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Kaddish, Leon Wieseltier (1998)

A prayer for the dead, and for the life of books

by
Adam Kirsch
September 17, 2013

When Leon Wieseltier’s father died in 1996, he embarked on the traditional year of reciting the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer that is one of the most recognizable parts of the Jewish liturgy. At the same time, he began a deep exploration of the history and meanings of the prayer, drawing on thousands of years’ worth of rabbinic scholarship. Kaddish blends the personal and the historical experience of Jewish mourning into a modern religious classic, full of epigrammatic insights into the nature of faith, grief, prayer, and tradition. In an authentically Jewish fashion, Wieseltier shows how study can be the truest response to loss: “I don’t know what to do,” he writes. “No, I know what to do. I will open a book.”

Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

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