Friday, July 31, 2009

Consoling the Bereaved

Rabbi Yitchok Adlerstein at Cross-Currents seems to exclusively write thoughtful, interesting, and sensitive posts. (I started reading his Cross-Currents posts about a decade ago in their pre-blog e-mail stage.) He has just written on consoling the bereaved. I do not have anything to add to the substance, other than to note that it is well worth reading.

From my Conservative Jewish perspective, I have long thought that Judaism and contemporary society both influence each other, especially where they differ. For example, some modern values, like egalitarianism, feminism, democracy, empiricism and science, and philosophic free inquiry, present strong challenges to traditional and pre-modern Judaism, and some of these ideas have resulted in important changes to Judaism, especially in the more liberal branches. The converse is true as well. As I discussed in an earlier post on "low hanging fruit", there are some traditional Jewish values and sensibilities that are brilliant and insightful and are manifestly counter-cultural in modern America. The prohibition of gossip, for example, is high on my list. Regardless of denomination (or even lack of denomination), we can benefit from understanding these ideas and incorporating them into our lives.

One of these counter-cultural practices --- as Evanston Jew noted in the comments to that post --- is traditional Jewish practices regarding burial, mourning, and comforting the bereaved. R. Adlerstein's post puts meat on those bones. He offers practical suggestions on what to do and say (and not do and not say) at a funeral, shiva visit, and afterwards. This is an uncomfortable situation for most of us, and traditional ideas are quite helpful. Like all of his posts, this one is worth reading.

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