Ep. 8: Rabbis and Remembrance
Mourning the loss of a loved one is never an easy thing. Shiva is a Jewish practice that gives mourners time and space to process their grief. In this episode, I speak with a rabbi about why he's not concerned about the afterlife. Also, I try very hard to make a metaphor about Spiderman.
If you’re looking for a great, easy to understand introduction to shiva, check out this breakdown of all the traditional practices. It does a great job of explaining the meaning behind each piece, from covering mirrors to saying kaddish.
There’s a lot more going on around a Jewish funeral than just shiva. As always, Wikipedia comes to the rescue when it comes to getting a good overview of things. As you’ll see in the article, shiva is only a small part of the mourning period. There’s a whole process that happens beforehand as well.
There are also some very interesting studies on the physiological impacts of shiva. One I found particularly interesting was this:
- Joyce Slochower, “Mourning and the Holding Function of Shiva,” Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 29, Iss. 2, 1993.
There are many websites out there that have essentially practical guides on who to either sit shiva or visit someone who is sitting shiva.
- Here’s another breakdown of the general rules of how to interact with death and mourning.
- And here are some basic tips on how to make a shiva call.
This is a street mosaic from Old Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. The twelve segments represent the twelve tribes of Israel. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel were said to have been lost, when they were deported by the Assyrian king. It's unclear whether these tribes all really existed, as no evidence of their descendents can be confirmed.
This is a French depiction of the expulsion of the Jews in 1182. Diaspora is a bit too complicated to fit in an image caption. A very interesting, controversial book on the topic is At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora is Good for the Jews by Alan Wolfe. If that's not to your taste, there are tons of other books on it. Go find someone who can speak eloquently about it. All I'm good for is pointing out how weird people look in art from the Middle Ages.
Crossing the Jabbok by Sylvie-Anne Goldberg focuses on a very specific segment of the Jewish community—Askenazi Jews in sixteenth through nineteenth century Prague. Goldberg examines their attitudes towards death and illness. If you’re looking for something a bit heavy but super interesting, I encourage you to check it out.
Crossing the Jabbok stresses how important Jewish burial societies were, which fits in well with what I say in the episode about how the Jewish community stresses community in a time of death. Even though the book focuses on how the sixteenth through nineteenth century, burial societies are still a thing. But they are fading from prominence. This is actually causing some problems in Jewish communities, as discussed in this New York Times article.
The title ‘Crossingthe Jabbok’ comes from a story in Genesis 32, which is really one of my favorites. It can be used as an allegory for death, but it can be used as an allegory for a lot of things. So while it’s not strictly on topic, these are my shownotes and I can deviate however I like. Anyway, Jacob is going to meet his brother Esau, who has promised to kill him next time they meet. Jacob has to cross the river Jabbok, part of the river Jordan to get to Esau. So he sends all his family and earthly goods on over, and then in the night he engages in a bit of night wrestling (to the best of my knowledge this is not an innuendo). The guy who challenges him to this wrestling match is an unnamed stranger who is usually interpreted as an angel or as God, but also sometimes as Jacob’s own psyche. The stranger renames Jacob Israel – “one who struggles with God” and they both go on their merry way. It’s just such a wonderful, slightly bizarre little interlude. For more on the Jacob wrestling an angel, you can read chapter 32 of Genesis, or you can check out this delightful article from the Toast about paintings of Jacob and the angel where it looks like they’re slow dancing. Fun fact: the Toast is my favorite website.
And here, as promised, is that list of apps that make traditional religious practices a little easier.