lethargic_man: (capel)
My blog post yesterday merely made mention that I'd been reciting kaddish for the last eleven months, but didn't go into what the experience was like. I wondered when I went to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in 2007 whether the experience would change me; after all, one hears of people who go to yeshiva and come back ultra frummers. In practice, of course, the Conservative Yeshiva was never going to have that effect on anyone; but I realised after a while that, rather than going to yeshiva changing me, it was more a case than I went to the yeshiva because I had already changed, myself. (If you'd told me barely more than three years earlier I'd have chosen to spend time studying at a yeshiva, I'd have laughed at you.)

So too was the case davening at every service for a whole year. I'd never done so for longer than a day or two beforehand; even when I was at the Conservative Yeshiva I routinely skived ma`ariv to avoid spiritual burnout. So, I davened every service because I felt it was the right thing to do: it's the Jewish way of dealing with bereavement, it's what we do, and connects me into a thousand years of tradition. Also, it's what my mother would have wanted (if not necessarily to that extent), and it felt a way of obeying the commandment to honour one's mother and father. But it hasn't made me anxious to run off to shul for services now the eleven months are over; I've gone back to my old routine of doing a little davening בְּיָחִיד each day without a backward glance.

Most of the past eleven months, I was attending services as part of a routine; when my routine got disrupted, things became... interesting, no more so than on my holiday this year.

[livejournal.com profile] aviva_m had been trying to get me to go to Israel on holiday for some years; I'd been resisting, as, unlike her, I've spent lots of time in Israel and felt I knew the country well. Early in the year, though, she said, "If you want to recite kaddish with a minyan three times a day, there's only one place in the world you can go on holiday where, no matter how obscure a place you are in, how middle-of-nowhere, you'll be able to find nine other Jews for a minyan to recite kaddish." And so it came to pass that we went to Israel.

One curiosity of davening in Israel is that, rather than starting to pray for rain on 4 December as in the Diaspora, they start on the seventh of Cheshvan. This means I started praying for rain on my holiday, stopped again a week and a half later when I returned home, and will start again in another week from now!

[livejournal.com profile] aviva_m had experience of Jerusalem and the south, but not of the north, so we spent most of our holiday in the Galil and Golan. Until the Russian aliyah of the late 1980s, the majority of Israelis were Sephardi, and the majority of frum Israelis still are, so I ended up davening mostly at a variety of Sephardi synagogues on my holiday. Amongst Ashkenazim, the most important mourner's kaddish is the one after Aleinu; amongst Sephardim, it's the one before Aleinu. Some shuls didn't even do the one after Aleinu; for those that did, it's only a half-kaddish which meant that (since I was saying the Ashkenazi wording) I'd suddenly find myself the only one still reading for the last two lines of the kaddish!

Back home, weekday shacharis is at 7:15am, or 7:05 on Mondays and Thursdays. In Israel, outside of the big cities, I was unable to find shuls davening later than 6:15; in many places it was at six o'clock. I think this is because in the height of summer, and to a lesser extent even in late October, you really don't want to be wrapping yourself in a thick woollen shawl once the sun's got high enough to start churning out heat; but this did mean that, as [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m pointed out, it was the only holiday we'd been on in which we were getting up earlier than we would for a normal working day!

Beforehand, I'd put quite a bit of time into trying to find out locations of shuls in Israel, and service times. (Once we were there, we also made use of the minyan finder on [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's smartphone.) A useful starting point was typing in "synagogue" into Google Maps, but sometimes the shuls this showed me would be ancient ones, not used for over a millennium! (We did end up visiting some of these, but as tourists, rather than to pray!)

A bit after four, we'd have to knock off tourism in order to get me to shul for mincha. (Many touristy places shut at four in the winter anyway.) Occasionally, this would be a bit hairy. After we'd visited Banias up in the Golan Heights, we drove down to Kiriat Shemonah in the Jordan valley for mincha, only to discover that the shul I'd randomly picked couldn't get a minyan now the clocks had moved back and many people were still at work. In the end we managed to get the last three people by virtue of one man standing outside and hollering at passersby to try and get them to join us.

