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The Chabad.org Blog

Let’s Have a Conversation About Death

January 8, 2020 1:19 PM

Dear Friend,

Let’s talk about something no one likes to talk about: Death.

We need to talk about it because there is a crisis, and it’s getting worse. Every year, tens of thousands of Jews are not receiving the traditional, honorable Jewish burial that they deserve.

Beautiful and caring people who didn’t receive a Jewish burial simply because they didn’t know any better. They had no idea of the meaning and the dignity of a Jewish burial, so they chose something else.

Unfortunately, many of them even chose to be cremated.

So we need to start the conversation, and the first step is to educate ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read how Jacob asked Joseph to ensure his burial in the Holy Land, and how Joseph honored his request. Following the Biblical statement, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return,” Jewish people have always cherished the connectedness and respect inherent in a burial performed by fellow Jews in a Jewish cemetery.

Why is that?

There are many approaches to an appreciation of the unique beauty and dignity of Jewish burial, each one thought-provoking, poignant, and powerful.

For one thing, many do not realize that according to Jewish tradition, cremation is cruel. The body continues to be sustained with a kind of life even after its final breath. As long as the body has not completely decayed, some of the soul remains attached to it. If so, anyone who instructs or agrees to the burning of his body is effectively agreeing to burn some of his soul—an act similar to burning a person alive.

It’s also important to understand that death is not the end of a journey; it’s only one more step. As the soul is temporarily shedding its bodily layer to continue on its spiritual journey, we are granted the opportunity and privilege to have a positive impact on that journey. Allowing the body to return peacefully to the earth from which it came is an important step in that journey.

Then there is the Biblical precept of kavod hamet—treating the body of the deceased with dignity. G‑d Himself treasures that body. It held a breath of G‑d and carried out a divine mission upon this earth. Jews believe in the resurrection of the dead, and how can anyone wilfully destroy that which G‑d will one day use to restore life?

Some point to the still-fresh memory of the Holocaust, when millions of our people were stripped of their basic humanity, cruelly gassed, and reduced to ash and smoke in death camp crematoria. “How can a Jew willfully subject themselves to that experience,” they ask, “replicating the worst crime in history?”

Yet, for some it is the unbroken connection to Jewish tradition that speaks to them, finding comfort in the knowledge that burial in a Jewish cemetery connects them with their ancestors, who have revered this mitzvah since the beginning of time.

Or it may be the testimony of those who have experienced the tragedy and irresolution of a loved one’s cremation that gives others reason to pause and reconsider if this is what they want for their own family.

So let’s bring up this topic. Talk with your relatives, your friends, your co-workers. Tell them about the soul, about its journey, and about the importance of a Jewish burial.

Together we can ensure that every soul receives the send-off from this world to the next in a way that it deserves.

To get the ball rolling, here are some essays we trust you’ll find insightful. Read them, share them, and choose burial before it is too late.

Cremation or Burial?
Letter to My Cremated Father
The Rebbe's Response to a Planned Cremation
Why Does Judaism Forbid Cremation?

And here are some enlightening video presentations.

Cremation or Burial?
The Jewish Approach to Death
Jewish Burial

Special Info for Shabbat Chanukah

December 26, 2019 11:03 AM

Happy Chanukah!

G‑d willing, this Friday evening will be filled with lights—the flames of the Chanukah menorah joining the Shabbat candles in brightening up the night.

It’s important to remember that it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat, which extends from before sunset on Friday until nightfall of Saturday night. Therefore, on Friday afternoon, light the menorah before the Shabbat candles, which are traditionally lit 18 minutes before sundown (look up the exact time here).

Since you are lighting early, be sure to use additional oil or larger candles for the Chanukah lights, as they must remain lit until half an hour after nightfall - approximately 1½ hours after the Friday afternoon lighting time. For this reason, the standard 30-minute Chanukah candles cannot be used on Friday.

For the duration of Shabbat, do not move the menorah, relight any flames that have gone out, or prepare the Saturday night Chanukah lights. Make sure to light the menorah after Shabbat ends at nightfall on Saturday night. Traditionally, the menorah is prepared and kindled immediately after the havdalah service.

Shabbat Shalom!

Happy (Chassidic) New Year!

December 17, 2019 11:51 AM

Happy New Year!

Yes, you read right. No, this email is not two weeks premature. The 19th (and 20th) of the Hebrew month of Kislev is celebrated as the New Year of Chassidism.

On this date, in the year 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism, was freed from Czarist imprisonment where he was held due to slander propagated by enemies of the fledgling movement. More than just a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era for the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.

On this same date 26 years prior (1772), the “Maggid of Mezeritch,” successor of the Baal Shem Tov, returned his soul to his Maker.

The day is celebrated with farbrengens (inspirational gatherings), classes, and other festive events. This is when we begin the annual study cycle of Tanya, the primary work of Chabad philosophy, and it’s also when many communities divvy up the entire Talmud, to be collectively studied over the course of the coming year.

To help you celebrate, we’ve selected some links that we hope will inspire, educate, and assist you long into the coming year.

What Is 19 Kislev?

Video: Where Are You?

Start Learning Tanya

Take a Tractate

Winning the War Against Thinking

Memories of 19 Kislev in the Soviet Underground

This 19 Kislev, Take a Tractate

December 5, 2019 12:40 PM

The Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe, established the custom of dividing the entire Talmud, each tractate to be studied by another individual in each Chassidic community, every year. The division takes place on 19 Kislev, “the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus.”

The Rebbe once explained the appropriateness of this date: Although comprised of several seemingly disparate parts, the entire Torah is essentially one entity. This holism of Torah is only achieved in the presence of the revealed and hidden elements of Torah, represented by the Talmud and Chassidic teachings, respectively. Thus, it is natural that the division of the Talmud was established on the 19th of Kislev, when Chassidism is celebrated.

Throughout the years, the Rebbe would observe the division of the Talmud at the 19 Kislev farbrengen—personally filling out an index card with his name and the tractate of his choice. With the exception of 1952, when the siyum was made by Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, former Chief Rabbi of Shanghai, the Rebbe himself would ceremoniously complete the Talmud on behalf of all the participants.

This 19 Kislev, we encourage you to take a tractate. Worried about how you’ll learn it? We’re glad to share that Chabad.org has engaging video classes on most of the Talmud (with more being added every day) to help you along. Featuring Rabbi Avraham Zajac, the classes fuse the legalism of the Talmud with the mysticism of Kabbalah, with Chassidic insights sprinkled throughout the lesson.

With wishes for a wonderful “Chassidic New Year,”

The Chabad.org Team

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