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Kadish Recited by Women

Author: Rav Duvdevani of Bet Shemesh, Tishrei 5765/Sept 2004

Rav Duvdevani introduced this topic by emphasising that the recital of kadish, the memorial prayer for the dead, is an emotive issue; it also raises the general question of women’s place in the world of the Synagogue.

The Kadish prayer has several functions. The first of these is to sanctify the Name of the Almighty. The source for this is Ezekiel ch.36, 23 ‘And I will sanctify, vekidashti, my great name which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord God when I shall be sanctified, behikdashi, in you before their eyes’. This function is fulfilled by the Chazan’s recital of the kadish at the end of sections of the Synagogue Service.

The next function benefits the person who has died. Praise of the Almighty is a primary task of every being and when death cuts short the fulfilment of this task, those who are related to the dead take over the completion of that shira, that hymn of praise.

Thirdly, the kadish serves to comfort the mourner. It was originally recited by the Chazan. We are told (Tractate Sofrim 19) that the Chazan would go, after Mussaf, to the back of the Synagogue, to the door or to a corner, bless the mourners and say kadish.

The mourner’s prayer passes from the Chazan to the mourner and we learn (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 45a) that a quorum of ten men, a minyan, is required for the recital. Women and slaves, we find (Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 45) can join the minyan to say the prayers. That the women are interested parties is underlined in the well known request of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27,v3,4) Our father died in the wilderness… he died in his own sin and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, lama yegare shem avinu mitoch mishpachto, because he had no son?’ Their concern was that their father’s name should be kept alive through his daughters.

If women recite the kadish with a minyan, is this to be in the Synagogue? Rav Duvdevani pointed to an intermediary stage, where women are present. This is the case in the women’s Court in the Temple. In cases of semicha, placing hands on a sacrifice, we are told of a difference of opinion among the sages (Tractate Chagiga 16B). R.Yossi and R.Shimeon hold that women have the possibility, reshut, ‘benot Israel somechot reshut’. The ‘shelamim’sacrifice was taken to the women’s Court for semicha, not because the women had an obligation, but for their nachat ruach, peace of mind.

An interesting source (Shevut Yaakov) tells of a father who had only two daughters, the elder one being four years old. He had asked that this daughter should recite the kadish for him in his house with a minyan. The father of the deceased suggested that he recite the kadish for his son in the Synagogue. The decision was that the daughter saying kadish in the house was preferable. The problem raised was one of precedence. The sages did not question that the daughter could recite the kadish.

Women reciting kadish with a minyan responding to them would seem to be undisputed.. Rav Aharon Soloveitchik (Od Yisrael Yosef Beni Chai 32) states that to stop the women might tempt them to join non-halachic communities and therefore asur limnoa habat milomar kadish, it is forbidden to prevent a daughter from saying kadish.

There remains the question of modesty, the presence of women in Synagogue or in a cemetery. Custom here varies. Since, unlike the blowing of the Shofar, to recite the kadish is not a Biblical injunction, custom, minhag, determines this in the community.