That was supposed to be our one day in the northern Golan, but, having only a bit of time left in the afternoon after visiting Gamla in the southern Golan, I drove [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m north to show her the view out over Syria east of the Golan, then further north still (it was further than I had thought!) to the Druze town of Majdal Shams, high on the slopes of Mt Hermon, to introduce her to Saḥlab (mmmm!). The minyan finder said the nearest shul was at Neve Ativ, a ski resort nearby, but when we got there we discovered it had no weekday services, and a passerby told us we'd have to go back down into the valley. Cue a frenzied drive nearly twenty miles west, but more pertinently a thousand metres down to get to Kiriat Shemonah before the end of mincha.

(Every time I'm in Kiriat Shemonah I say I ought to go to Metulla just to the north to have a look down into Lebanon; to date I haven't managed it, and I didn't manage it these two times either, as by the time I was out of ma`ariv it was getting dark.)

I thought the uncertainties of getting to synagogues I'd never been to, and couldn't always discover service times for, would mean that I'd miss lots of minyanim whilst I was in Israel; to my surprise, it wasn't until I came, near the end of my time in Israel, to the city with five thousand synagogues, that I missed a single one, and that turned out to be the only one in the whole two weeks.

Last kaddish

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 01:18 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
I've just recited my last (for the time being) kaddish for my mother (at a service led by my brother). In total, I've recited kaddish at nine hundred and forty-nine services since 5 January (I'm counting mussaf with shacharis here for simplicity*); in the course of the year I only missed nineteen services, as well as attending three which failed to get a minyan (plus there's the sui generis case of Yom Kippur morning). Phew!

* Mussaf is always recited back-to-back with shacharis, and inserted before the end-of-shacharis עָלֵינוּ and psalm of the day; it does not add additional kaddishes to the service. Besides, after the sheloshim I determined to reclaim some of my time by reciting a halachically minimal bare-bones service in the morning from Monday to Friday and then leaving shul after בָּרְכוּ; by chosing not to count mussaf separately it means I don't count the kaddishes after עָלֵינוּ on the times rosh chodesh fell on a non-Sunday weekday as missed services.

† I didn't try and get there for the kaddishes before פְּסוּקֵי דְזִמְרָה because I knew they wouldn't have a minyan; I assumed I'd be able to say kaddish later in the service, like on any other day of the year. I was surprised to discover those were in fact the only mourner's kaddish and kaddish derabbanan in the entire day (aside from those the previous evening).
lethargic_man: (capel)
I seem to have taken the injunction to recite kaddish three times a day for the full twelve months of mourning much more seriously than the other members of my family, even my Modern Orthodox brother. It intrigues me to speculate why. I think I know the answer.

Like some other communities including my present one, the Newcastle community has a mourners' siddur. It contains extracts from the second edition Singer's Prayer Book, adapted to leave out the prayers not said in a shiva house; along with prayers to be said in a house of mourning. I probably knew beforehand, but had forgotten until I saw the book again when my mother died, that it was not, as I had thought, a national publication, but was put together by R. Shlomo Toperoff, minister in Leazes shul in Newcastle before my birth (he was the rabbi who married my parents).

In his lengthy introduction to the book, R. Toperoff (whom my father informs me was very strict) bewails how mourning customs are, as he sees it, falling into disuse, and urges their observance. This had a big impact on me when I first read it at a formative age, when my paternal grandfather died in 1985, and when my maternal grandfather died in 1987.

So why, then, did this have such an influence on me but not the rest of my family? Answer, because I don't think they read it. I certainly know one member of my family did not. But I am the sort of person to read lengthy prefaces, as witness this prior incident.

Reciting kaddish

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 01:24 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
I learned from R. Chaim Weiner in a shiur some years ago that the reason for the multiple mourner's kaddishes at the end of an Orthodox service goes back to the Middle Ages, when there was only one mourner's kaddish, and only one mourner recited it. This would lead to fights for the privilege of reciting kaddish when there was more than one mourner present, so more kaddishes were introduced. Now, multiple mourners may recite kaddish together, but the multiple kaddishes remain (due to Orthodoxy's apparent inability to discard any established practice).

