Office of the Chief Rabbi

In the Press: Chief Rabbi backs Kaddish role for women

Reflecting on the benefits of a new United Synagogue guide that encourages women to recite the Kaddish prayer, the Chief Rabbi hopes that the new pamphlet will demystify this crucial element of the Jewish mourning process. This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

‘Chief Rabbi backs Kaddish role for women’

The chief rabbi is encouraging women who wish to recite Kaddish for loved ones to do so, in a move to “demystify” a prayer seen as being for men only.

It follows the publication of a new United Synagogue guide on Wednesday, which helps women who may want to say the prayer which mourners recite at a funeral, during the shiva, daily during the period of mourning and on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, but who may have previously felt uncomfortable about doing so because it has traditionally been considered a practice for men.

“I hope this guide demystifies the process of saying Kaddish, sorting the myths from the facts, and makes a real difference to the grieving process for women in our community,” said Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

“There are many ways to honour the memory of a loved one, but it is important that women who want to say Kaddish feel comfortable and supported in doing so.”

‘I hope this guide sorts the myths from the facts, and makes a real difference to the grieving process for women in our community’

It is sometimes assumed that women cannot say Kaddish, because men are obligated to say it, while for women it is optional. This prompted the Chief Rabbi and others to take steps to give women the confidence to learn more about the process and to say it if they wish.

Jacqui Zinkin, co-chair of US Women, said the idea for a guide for women came about after her own father died. “I read an article written by Dayan Binstock, and with the support of my own US Rabbi, I began to say Kaddish myself,” she said.

“I found that saying Kaddish provided a structure to my mourning… I began to feel my way through the initial loss. The grieving process is different for everyone. Some women will not want to say Kaddish, and they should feel no obligation to do so. But, for those who feel like me, it can help with mourning the loss of a loved one.”

The booklet, which has been sent out to all US communities as well as to rabbis, Rebbetzens, Burial Societies and cemeteries, gives other suggestions for ways in which mourners can memorialise a loved one who has passed away.

These include learning Torah in the name of their loved one; helping others; praying (including saying Tehillim/Psalms); giving a Dvar Torah (short explanation of a Jewish idea or text) in shul, at home or amongst friends; and giving Tzedaka (charity) in the name of a loved one.

“Judaism provides a framework in which we remember our loved ones and sanctify their memory,” said Rabbi Baruch Davis, chair of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue. “We hope that all men and women who recite Kaddish for their loved ones will find it a meaningful experience and we shall do our utmost to see that this is so.”

View the US Women’s Kaddish Booklet here.

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