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The first time I heard a woman say kaddish

When Rachel Fraenkel stood up it all fit so well and was so appropriate that it was impossible not to cry

And then the master of ceremonies announced: “Kaddish.” The thousands of people in attendance and tens of thousands of viewers at home looked at the bereaved father, Avi Fraenkel, expecting him to stand up and walk to the microphone and recite the Kaddish prayer for his murdered son. But then they saw his living son stand up with him, and his wife too. Racheli. Mother of Naftali. A mere minute after she had delivered a beautiful and heartbreaking eulogy for her son. Everyone thought that she and her son were walking together to stand next to Avi, to flank him as ornaments during the Kaddish prayer that he was about to recite. But then the three of them, in unison, started to chant the Kaddish prayer: “Magnified and sanctified may His great Name be.” And all those present answered: “Amen.”

It was the first time I ever saw a woman say Kaddish. More than that. It was the first time I ever saw a woman say Kaddish and heard the people present answering her “Amen.” And the tears that had welled up inside me during the eulogy, tears that I had held back because it’s not nice to cry in front of TV cameras—especially since I was furious that the funerals were being broadcast in the first place—began to flow freely. And like everyone else who was there, I sobbed with great and powerful tears along with Racheli Fraenkel, and I answered “Amen” to her Kaddish prayer.

I cried for her dead son and for the terrible nights that she has had and that still await her. And I cried because I was moved by her Kaddish, the unique, innovative, and original Kaddish of a pious, Orthodox, woman of faith.

Like all Orthodox Jews, I knew that there is no halakhic prohibition against a woman saying Kaddish. It simply is “not done.” But “not done” has become some kind of blanket ban that is unthinkable to break. A woman? Saying Kaddish? What is this, the Women of the Wall? A partnership minyan in Raanana or Katamon? Oy vey! May God protect us and have mercy!

Racheli Fraenkel stood up, with grace, kindness, and mercy, without the slightest bit of defiance, with the naturalness of a mother and of a person of faith, simple and pure, and said Kaddish for her dead son. “Magnified and sanctified may His great name be.” Magnified and sanctified may Your great name be. You who gave me my son; You who took away my son. You, You. Magnified and sanctified may Your great Name be.

And suddenly it all fit so well and was so appropriate that how could one not cry? How could one not feel satisfaction from this proud, women’s Kaddish, which somehow put things in their proper place, introducing an innovation that was both sad and authentic? Two important rabbis stood nearby—Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook of Rehovot and Rabbi Gideon Binyamin of Nof Ayalon—both full-fledged Orthodox Jews and Torah scholars. I could almost feel their toes clenching inside their shoes in embarrassment and discomfort. In my heart, I heard them conducting an internal dialogue: Oy, oy! It is not done; it is not acceptable. But on the other hand, it is also not acceptable for a 16 year-old child to be kidnapped and murdered and for his mother to be escorting him to his final resting place. So restrain your voice from weeping, Rachel, and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded.

And they, and I, and everyone there gazed at this good and proud woman and we all said with her: “Amen! May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on the Mako website. Translated by Shira Pasternak Be’eri.

About the Author
Kobi Arieli is a writer, journalist, satirist, playwright, and media personality in Israel. Born and educated in the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, his sharp, witty style has made him a popular presence in Israeli television, radio, and the press, where he serves as a bridge between religious and non-religious Jews in Israel.
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