You know, I could sympathise with the old system; reciting kaddish alongside other mourners is a thankless task. During the week I have to try and keep up with seasoned mourners who gabble it out faster than you can say "Yankel Rubenstein"; on Shabbos, I try and pace myself to new mourners or people with yahrzeit, a process which involves looking at their lips rather than the siddur (so it's just as well I know the words off by heart), but invariably fail, because said other people are always halfway across shul, and reciting the kaddish in a low mumble rather than loudly and clearly enough for me to be able to hear where they've got to, and I end up getting told off as a result.

אוי ווי זמיר!
lethargic_man: (Berlin)
Grr, I missed being able to say kaddish with a minyan for the first time on Friday because the 8:30 minyan listed here didn't happen. This was after [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m managed to organise a late-evening minyan for me when I arrived on Thursday evening, which is quite impressive given the small size of her community.

Today I returned to Kahal Adass Jisroel and davened Shacharis using my grandfather's tefillin (being smaller than mine, they're more transportable when I'm flying with cabin luggage only). I don't know how old they are, but if they were given to him on his barmitzvah, that'd make them ninety-six years old!

Here's something I passed on my bike ride there:

View piccy )

(Photo from here. It was lit all golden by the early morning sun when I passed it, but I didn't have a camera on me.)
lethargic_man: (capel)
Today the שְׁלוֹשִׁים of mourners for my mother ended; I've attended ninety-two services, and recited over 150 kaddishes, not out. My father, uncle and aunt have now come out of mourning (albeit that my father intends to continue reciting kaddish when he's in shul).

For my brothers and myself, however, it's only the beginning: there's still another eleven months to go. However, I intend to slacken off now, and reclaim some of my time. Despite what I said at the start about dropping to one service a day, I intend now to continue attending all three services, at least for the time being, but still reclaim some time by not staying for the whole of shacharis and mincha (I'll be davening a halachic bare-bones service to myself for the former). This will mean I'm not present for every kaddish, but I'll be present for at least one kaddish per service. The whole custom of reciting multiple mourners' kaddishes is anyhow fairly recent: In the Middle Ages, only one mourner recited kaddish; the multiple mourners' kaddishes of today's liturgy were instituted to deal with the problem of fights between mourners when multiple people had yahrzeit.

It'll also get better a little later in the year, when I can daven mincha locally when I come home, and won't have to spend twenty-five minutes of my lunchbreak getting to and from Deutsche Bank.

In the meantime, have some pictures of my getting rid of the last month's facial hair:

Read more... )

(no subject)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 09:04 pm
lethargic_man: (reflect)
Ma`ariv in five minutes flat last night, at the end of the Open Midrash Project by virtue of missing out the third בְּרָכָה after the Shema and reciting הַבִינֵנוּ; this is what happens when I get the chance to set the service agenda. And today, I forgot to bring a siddur in for the Deutsche Bank minyan, and the printer wasn't working, so I ended up scrawling down the text for הַבִינֵנוּ as I could daven everything apart from the middle בְּרָכוֹת of the Amida (and all bar four lines of תַּחֲנוּן, which is the least important part of the service) off by heart. At this rate, I might need to borrow [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's Havineinu Fan Club T-shirt!

Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] miss_whiplash wrote:
We are hearing about how the mourning is, but how are you?
Which is a good question.

I'm okay. I actually expected to be completely dry-eyed when my mother died, as I had been when my grandmother died. (Indeed, it was all I could do to keep a smile off my face at the latter's funeral, as I was pleased to see so many people had come to it.) In both cases, I'd had a long time to get used to the idea she was going to die. To my complete surprise, though, I burst into tears when I learned of my mother's death; I was waiting for my 'plane at Tegel airport* at the time, and am grateful to my brother for suggesting my father inform me even though it was only six in the morning Berlin time, as I still had [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m to comfort me then. I'd have hated having to find out in between flights at Heathrow when I was all alone. Having, I thought, got over that, I burst into tears again at the funeral, and again at the תִּחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים (resurrection of the dead) in the second בְּרָכָה of the Amida at mincha in the Ohel in the cemetery.

Since then, I've been pretty much all right. It's the way of the world for children to lose their parents, and I'd had a long time, even before my mother's illness, to get used to the idea it would happen. I'd hoped it wouldn't happen for a long time yet, but that wasn't in our hands.

