger and scream full of hate for quite some time, until getting calmer and finally embracing and loving back. It can take several hours.

I felt the shivve for my father somewhat like it, with all the restrictions, no distraction, sleeping on the floor, no excuse not to face the situation and think about the deceased person.

In other words, I suspect the exact opposite of what Elie suspects (but which I don't find cynical/heretical).

The non-Jewish state of the art seems to be to tell mourners to hurl themselves into work, but I think that's not healthy, even independent of issues like honoring the dead. Maybe it helps with smaller children - I remember reading that Israeli psychologists followed such an approach with traumatised Bosnian children who were sent to regular school the day they arrived in Israel. But longterm?

Kaddesh: How important is that to you? If less important than for the average kaddesh zoger, let the others say it. (As you might know, I never understood how this change came about: I thought the idea was ten or more people lern, and one says kaddesh on the occasion, but today, one person mumbles always the same Mishne one-liner, and ten people say kaddesh.)

I ored fore whenever possible, and I stepped forward to say kaddesh when I was invited to, in order not to insult people and violate the recent minnek. The shuls are one-person-per-kaddesh style, but on the rare occasions when several were told to say kaddesh, I "faked", i. e. I answered kaddesh while standing otherwise quietly in the line of aveilem and going back three steps etc. Still enough of a balagan. When I ored fore in the shivve minyen, I didn't even say the recent kaddesh after Oleine, of course.

2/28/2007 11:00 AM  
Anonymous The Back of the Hill said...

The non-Jewish state of the art seems to be to tell mourners to hurl themselves into work, but I think that's not healthy.....

Every one mourns differently. Sometimes it is very unstructured.

I still do not understand how my dad dealt with it after my mother died, nor do I understand my own reactions even today when thinking about both of them.

It is like occassionally chewing a mental cud.

Finding a place to scream and shout is also good.

2/28/2007 4:57 PM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Debbie has said much the same, as has my mother, and pretty much anyone who has gone through Jewish mourning: it's about slow reintegration into the world. By the end of shiva you really want to get out. Shloshim holds you back because you're really not ready yet. Same for the year.

As for not sync-ing: everyone who's at all fluent thinks they're the one who's leading kaddish and setting the pace, so it's the OTHER GUYS' fault for NOT KEEPING UP.

2/28/2007 7:39 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I'm already having to adjust my internal clock to keep in mind that not only do i need to daven, but i need to find a minyan to daven in instead of just davening on the subway or whatnot when it's time.
I definitely feel you on the 'cutters' association... more about that on my next post.


Maybe i'll feel different after i get used to it, but so far i think i prefer my usual shul's minhag. Saying all those kaddishes with everyone else, trying to keep in sync during the shiva and last night at the shul my father went to... it didn't feel like i was doing much for my father or for myself; it just felt draining and chaoticly stressful.
This morning at my shul, i only said one qadish yatom (after the 'extra' mizmor of tehillim) and one qadish derabanan (after a short halakha-lesson from the rabbi on, appropriately enough, aveilut and Purim). But it felt much more *real* — one voice, standing in front of the community, instead of simply sounding like i'm mumbling from my seat.
They also asked if i wanted to daven for the ‘amud ('to ore fore' as Lipman says) so i'll probably start doing that soon, maybe even tomorrow morning.


For some reason, the difficult-clutch method sounds wrong to me... gives associations of indoctrination. But that could just be because i react very badly to involuntary contact.
[See comment about kaddish to PT]

The Back of the Hill:

I thought about trying to find a place to scream and shout, but that's not really my style. I'm not very emotive (i take after my father in that way). When other people around me are reacting in a very emotional way, though, it can be contagious (and aggravating).


At least i know it's partially my fault for 1. using Yekke cadence and 2. using a somewhat different text than everyone else.

3/01/2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

I hope this is not an inappropriate comment, but have you read Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier?

It's kind of a hard book to describe, but he wrote it after losing his father. He is no longer religious, but he's a heck of a writer.

3/01/2007 9:50 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Thanks. i haven't read it, but i've heard great things about it.

3/01/2007 9:55 AM  
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