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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
I have my Sundays back!

It's been a long and tiring holiday season. Not that it was bad, because it wasn't - there was intense spirituality and wonderful meals with friends and spectacular weather, and the chance to do a mitzvah we never have been able to do for ourselves. However, it means no real day off between holidays and work.

This past weekend was Shemini Atzeret (8th day of the festival - that *is* what it means) and Simchat Torah. In Israel, where they only celebrate single day holidays, the two are combined and called Simchat Torah. The first is just that, like Passover, the holiday of Sukkkot is eight days long and begins and ends with holidays.

The thing about Shemini Atzeret is that it is when we begin to pray for rain in Israel - don't want to start doing it before Sukkot is over. There's a lovely long prayer that begins this. Also, it becomes optional to eat in the Sukkah - some people don't and others do but without the blessing.

We were invited out for Shemini Atzeret/Shabbat dinner by a family who does eat in their sukkah, so we did. The food, to put it bluntly, was dreadful, but the company was good so that didn't matter. The next day, *we'd* invited people to lunch in *our* sukkah, but not because it's our custom. It was because Sharon is in a wheelchair and it's currently difficult for her husband to carry her up a flight of stairs. Our sukkah is ground level. I can't speak for the food (except - no leftovers) but the company was, again, wonderful.

Simchat Torah is. Special. It's in many ways the most joyous holiday we have. The name means "Celebration of the Torah" - during the course of the year, we read through the Five Books of Moses in order. On this day, we complete the reading and begin again, because everything is a circle. And when one completes a course of study, one celebrates. I've had a "siyyum" or two myself.

How do we celebrate? With song and dance and cake, and in some places, not ours, wine and whiskey. The men take out the Torah scrolls and dance with them and each other and sing. In many places, there are separate celebrations where women have their own Torah scrolls.

I'd love to take part in these, but Simchat Torah is also for me my father's yahrtzeit - he died on that holiday three years ago. I've taken on the obligation to say Kaddish for him, because his sons don't seem to care (sorry, it's rather irritating that burden of mourning my father has fallen to my husband and me, especially when my brothers are the ones obligated. A soul ascends to the Garden of Eden according the merit garnered by those who say kaddish, and those who are obligated garner more merit. Daughters are not required to say kaddish; sons-in-law with living parents (thank God) are even less so. Sons, on the other hand, have the highest level. And my older brother couldn't even be bothered to light a candle or attend a yizkor (memorial) service. Not that I'm not obligated to do those things as well, but do I have to be the only one?) Anyway, I took on that obligation, which means I need to be with a minyan by Orthodox standards. And our synagogue gave my husband the evening service so he could say kaddish with me - our rabbi's rules for women who say kaddish is that they cannot say it unless a man also says it with them. Other rabbis forbid it outright.

So, I spent the evening and the next morning watching the men of our synagogue dance and sing and, well, *play*. And it was wonderful, at least for a time. There were also times it was not so much fun, but I brought a book with me. And we chatted and ate the kiddush that Jonathan and I sponsored in memory of Daddy. And Jonathan led the morning service and if he'd felt up to it, he could have done the additional one and the afternoon one, but he let other people do it. And he got the special aliyah for the children, where all the children under bar or bat mitzvah crowd around the bimah under a canopy of prayer shawls (babies in their father's arms)and then get a special blessing. It was lovely.

And as soon as we got home after the afternoon service, I took the chicken and rice that had been sitting in a warm oven since 8:30 that morning and we had lunch and then took naps. Jonathan went to evening service,and it was all *over*.

Yesterday, Jonathan took down the sukkah - he'd taken the day off. I spent the day reprogramming the office telephones. And it is all back to normal. Yay.


