A Daughter's Letter to Her Father for Mother's Day

Seeking a Feminist Alternative to the Mourner's Prayer

Getty Images

By Leah Vincent

Published May 06, 2014, issue of May 09, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When I was a girl, on Friday nights, I would compete with my sisters for the privilege of fetching my father’s slippers when he returned home from prayers. My siblings and I would beg for the seat to my father’s left or right at the Sabbath meal. I was often chosen for this honor. My father and I had a special bond. But as I entered a rebellious adolescence, our relationship disintegrated and he soon stopped speaking to me.

In my 20s, in one of our sporadic doomed attempts to repair our relationship, my father and I met up in Manhattan. We walked up Broadway together, a young atheist in modest disguise and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. Suddenly, a woman approached my father and, flinging up her hand, knocked his velvet hat from his head, surprising him and putting him so off-balance he collapsed to the ground. Seeing my estranged father go down on the pavement had all the horror of watching a Torah scroll fall.

I’ve spent the last year reengaging with broader Jewish culture from my current perspective as a secular woman. As part of that effort, I recently read “Kaddish” by Leon Wieseltier, one of American Jewry’s most famous sons. This book, written to honor Wieseltier’s father on his passing, explores ancient Jewish scholarship on the mourner’s prayer. It is a volume of men’s teachings and men’s ideas and men’s laws.

“Kaddish,” a bold book by a prominent secular Jew dismayed me. It fortifies the same Judaism that had excluded me as an ultra-Orthodox girl. It perpetuates a very narrow incarnation of our faith: a Judaism that reveres men and renders women invisible. A Judaism based solely on cycloptically male-focused books. There was nowhere for me, an activist seeking the empowerment of women within Judaism, in “Kaddish.” Nowhere for any woman who pushes back on the silencing of female authority in the Jewish world. Nowhere for any woman at all.

We have for too long colluded in our acceptance of the illogical idea that Jewish authenticity is solely determined by an elaborate system of ancient verse and text. That cannot be the only way to determine Jewish truth. If our understanding of what it means to be Jews is to belong to a family and faith that has passed a tradition down over the centuries, the core of that faith, its stamp of authenticity, cannot reside only in Torah study, a practice that 50%of its members were banned from participating in for the vast majority of our history. Rather, it must also be found in the experiences of Jewish women.

Many progressive Jews take great pride in the intellectualism of their faith. But only half of us are the people of the book — the other half is illiterate. To continue to define the scope of Judaic authenticity and history by an exclusively male legacy makes modern liberal scholars as responsible for the continuation of the silencing of women as the ancient misogynistic rabbis.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.