* A week before she died, the doctor had said my mother had two to three weeks left to live, so I'd decided to use the tickets I'd got months earlier to go visit [profile] aviva_m for the weekend. My brother had told me my mother wanted to see me and my other brother again to say goodbye (a typical Jewish goodbye; how many times had I said goodbye by then?), and I actually had train tickets to go to Newcastle on the Tuesday, after I came back from Berlin on the Monday, but as it happens she died on the Sunday. I'm glad, though, that I made a point of Skyping with her several times after the previous time I'd visited in person.

Mourning update

Monday, January 20th, 2014 08:47 pm
lethargic_man: (capel)
I realise it may seem from what I've been saying that my reaction to Jewish mourning practises is completely negative. That is not the case at all, and in particular on the day of my mother's funeral it was a... comfort is probably not the right word, but I can't think of anything closer—to me to have everything completely scripted for me, from the graveside kaddish to the shiva rituals.

Today I was asked to join Machzikei Hadath, the shul where I have been davening weekdays Shacharis. (I said no; I have no intention of paying for two shuls' membership, particularly when one is only on a temporary basis.) They asked if I wanted to take the service several times last week; I said I'd wait until Sunday when the time pressure was a bit lighter, as I'm not a fast davener. On Sunday morning another אָבֵל was already standing at the עָמוּד, but they offered me to take from the second Ashrei to the end (i.e. the last few pages!); having then, presumably, seen I could actually take Shacharis, they then offered me to take mincha too.

For weekday mincha I tried out today the supposedly Sephardi Deutsche Bank minyan,* as slightly nearer than the City Road minyan I'd been going to, though most of the gain in time was then lost getting a pass to enter the building, and travelling up to the eighth floor via most of the intervening ones. I suspect most of the five minutes' time I was able to reclaim of my lunchbreak was due to chazzan davening exceptionally fast. There was no stack of siddurim there; this being the City, almost everyone else was clad in a suit and davening from their smartphone. To my surprise, the service was Ashkenazi and led by a man with Ashkenazi pronunciation. *shrug* Go figure.

* Now there's an irony.

In the evening I've been going to Ohel Moshe, as Machzikei Hadath daven at sunset, when I'm still at work. I've been turning up for a week now, and it should be bleeding obvious that I'm a new mourner (from my new beard; also sometimes I'm the only one saying kaddish), but I'm still waiting for anyone there to say a single word to me, let alone offer for me to lead the service as many (but not all) people seem to believe I am under obligation to do. If no one has done so by the time I stop going there until the autumn (see below), I intend to stand up and have a rant about their hospitality prior to walking out on my last day.

So, to the future. I'd been planning before and during the start of my mourning period to drop to a single service a day once the שְׁלוֹשִׁים were over, but I'm now thinking of how I can reclaim time without sacrificing services. I'm thinking of turning up to Machzikei Hadath in time for the first kaddish, reciting a bare-bones Shacharis by myself then leaving immediately after בָּרְכוּ. They won't like it—I'll probably lose any respect I might have gained there—but it'll reclaim me a little over twenty minutes most of the week, and a little over thirty on Mondays and Thursdays. Then, if I can hang on in there with the other services for another month and a bit—or less if I'm prepared to shorten my lunchbreak or finish the day's work at home—I can switch to mincha and ma`ariv at Machzikei Hadath, which will regain me twenty minutes travel time at lunchtime, and a further five in the evening.
lethargic_man: (capel)
This mourning lark takes balls (in the figurative sense: it would take even more for a woman insistent upon reciting kaddish in a strange Orthodox synagogue): Today I:
  • Recited kaddish at the wrong place at the end of Shacharis, effectively letting everyone in that shul know I don't regularly daven Shacharis (in a shul—I do בְּיָחִיד)—the same mistake I made in Newcastle on Sunday when I led the service in Newcastle and launched into the extended Taḥanun reserved for Mondays and Thursdays. The rabbi (today) had just given a Mishna shiur at the end of the service; I forgot that there is a short piece he recites in Hebrew afterwards before mourners would recite Kaddish deRabbānān.
  • Walked into a lunchtime mincha minyan I had never attended before, and led their service (by invitation, when I had called them up to let them know I would be coming).
  • Walked into a shtiebl for ma`ariv where I was the only non-Chareidi, and was the only person in the room reciting kaddish. (Though that wasn't very surprising as most of the minyan weren't old enough to grow beards yet; presumably the adults in the area go to the later evening minyan held in the same venue. It was like being back in the school in Gateshead my ḥeder teacher would take me for ma`ariv to twenty-four years ago all over again.)
After eight days attending services three times a day, I begin to see why speed-mumbling is so prevalent in Orthodox (and absent in non-Orthodox) services: When you only attend services once a week, on Shabbos, the wording of the liturgy is special, and you want to take your time over it so you can appreciate what you're saying. When you're attending services three times a day, every day, though, services eat up your time,* and you just want to get through them as fast as possible so you still have a bit of time left to yourself. Although that scenario does not really describe Shabbos, on which you do not have to go to work, relieving the pressure on your time, I can see how force of habit, or even just prayer-weariness, could carry over to it from the weekdays.

