Scholarly Articles and Other Contributions
 

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1999

Abstract

In talking about the Jewish approach to death and dying, I intend to underscore three major topics: First, the practices that are followed in the Jewish community. What behavior is prescribed for the end-of-life cycle--illness, dying, death, burial? In this area the halacha-the rules of Jewish law-will be paramount. And, we must also consider customary practices, how members of the Jewish community conduct themselves, the traditions that are consistent with, but go beyond, the halakah.

Second, I will talk of the religious beliefs that provide a framework for these practices. Since formal theology plays a lesser role in Jewish life, we will have to seek these ideas indirectly-for example, as we have just seen, through the liturgy. Sometimes, even a Hebrew word, or a group of words, traditionally used may reveal important ideas. For example, when a person hears of someone's death, the prescribed form of reaction is to say Baruch Dayan Emet-Blessed is the Righteous Judge. The ideablessing God in the circumstances on hearing of death-goes back to the Book of Job. "Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?" Job asks his wife after he receives the news of his children's death and is stricken with disease.

Finally, as a third major topic, we must look to the structures of the Jewish community that are designed to make the prescribed practices a reality. Society needs institutions to encourage and organize individual behavior. An important example in Jewish life, one which we will discuss today, are the Chevra Kadisha groups-the Holy Societies comprising volunteers from the community-charged with the primary responsibility of caring for the body of the deceased, making burial arrangements, and arranging for the needs of the bereaved family.

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