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Jewish Death Practices:
Learning & Resources:
Gamliel Institute Curriculum
The centerpiece of the Institute is a certification program employing a variety of distance-learning and on-site practicum. Students will meet each year at the annual Kavod v'Nichum Conference (usually in the early summer) for in-person training and networking and will be expected to participate in local training opportunities as well as other relevant national conferences. During the three-year program, students will join in a three-week practicum/study tour to New York, Prague (the home of the first Chevra Kadisha), and Israel to study with local chevra kadisha groups and experts. Our course focus will cover six major areas as follows:
Course 1 - Chevra Kadisha - Background, function, communal role; role of women, secrecy, Kabbalistic influences, money, recruiting, social functions, Zayin Adar; Textual sources: Biblical, Rabbinic, Medieval, modern; Historical Overviews: Jewish Burial Societies - development in Europe and America till today; landsmanshaft, Goodman, Tri-Partite Commission, Kavod v'Nichum; Toward New Policies on Jewish Funeral Practices.
Course 2 - Tahara and Shmira - Spiritual transformative power; personal testimony; meaning and purpose; face of God; Tahor and Tameh; Tachrichim; History; manuals, tefila, training, impediments; safety; complications.
Course 3 - Organizing, Training, Education, Funerals and Burials - Communal, Chevra Kadisha and leadership; organizing: the basics, raising communal awareness, pre-planning; pre-paying, using agreements and contracts; death education and training for children and adults; pitfalls/blocks. Working with grief: mourning and healing; Issues: Legal, health, role of rabbi, financial, support, structure, first responders, seudah havraha (meal of comfort), leading Shivaservices, studying Mishnah in the Shiva House, mourner follow-up, recruiting and training, resources, Hebrew terminology; Use of drashot in training; Prayer; Ethics, Rabban Gamliel, leadership, ostentatiousness, embarrassment, poverty. Evolution of funeral homes: embalming, viewing; working with funeral homes: building a tahara room, contracts; starting a new funeral home, buying an existing funeral home, non-profit funeral homes; evolution of cemeteries: cave burial, catacombs, communal burial, municipal, military, private, and non-profit ownership, cemetery ownership, landsmanschaft, federations of cemeteries; acquiring land, zoning, cemetery grid layout, recordkeeping, sales, contracts, rules; purchasing: GPL, transportation, service location, casket, opening and closing, liners, monuments, perpetual care; cemetery future: landscaping, sacred ground, consecration, synagogue cooperation, abandonment, corporate buy-out; disaster planning. Federal Trade Commission, Canadian Regulations; medical examiner, autopsy, organ and tissue donation.
Course 4 - Nehama - Compassion, Active Listening, Bikkur cholim, illness, Jewish hospitals; healing movement, chaplaincy, hospice, viddui, death preparation: legacy writing, ethical will, organ and tissue donation; teshuvot: helping families make funeral and burial arrangements; counseling of mourners, supporting the mourner beyond shiva.
Course 5 - Ritual Practice - How and why traditional practices evolved: funeral, shiva, shloshim, yahrtzeit, Yizkor, unveiling, keriah; the Funeral Service: hesped, 23rd Psalm, el malei rachamim, pall bearers, procession, stops, burial, book burial, amputations, autopsy, suicide, viewing and embalming, cremation, liners, kaddish, monument design, mausoleums, genealogy, intermarried burials . Legal sources: classic and modern, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform; Theology: God, afterlife, soul.
By the end of the program, students will have developed theoretical and practical expertise in the halachot, minhagim, logistics and finances surrounding serious illness, death, funerals, burial, mourning, and legacy preparation, including ethical wills. Students will be prepared to work with and assist grieving families before and after death and to organize and train volunteers to perform these mitzvot in their communities.