* Before last week, I would spend ten minutes davening in the morning, maybe five in the evening when I remembered and it was already dark, and three or so very occasionally in the afternoon; and all whilst I was doing something else (en route to work, or doing the washing up)—yes, I know you're not supposed to. Today Shacharis ate fifty-five minutes of my time (though it'll be less when it's not Monday or Thursday), mincha forty-five minutes including travel (though that'll be at least five minutes less now I know where it is and don't turn up to 257 City Road rather than 357), and ma`ariv twenty minutes—that's two hours of my free time gone every day (except that at the weekends I can save myself the travel time for mincha).

My mother

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 02:24 pm
lethargic_man: Yellow smiley face, only with a neutral expression instead of the smile (Have a [gap] day)
I belatedly realise that since the previous post, with 'phone numbers and addresses, was posted on a filter, some readers here may be unaware:

My mother died on Sunday. I am currently sitting shiva at my parents'.

My mother

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 07:59 pm
lethargic_man: Yellow smiley face, only with a neutral expression instead of the smile (Have a [gap] day)
My mother is in the last few hours of her life. Those of you who were considering coming to the funeral or shiva, please start considering logistics now. Please also do not contact me right now with messages of sympathy or support: I'm in Berlin, and don't have time to deal with it, as I am going to have my hands full figuring out the logistics of getting myself to Newcastle as soon as possible (preferably picking up the stuff for the purpose that I've got in my flat at the same time). (I've also barely had a chance to catch up online since before Shabbos, so you'll excuse me if I haven't responded to your own important news.)
lethargic_man: (reflect)
For years, I've been describing myself as the Jew with no neuroses, no guilt complex. But all that's about to change, because my mother is about to die,* and I really doubt I am prepared to hold by everything Jewish law requires of the mourner who has lost a parent for the full duration of mourning.

* In response to a few comments I have had recently: no, there is no chance she will recover; no, praying for a miracle isn't going to help; no, a cure being found now won't save her; yes, she's going to die soon even though I've been saying this since September. Yes, it's ridiculous that I've been having to hedge around everything I've been planning for for months with "my mother's health permitting", but that's the way it is. If you don't know the details of her medical condition, I'd kindly ask you to refrain from commenting on it.

A very brief summary, for those who do not know: Jewish law dictates exactly how you will mourn, including fine details of what you may and may not do, how long you will do it, and for which relations mourning practices apply. I have no objection to attending services three times a day, doing without entertainment on TV and radio, or attending parties (not to mention a host of easier-to-fulfill practices) for a month, as is required for relatives other than parents; what I object to is the way all these practices get extended to a full twelve (lunar) months for parents.

Now, maybe I'm just being a spoiled brat here, and demonstrating to what extent my personality is a product of western individualism rather than the community-centred living that traditional Jewish practice expects; however, that's who I am. You can't raise someone in one culture and expect them to suddenly make a seamless transition to another.

In particular, listening to music is how I support myself when I'm feeling down. I'll put up without it for a month—feeling down is part and parcel of the process of grieving after all, and maybe it's wrong to try and lighten that after losing a parent. But for a full year!?

Though this may make it sound like I don't care about my mother, that I don't want her death to impact upon my life, but that I'd rather just get on with living it the way I do, I don't think that's entirely justified. As I said, I have no objection to a shorter period of mourning, but setting the period of mourning so long and allowing no flexibility as to how individual people might best cope with bereavement makes me angry.

