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Friday, November 1, 2019

Kaddish and the Simchat Torah conundrum

The holiday season begins with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Simchat Torah. This latter celebrates the annual cycle of completing the reading of the Torah. It is marked by dancing with the Torah. All the torah scrolls are removed from the ark. The assembled dance seven hakafot/hakofos in a circle with the torah scrolls.

For the mourner, Simchat Torah presents two problems. The first is that mourners are restricted in their participation in joyous occasions. Some authorities hold that mourners are not supposed to participate in any way in rejoicing with the Torah. Some allow mourners to participate in the hakafot in a limited fashion: "Although a mourner is allowed to participate in Hakafot, it would be inappropriate for him to play a leading role in the celebration" such as being "at the forefront of the festivities."

I was advised not to participate in the festivities, and so I stood around with other mourners, reduced to being a spectator, a graphic reminder of my status as a mourner. Not much fun.

The second problem is the requirement to say kaddish at the end of the evening service. Usually this service is short. On weekdays, it takes about 10 minutes. On holidays, about 15-20 minutes. Even on the Sabbath Eve, it is usually lasts no longer than an hour.

The Simchat Torah service is another matter altogether. With the celebrations, as well as reading form the Torah, the service can stretch to a couple of hours. And the Mourner's Kaddish is not recited until the very end of the service.

My tradition is to visit several synagogues during Simchat Torah evening. At the first one I visited, the initial hakafah was still going strong after about 15 minutes. I calculated that it was not worthwhile to wait it out there. So I moved on to the local Chabad shul, where I especially enjoy going during this holiday. On my way there, I ran into a friend who had finished saying kaddish for his father a couple of years ago. He told me that that year, he had assembled his own minyan (prayer quorum of 10) so he could say kaddish without waiting for the entire service to conclude. He suggested I do the same.

When I got to Chabad, they were taking a break from hakafot and eating a meal. Actually, not just eating. Vodka, Chabad's drink of choice, as well as some scotch, was flowing. I ate, imbibed, enjoyed. By the time I moved on, most of the local synagogues had already concluded their services. So I wound up at a local shtibel (small synagogue), but didn't feel like waiting around for them to finish. There were a bunch of chabadniks that had come in to add joy to the celebrations. These young men come from Israel and then walk all the way from Brooklyn--Crown Heights--in particular, to visit various shuls throughout the city. As they were about to leave to move on to another shul, I asked them to stay for a minute while I said kaddish. They agreed. I began to recite it.

I don't need a siddur (prayer book) to recite the Mourner's Kaddish. I've recited it thousands of time, eleven months, about 8 times a day, for my mother and now almost 10 months, about 8 times a day, for my father. To say I know it by heart is an understatement, and that includes the more complex Kaddish De'rabbanan.

But, on this occasion, as I stood near the doorway of the shteibl with a group of chabadniks from Israel, having just drank my share of scotch and vodka, at the end of a long day, it all turned to mush. I couldn't remember my yit'kadals from my yit'kadashes from my yish'tabachs. It all blended together. I stood there mumbling and stumbling through it, helped somewhat by their prompting. I felt embarrassed. Somehow I got through it. Another moment during this kaddish year, though not one of my more prouder ones.

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