Hag Sameach a bit late. ;) Simchat Torah is great fun, yes, but I've always liked the balance of having yizkor services during the three major pilgrimage festivals (even if it is a fairly recent innovation). The synagogue I've been attending -- which is, ironically, less liturgically traditional than I'd like to be, but is otherwise great -- squeezed in a quick, unpublicized Yizkor service right before Simchat Torah, and I happened on it entirely by accident. I'm glad I made it, though. And I picked up a spare candle at the grocery store the other day, so I'll be prepared for Passover. Technically, of course, I don't have anyone I'm obliged to say Kaddish or attend Yizkor services for, but my grandmother died two years and a few months ago (her yahrzeit is 3 Av), and I've yet to figure out a reason why lighting a candle would be bad.

Although... it actively boggles my mind that I wouldn't be obligated to say kaddish for my mother (who is, thankfully, in excellent health), or that she and her sister weren't obligated to say kaddish for my grandmother. I learned most of the laws of mourning when my grandmother died, but in a Conservative form, which meant that kaddish duties were entirely egalitarian. Does it make a difference if the family is entirely lacking in sons, as that side of mine is? And what if there's an only daughter who's unmarried?

The thing about Kaddish is that it has to be said with a minyan, and women are not obligated to pray with a minyan. There's also the whole women's voice thing.

The "normal" thing is to *pay* someone to say kaddish for a loved one if one is not oneself obligated. Jonathan's parents gave him specific permission to say it, otherwise he could not. Similarly, I began attending Yizkor services before my father died, for my grandparents, but only after getting their permission. In Orthodox synagogues, it's customary for those who still have both parents to leave the synagogue entirely during Yizkor - we're rather impressed that our rabbi, who is a grandfather, *leaves*.

But candles...I can't see why they would hurt,either. It was strange lighting two this past weekend - one for the Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret (Not on Simchat Torah. Too much hilarity on Simchat Torah, which is why they do the Blessing of the Kohanim during the *morning* service instead of the additional one on Simchat Torah) and one for the yarzheit on Simchat Torah. I lit the second from the first.

So, in theory, my mother and her sister should've checked with my grandmother ahead of time to make sure it was OK for them to say Kaddish for her? Isn't someone obligated to say Kaddish, or would a traditional Jew be out of luck if there wasn't a surviving male parent, spouse, sibling, or child? I don't mean to be rude; I'm just curious. I don't think I've ever been to a service where the seating wasn't mixed, and my fragmentary knowledge of ancient and medieval Jewish law doesn't always make the leap to contemporary practice.

By the way, I know that the Sukkot-season Yizkor service is supposed to be on Shemini Atzeret (although I suppose it wouldn't matter if you were in Israel), but this synagogue doesn't much care. It's the only synagogue in the city (rather than Out In The Suburbs) where I live, and the only ones in the inner suburbs are either (very) Conservative or Orthodox. I'm pretty much overeducated Reform (that is, a very liberal Conservative shul might work); I just strongly prefer a traditional liturgy, and this place is almost off the Renewal end. But the location, building, congregants, etc. are all great, so I'm probably going with it. And before I start on their Yizkor timing, I'm going to see what I can do about bringing back some of the early-afternoon Yom Kippur services. The nice thing about the liturgy being so loosey-goosey is that I can offer to lead them as a "breakout session." ;)

I think I was confusing. If someone has both parents living, they need to get their permission before taking on Kaddish for someone else - for example, when my husband's great-uncle died childless, my husband took on Kaddish for the thirty days, but only after he got his two living parents' permission. This is because it's bad luck to do this otherwise. It's acting like one's own parents are dead. In fact, I know of cases where a mourner for a child was forbidden to say kaddish by his own living parents. The solution to that was to have the grandfather say it for that month - only parents get mourned for a year.

Just because someone isn't obligated to say it doesn't mean that his/her saying it doesn't have merit - it's just not on the same level. I know there was merit in my saying it, and in Jonathan's saying it. It just wasn't the same as if my brothers had. It's also just plain annoying that it's all on me.

Female mourners are also told that if they respond whole heartedly to kaddish, it counts. This is what a friend of mine was told by her rabbi, and it's given her a lot of comfort.

And the fact is, no one is "out of luck." Kaddishes *help*, but the thing that counts the most is the person him or herself - the life he or she led, with all factors such as upbringing taken into account. Kaddishes are also for the mourners, letting them believe they are doing *something*.