Jewish Burial Gets Back to the Roots

Reviving a Ritual of Tending to the Dead
Paul Vitello, The New York Times (December 13, 2010)
A new generation of Jewish volunteers is learning how to prepare a body for burial using techniques that attend to “the feelings of the dead.”

It has been a good year for people who want to re-discover the roots of Jewish funereal practices. Last March I posted a story about a documentary film which documented a group of Jewish women preparing a dead body.

What is really interesting to me is how Jewish (and Muslim) customs are being studied by non-Jews and non-Muslims for their own dead. Indeed, a good number of Natural Burial and Home Funeral proponents borrow ideas from both Islam and Judaism.

This New York Times is a variation on that theme, where non-Orthodox Jews living in Brooklyn want to learn what is done when a person dies. I also find this situation more and more, where a certain religious group suddenly realizes that most of its members do not know what to do when a member of the faith dies. I’ve spoken with funeral directors who have been asked point blank what a certain religious faith requires– from members of that faith.

Everything eventually gets sorted out but it still makes for awkward conversations.

I wouldn’t mind knowing, either, what these funeral practices look like in 1000 years.

That to me is the most important point to contemplate: what stays and what goes.

What does it all morph into since dead bodies will most certainly still be around.

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2 thoughts on “Jewish Burial Gets Back to the Roots

  • Charles Cowling, 14 December 2:31 pm

    A lot of interest in nokanshi, too, after Departures.

    It seems to me that evolution in deathcare is a a boomeranging sort of business. We try something new and ‘civilised’ — embalming and cosmetizing; sacking the laying out women and engaging professionals — but we are always drawn back to the elemental. So all progressive movements in deathcare presently are retrogressive.

    And there may well be much to be said for it. To deal reverently with the dead is a good way of getting one’s head around death and dealing with grief, whereas outsourcing leaves a lasting disappointment. Perhaps.

    I guess the future will see more of the same? New technologies for disposal, perhaps, but last rites as old as time itself?

  • John, 15 December 1:27 pm

    Charles: We’ll see. It seems that everything old is new again. And I don’t expect that time shift to change anytime soon. It makes for interesting research, I’ll say that much.

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