Posted by on Jun 21, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on RE-CLAIMING JEWISH VALUES AROUND DEATH AND BURIAL


An article about the North American Chevra Kaddisha conference, held June 9-11, 2013 in Philadelphia, appeared in the Forward last week. The article was titled “Unlikely Radicals Take Aim at Corporate Jewish Burial Business”.

Here’s the Link

While the title “Radical” was obviously suggestive and interesting, it turns out many, if not most of the folks closely involved with the Chevra Kaddisha conference have found that article to be misleading and misguided in the use of the term “Radical”.  One of the reasons for this is that tahara [ritual preparation of the body for burial] is a traditional Jewish practice, not a new or innovative one. On the Chevra Kaddisha list the overall attitude is something like this:

    “I have been doing tahara for decades… This is a terrible article and does a disservice to Chevra Kaddishas all over North America.”
Someone authored a response to the Forward titled “Attention Forward: We Aren’t That Radical” in which she critiques the [perceived] distorted presentation in the Forward article.
Forward Article

I think one of the points that this second article makes, and that members of the Chevra Kaddisha list are making, is that the practice of Chevra Kaddisha is not intended to “take aim at corporate Jewish burial business”, as the Forward sub-title suggests. But rather the intention is to honor the dead in the ways of Jewish tradition and practice. This may, or may not, be problematic to some Jewish funeral establishments. But a corporate attack is not the intention. The name of the North American Chevra Kaddisha organization is called Kavod v’Nichum – “Honor and Comfort” and that sums up what their goal is: to support communities to create, community-based, self-help sacred fellowships to provide honor to the deceased and comfort for families in times of loss. These are long-standing, simple yet profound Jewish values.

Through the activities of the DA’AT INSTITUTE I am working to help re-vitalize an understanding of traditional Jewish values around death and dying: the idea that death is inherently part of life; simplicity in death and burial; the spiritual efficacy of honoring Jewish mourning rituals; and the notion that death is but a transition to a world beyond. These values are radical in relationship to the dominant culture; but they are ancient and inherent to the spiritual wisdom Judaism offers in the face of the human encounter with death.

Radical, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “of, relating to, or proceeding from a root”. In this sense, Jewish values around dying and death are radical in that they relate to the very roots, the essence, the buried underground wisdom of Judaism.