The Power of Kaddish for Believers and Skeptics Alike

March 2 2018

According to tradition, a Jew is required to recite kaddish for eleven months following the death of a close relative. For the Orthodox, fulfilling this obligation requires finding a minyan—a quorum of ten adult Jewish males—three times every day. Jay Lefkowitz, now mourning the death of his father, reflects on the experience:

[T]he kaddish is an odd prayer to have become the centerpiece of mourning. Despite its association with death and dying, it does not mention the word death. Instead, it is a repetitive celebration of the glory of God. . . . [But] the text of the prayer leaves me cold. Each day as I say kaddish, I struggle with the fact that I am praising a God who, according to [its words], created the world “according to His Will.” Does God really will that the world endure the cruelty and suffering we see so often? And, on a more personal level, did God will that my father, an intellectual who suffered from dementia, would lose the ability to communicate and have the mental faculties of a five-year-old during his last eighteen months on earth? . . .

Yet despite my theological ambivalence, I am turning somersaults to say kaddish at three different prayer services each day. . . . Already, in the two months since my father passed away at the age of eighty-six, I have prayed in synagogues and office buildings, schools and private homes in far-flung places, including Texas, Florida, California, Colorado, Copenhagen, and London. . . .

Unlike some people, Jewish and non-Jewish, who take great comfort in communicating with God, I am not confident that God even listens to our prayers. Yet I have reoriented my life to accommodate my obligation to say kaddish. And I do so cheerfully because it links me to Jews across generations and continents. It defines me as a member of the tribe. My tribe.

That is the essential gift of the kaddish. It fosters community for a person who has just suffered a searing loss of a parent or sibling, spouse or child, even when we find ourselves far from home. Even if the words themselves offer little comfort, I take great satisfaction in this communal act of prayer; of hearing the voices of others respond to my own prayers; and of being welcomed and enveloped by a larger and transcendent community. And in that experience, I honor and reconnect with my father.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Judaism, Kaddish, Mourning, Religion & Holidays


The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy