Less than 24 hours after her son’s funeral, Rachel Fraenkel has caused a stir over her public recitation of the Kaddish prayer for her slain child, Naftali. Rachel proudly and matter-of-factly took her place on the podium with her husband Avi and their younger son Shlomo. Haaretz reports that, When Rachel Fraenkel recited the Kaddish, the chief rabbi said ‘Amen.’
It is significant that Rachel Fraenkel is a learned woman and long time role model in Torah education. Haaretz reports that:
“She is the director of the Advanced Halakha Program at Matan, a high-level women’s institute of Jewish studies in Jerusalem, which despite its pioneering feminist nature has remained within the social conventions of Orthodox society. Sprecher Fraenkel also teaches Jewish law at Nishmat, another women’s institution of high-level Jewish learning in Jerusalem. In both places she is called “Rabbanit,” a title usually reserved for rabbis’ wives, but in her case it stands on its own, given to her by virtue of her learning.
For years, both women and men have contacted her and other women, known as halakhic advisers (yo’atzot halakha in Hebrew,) for guidance on matters of Jewish law.”
For a religious woman of her esteemed stature to publicly recite Kaddish in a mixed audience and have some of the most prominent rabbis in the world respond ‘Amen’ is a ground breaking occurrence. Those who responded included:
“..Chief Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the dean of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, who sat in the front row, and the Knesset members who attended the funeral — all of whom, coincidentally or not, belong either to national-religious circles or to Shas.”
In my mind, Mrs. Fraenkel took ownership of her role as mourner and spiritual gatekeeper of her son’s journey into the next world. I feel like a woman’s status as a mourner is publicly diminished beyond the initial days of shiva. I’ve written before about my own experience as an avel in my post, “Invisible aveilus – a year in the life of a female avel.”
One of the strangest experiences for me has been to go to shul and not only remain silent as the male mourners recite Kaddish, but also respond “Amen” to a prayer which I should also be reciting! I have no problem offering up an ‘Amen” to the bereaved, but I feel like shouting, “Hey, I’m one of you! I should be over there with all of you saying Kaddish because I’m also an avel!”
However, as a woman, I’m not a member of this club that no one wants to join. I belong, yet I don’t belong. There is no public acknowledgement during services that I too have suffered a loss. There is no opportunity for me, nor for any other Jewish woman, to acknowledge Hashem’s great name in the merit of my mother’s soul through the Kaddish prayer.
I applaud Rachel Fraenkel, not because I think that she premeditated making a feminist statement with her Kaddish, but because she did what came naturally to her in this time of suffering. She offered up the ultimate kiddush Hashem by praising God in the midst of her unfathomable loss and she performed one of the final tributes and acts of motherly protection that she could offer to her lost son.