Dignity beyond Death: The Jewish Preparation for Burial

Overview

In the Jewish tradition, preparation of the dead for burial is undertaken by a community organization known as the Chevra Kadisha, or Sacred Society. Dignity Beyond Death examines these rituals of preparation from the point of view of the volunteers who undertake it. Through personal interviews, the book describes the process of washing, purifying, and dressing the deceased, as well as the recitation of lyrical prayers from Psalms. With chapters on the Holocaust and terrorism, this account will engage readers in ...

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Overview

In the Jewish tradition, preparation of the dead for burial is undertaken by a community organization known as the Chevra Kadisha, or Sacred Society. Dignity Beyond Death examines these rituals of preparation from the point of view of the volunteers who undertake it. Through personal interviews, the book describes the process of washing, purifying, and dressing the deceased, as well as the recitation of lyrical prayers from Psalms. With chapters on the Holocaust and terrorism, this account will engage readers in the humanity and ultimate dignity of this time-honored practice.

Winner of:
2006 Koret Jewish Book Award, Jewish Life & Living category

A basic tenet of Judaism is the obligation to value and serve the deceased, to extend dignity beyond death.

In Judaism, a death is the affair of the entire community. Preparation of the dead for burial is undertaken by a community organization called the Chevra Kadisha, the Sacred Society. The volunteers of the Sacred Society quietly and privately wash, purify and dress the deceased. They simultaneously recite lyrical prayers from Psalms, thereby bearing witness to death as the last of life's important passages.

Dignity Beyond Death examines the rituals of preparing the dead for burial from the point of view of those volunteers who undertake it, including chapters on the Holocaust and terrorism. For the first time, through personal interviews, the author shares a wealth of fascinating anecdotal material that will engage the reader in the humanity and ultimate dignity of this time-honored deed. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Through personal interviews (Rochel Berman) shares a wealth of fascinating anecdotal material that is most engaging, and renders dignity to this ancient and honorable custom." —Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Media Review

"Dignity Beyond Death is equally compelling to both the novice and experienced chevra kadisha member. [...] Rochel Berman is to be commended for courageously opening the door to this ancient and sacred practice and inviting us all to enter and learn more." —Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, The Jewish Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9789657108666
  • Publisher: Urim Publications
  • Publication date: 5/15/2005
  • Pages: 223
  • Sales rank: 889,215
  • Product dimensions: 6.88 (w) x 9.72 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Rochel U. Berman is an award-winning public relations professional and a former executive director of the American Society for Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. She is a member of the Boca Raton Synagogue Chevra Kadisha and serves as a consultant to the Congregation B’nai Torah Chevra Kadisha in Boca Raton. Her articles and essays have appeared in Hadassah Magazine, the New York Times, and Religious Education, among other publications. She lives in Boca Raton, Florida. Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg is an activist and theologian. He is a founding chairman of the department of Jewish studies of City College in New York and was one of the founders of the Association for Jewish Studies, the professional organization for academic Jewish studies. He served as the executive director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, which conceived of and supervised the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Table of Contents

1 The final act of loving-kindness 25
2 At death's door 47
3 Working together 64
4 Meeting the challenge 77
5 Personal impact 93
6 Tahara - the family dimension 107
7 Dignity in the face of the Holocaust 125
8 Dignity in the wake of terrorism 140
9 Creating a caring community 155
10 Informing the uninformed 169
Coming full circle 187
App Sample Tahara procedure manual 192
App Sample Tahara certificate 212
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2009

    This is an excellent book

    Dignity Beyond Death
    The Jewish Preparation for Burial
    By Rochel U. Berman
    Urim Publications, 2005, 223 pages
    ISBN: 965-7108-66-7

    Reviewed by Israel Drazin

    How should a person treat a dead body? Is there a Jewish ritual that Jews should follow? What does it accomplish? What is its origin? How do people feel while they are performing the ceremony and how do they feel afterwards? How does the fact that the procedure was done affect the family of the deceased, parents, siblings and children? How do Jews perceive death? Is it possible to discuss the subject of the preparation for burial in an interesting, sensitive and respectful manner without prompting fear?
    Rochel U. Berman answers these and many other questions in her award winning volume. She received the Koret International Jewish Book Award for writing this very readable and informative book. She has the credentials for the subject she is addressing and for the sympathy and other emotions involved. She and her husband George Berman were members of a group called Chevra Kadisha, the sacred society, the Jewish men and women who attend to deceased people, for some twenty years. The two were founding members of the Westchester, New York, Chevra Kadisha. Rochel Berman narrated a Public Broadcasting Systems segment on the Jewish way of preparing the dead for burial. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and she was the Executive Director of the American Society for Yad Vashem, the institution in Jerusalem, Israel, that perpetuates the legacy of holocaust victims and honors their memory.
    Berman describes the ritual called tahara, the purification of a body prior to burial. According to a tradition, the practice originated during the days of Moses, the giver of the Torah. The ceremony is described in the third century C.E. code of laws called the Mishnah. The practice is still observed today by many Jews of all denominations; men, women adult, child, observant and non-observant. She describes in detail clearly and with sensitivity how the purification is done, how the body is washed, by whom, when, what is said during the ceremony and how the men and women who perform the ceremony behave. Men do tahara on men and women on women.
    Berman's book is filled with fascinating quotes and touching narratives that are not only informative, but which cause the volume to be very readable and poignant. Helen Cohan depicts her enduring emotion, "Imagining the grace and respect my mother was afforded in death is an ongoing source of comfort." Dr. Saul Kahn, who served as head of the men's Chevra Kadisha in New Orleans for many years, exclaimed, "In all my life, I don't think I've done anything more worthwhile than serve on the Chevra Kadisha." Varda Branfman spoke of her role in the ceremony and her comradeship with her fellow workers, "I always feel tremendously comforted by the nearness of the two women who work with me." Natalie Oppenheim saw the stateliness, dignity and holiness of the tahara, "I feel that I have been blessed with the ability to do this mitzvah (good deed). Some people have beautiful voices and others play musical instruments. I feel that being able to perform tahara is a gift from God."
    Especially interesting are Berman's descriptions of how tahara was performed during the holocaust because of the many deaths and the horrendous restrictions imposed by the Nazis, responses to the U.S. World Trade Center disaster and the challenges following the terrorist attacks

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