Anita Diamant's knowledge, sensitivity, and clarity have made her one of the most respected writers of guides to Jewish life. In Saying Kaddish, she shows how to make Judaism's time-honored rituals into personal, meaningful sources of comfort. Diamant guides the reader through Jewish practices that attend the end of life, from the sickroom to the funeral to the week, month, and year that follow. There are chapters describing the traditional Jewish funeral and the customs of Shiva, the first week after death when mourners are comforted and cared for by community, friends, and family. She also explains the protected status of Jewish mourners, who are exempt from responsibilities of social, business, and religious life during Shloshim, the first thirty days. And she provides detailed instructions for the rituals of Yizkor and Yahrzeit, as well as chapters about caring for grieving children, mourning the death of a child, neonatal loss, suicide, and the death of non-Jewish loved ones.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
July 12, 1999
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Saying Kaddish by Anita Diamant
What Kaddish Means
Beyond language, Kaddish is more than the sum of its words. First and foremost, it is an experience of the senses. Like music, there is no understanding Kaddish without hearing and feeling it and letting go of the words.
One of the great ironies of Kaddish is that it was written in a vernacular language so that it could be understood and led by scholars and laborers alike. Today, of course, Aramaic is far more obscure than Hebrew.
That the recitation of words long dead can remain a source of consolation testifies to the fact that Kaddish transcends language. Its comforts are rooted in preverbal ways of knowing. Like a mother's heartbeat against the infant ear, Kaddish makes an elemental sound -- natural as rain on a wooden roof and as human as a lullaby.
In addition to being a profession of faith and a doxology, it is also mantra and meditation. In rhythmic repetition of syllables and sounds, the list of praises (glorified, celebrated, lauded) builds into a kind of incantation:
v'yit-pa-ar v'yit-ro-mam v'yit-na-sei
v'yit-ha-dar v'yit-a-leh v'yit-ha-lal
sh'mei d'ku-d'sha b'rich hu
l'ei-lah min kol bir-cha-ta v'shi-ra-ta
da-a-mi-ran b'al-ma, v'im-ru amen
On some level, the words are pretext. The real meaning, the subtext, is embedded in the repetition of "yit" and "ah," in consonants and vowels. Kaddish whispers "Amen, Amen" like a parent who murmurs "Hush, hush."
Kaddish is an essentially aural experience -- perhaps another reason the rabbis were so insistent it be recited within a minyan. Only with a collective voice is there enough energy to lift up the lonely mourner, the angry mourner, the mourner too hurt to even say "Amen." The minyan chorus implicitly reassures the wounded soul, "You are not alone."
Syllable by syllable, shoulder-to-shoulder, Kaddish is a sigh that affirms the core beliefs and dreams of the Jewish people: God is beyond us. Understanding is beyond us. Holiness and beauty are all around us, but beyond us, too. We have work to do. There is hope. Peace is possible.
Peace. Please. Peace.
Kaddish -- Word by Word: Even though the words are secondary, they are not incidental. Kaddish is a love song to God, praising the Holy One in a myriad of ways. Although extolling God sounds as though it should be a joyful activity, the Hebrew word for worship, avodah, also means work, and perhaps no act of worship requires more effort than one that asks mourners to praise God.
The death of a loved one -- especially an untimely death -- confronts even the most faithful Jew with doubt. The bereaved mother of a five-year-old child is supposed to stand and "magnify and sanctify" alongside a seventy-year-old son who has lost a ninety-year-old mother.
Exalted and hallowed be God's greatness
In this world of Your creation.
In the mouth of the mourner, these words affirm that even death is part of God's creation. Kaddish asks Jews to hallow death -- to take what might appear random, meaningless, and cruel, and speak of it as part of the sacred whole. This is an enormous challenge -- perhaps even a lifelong struggle. Many view it as a goal.
Kaddish also pronounces acceptance of God's judgment. There is no lamentation and certainly no argument in the prayer, which recalls Job's response to all the terrible things that befell him. In the ultimate statement of acceptance, Job said, "Though God slay me, yet will I trust in God."
That was Job. The rest of humanity finds it harder to trust God completely in the face of loss and suffering. Even so, all human beings must ultimately accept death. There is finally no way to answer to "Why him?" "Why now?" Acceptance is a refuge from insanity; a way to find surcease of pain even when there is no way to make sense of the loss.
Nevertheless, mourners are not expected to provide the final affirmation that is "Amen." When Kaddish is given its traditional call-and-response reading, the mourner says "v'im-ru," which means "and you should say." The bereaved thus elicit an "Amen" from the community that rallies around mourners for just this purpose. The "Amen" that comes from a mourner's mouth is spoken with quotation marks around it.
And Your sovereignty revealed
In the days of our lifetime
And the life of the whole house of Israel
Speedily and soon.
Although Kaddish gives voice to acceptance, it is not a statement of submission. In a way, it is a petitionary prayer. It seeks nothing less than the redemption of the whole world -- the perfection of God's creation. And not in the sweet by-and-by either, but soon, "in the days of our lifetime."