Thursday, December 15, 2005


This evening, I attended a Shiva Minyan.

For those of you who are Jewish-Impaired (that’d be most of my Esteemed Readers, I’m guessing), the seven-day period of mourning that follows the burial of a deceased person is called shiva, from the Hebrew word for seven. The bereaved family stays at home, sitting on crates or low stools, and is visited by friends, who offer companionship and comfort. And food... plenty of food.

It’s traditional to hold worship services in the home of the mourners, thus relieving them of the necessity to leave the house to say Kaddish. Because recitation of the Kaddish takes place only in the presence of a quorum of ten adult Jews (a minyan), it’s considered a special mitzvah – an obligation – to be present at a house of mourning so as to ensure that the necessary number will be present.

The service itself may be conducted by anyone who is familiar with the liturgy. If a rabbi is present, as was the case this evening, he will generally be the shaliach tzibur – the prayer leader. If not, the responsibility will fall to one of the Ritual Committee guys – like me, for instance. In this case, the loss was suffered by a family that we are friendly with, so it was an appropriate time to lend my moral support as well as my physical presence.

The Kaddish Yatom – Mourner’s Kaddish – is frequently thought of as a prayer for the dead. But it does not mention death at all, being simply a prayer that praises God’s name. The traditional association of this prayer with mourning is precisely due to its affirmation of God’s rule at a time when the natural tendency would be to turn away from Him. (“You took Uncle Stanley – see if I pray to You any time soon!”) It’s in Aramaic, with the exception of the final line which is in Hebrew:
May the great Name be magnified and sanctified
in the world that He created according to His will.

May He reign over His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire House of Israel,
swiftly and soon. Now let us say Amen.

May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.

Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, uplifted,
and lauded is the name of the Holy One - Blessed is He –
beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation
that is uttered in this world. Now let us say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life,
upon us and upon all Israel. Now let us say Amen.

He who makes peace in his Heavenly Abode,
may He make peace upon us,
and upon all Israel. Now let us say Amen.
Evening services are not overly lengthy, so it’s only a matter of twenty minutes of davening, followed by any amount of schmoozing, tale-telling, reminiscing, and generally catching up on the Local Poop.

Leaving the house, I was struck by the view I had of the full moon with clouds racing past it. It was the kind of sky you see in the movies sometimes, the low scudding clouds flying past an intermittently visible white orb. There was a blustery wind, one that carried enough chill to make me turn my collar up and tuck my head down, turtle-fashion, during the short walk to my car. All of my senses were alive... and I was thankful. Life, as we all know, is not a Permanent Condition – the evening’s activities brought that into sharp focus, of course – and we need to appreciate the beauty of the Hollywood Sky every chance we get.

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