There's a scene in Dances With Wolves where, when the Indians realise Lt Dunbar is going to become part of their tribe, they think he'd make a good match for a white woman who's been part of their tribe since they rescued her as a child. But Stands With Her First is in mourning for her husband, and cannot get involved with anyone else whilst this is longer the case; and only the chief can release her from her mourning. She goes to see him, with her heart in her mouth; he says "You are no longer in mourning", and that's that. But such a ruling is arbitrary, and potentially capricious. I feel I am in a similar situation here.

Now, I realise that there are lots of people out there who do not keep all Jewish practices; indeed, I myself do not. (I'm at the level where the non-frum would call me frum, but the frum non-frum.) However, I have a sense that people are expected to keep a higher level of observance for mourning practices. Maybe this is just due to the siddurim they give out at shiva houses talking in the introduction about how bad it is that mourning practices are falling into non-observance, and how important it is that they are observed. But I also think mourning is different to almost all other Jewish practices, because one tends to take into account how the person you are mourning would have liked you to behave.

In this case, my mother has a simple faith, has had so all her life. She's always done what she's always done, and has never stopped to look into the theology of it. My father has said, and I think my mother too, that I should just try and do my best, and not try and take on more than I can, but that itself involves hard decisions (see below).

In a way it's strange; I'm prepared to do without music, or writing or lots of other things once a week, on the sabbath, and forego eating in non-kosher restaurants that are not fully vegetarian, so why should I find it difficult to do this? I think the answer to that is because it's easy to do what you've always been doing; it's much harder to take on a new practice. And mourning practices, though you might have been expecting to take them on all your life, are still something that you have to take on completely from scratch when the time comes.

In a way, this sudden taking on of mourning practices is a bit contradictory: before my mother dies, I'm listening to lots of music, to enjoy it whilst I still can, and going to pre-New Years Eve parties; but in a sense I'm already mourning her, and have been for a while: Though she's not dead yet, I've been living for months with her ghost: thinking of things I can suggest to her to do, which she'll never be able to do again.

So, anyhow, after all this spiel, what I'm actually planning to do at the end of the שְׁלוֹשִׁים is to reduce the number of services I attend to one a day (in the evening). Then I think I'll continue not listening to music for a period afterwards, I don't know yet how long, to symbolically mark that one mourns parents longer than the other relations, but I'll continue not listening to live music, or going to the cinema or theatre for the full twelve months.

Of course, there's never going to be a point at which I can say "I can't put up with this any longer; I have to cheer myself up by listening to the Blues Brothers now," so making an cut-off point will be arbitrary, and artificial. I'll probably end up feeling frustrated during the period leading to it, and guilty in the period afterwards, but I'll just have to live with that.

And of course, I can't know now how I'll feel about any of this once I actually am mourning. Maybe, one month into the mourning process, I'll feel differently about it all, and none of the above will apply. But, knowing myself to the extent I do, I doubt it.
[See discussion of this post on Facebook.]
lethargic_man: (reflect)
A while ago I posted asking how long my readers thought a religious service should last, and was intrigued to get answers in a completely different range from my non-Jewish readers compared to my Jewish ones.

So now I'd like to run a different question past, in particular, my non-Jewish readers:

How long do you think one should deny oneself the pleasurable things in life—in particular, listening to music and attending parties—following the death of a parent? (It would be helpful, though not essential, if respondents could indicate whether they have been bereaved themselves.)

Again, I will post my own views at a subsequent date.
lethargic_man: (reflect)
It may seem a little morbid to be discussing mourning practices whilst my mother is still alive, but better to be prepared than to be taken aback by what's required of me. (She herself is discussing details of her tahara, etc, with my father; I've also been thinking ahead as to which clothes I wish to be written off for the קְרִיעָה, for example.)

So I opened my copy of the קִיצוּר שׁוּלְחָן עָרוּךְ to see what would be required of me as a mourner. My gut response, delivered with great vehemence, was, in words which betray spending too much time communicating with [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel, "non f——king serviam!" (though, to be fair, I didn't react so strongly on going over the text again in order to make this post).

Ganzfried's work betrays, to me, a higher respect for the dead than for the living. For example (210.7):
Since a mourner is forbidden to greet anyone, he is certainly not allowed to laugh or rejoice. Therefore during the seven days of mourning, he must not take a child in his arms, in order that he may not be led to laughter. He is likewise forbidden to hold much conversation with people, unless it is to show his respect to a number of people, as when many come to console him, he may say when they leave: "Go to your homes in peace."
However, I remember from the shiva for my grandmother how being able to laugh together was a healing influence for the family. Other examples of the קִיצוּר שׁוּלְחָן עָרוּךְ being extremely strict: it forbids bathing even just the head in warm water during the shloshim. And 209.8 reads: "Sexual intercourse, as well as embracing and kissing, are forbidden [during shiva]". Whilst I can see how sex is inappropriate, forbidding one from receiving hugs during shiva seems way too harsh. It also says that during the whole twelve months one mourns a parent, one is not permitted to either send or receive invitations or gifts.

Now, it is known to me that the קִיצוּר שׁוּלְחָן עָרוּךְ represents an extremely stringent view on Jewish law; the reason it is so prevalent in Jewish households, as [personal profile] liv pointed out to me, is because it has been translated into English. So I went off to consult R. Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice instead. This is a Conservative equivalent of the קִיצוּר שׁוּלְחָן עָרוּךְ, but it's lenient rather than stringent, and clearly flags up where it departs from traditional (i.e. Orthodox) halacha; so with Klein and the קִיצוּר שׁוּלְחָן עָרוּךְ open in front of one, one can decide where one wants to place oneself on the spectrum between them.

Not surprisingly, Klein advocates a much more achievable, less stressing, set of mourning practices; however, I'm going to find even those difficult; I don't like being told this is how you will mourn, and you will not deviate from doing it this way. In practice, I think my problem comes down to two things: music, and services.

Reciting the kaddish at services—meaning, all services, i.e. three times a day, seven days a week, for a full year—has emerged as the principal expression of Jewish mourning (even though it was introduced for reasons most Jews today probably aren't even aware of). But getting to any more than evening services would involve a huge disruption on my day. I spoke to my Dad; he said during mourning for his father he got to afternoon and evening services throughout the year. I'm going to try and go to morning and evening services throughout the shloshim (afternoon services will depend on whether I can find a minyan within reach of work), but expect I'll drop to just evening services thereafter.

My other problem is with the ban on listening to music: music is the one thing that picks me up when I'm feeling down, and doing without it for an entire year, including when I'm feeling down because I've been bereaved, will be very difficult for me (though not, I think, as difficult as it would have been when I was younger). Even Klein here forbids listening to radio for the whole year for people mourning parents. (He doesn't mention television, which seems odd for a book published in 1979.) Now, whilst in other situations, I could contemplate raising the issue with my mother and seeing what she would like me to do, I happen to know that in this regard she was strict herself when mourning her parents: she fretted about listening to the theme music of TV programmes until her rabbi reassured her on the subject.

I can manage, I suppose; but I won't be happy. And I suppose that is the point.

(I intend also to raise the subject properly with my rabbi closer to the time.)

My mother

Sunday, September 15th, 2013 09:57 pm
lethargic_man: Yellow smiley face, only with a neutral expression instead of the smile (Have a [gap] day)
I've been humming and ha-ing about whether to post this, and where, and visible to whom, for a while...

My mother is dying. She got breast cancer in 1999, and after chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, and five years without cancer, was given a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, it appears they didn't get all the cancer cells, and it came back, having metastatised to her bones (where it was inoperable), in late 2010. It's now metastatised further still, and she's been told she's got weeks to live, or could possibly even die overnight at any time.

When the time comes—which I'm hoping won't be until after I've got to say goodbye to her (tomorrow), and she's got to celebrate her birthday (Friday), and (purely for selfish reasons) after I've got to celebrate Simchas Torah in a week and a half—the funeral and shiva will be in Newcastle.

I appreciate that it's a long way for all of you to come, but it still makes me sad that it's going to be entirely my parents' friends turning up, and none of my own. So I thought I'd let you know in advance, on the offchance any of you could plan to turn up in advance, which you would not be prepared to do at zero notice. (Don't feel under any obligation, though.)

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