Death is the crisis of life. How a man handles death indicates a great deal about how he approaches life. As there is a Jewish way of life, there is a Jewish way of death.

As the Jewish way of life implies a distinctive outlook and a unique life-style based on very specific views of God and the place of man in society and the universe, so does the Jewish way of death imply singular attitudes toward God and nature, and toward the problem of good and evil; and it proffers a distinctive way of demonstrating specific Jewish qualities of reverence for man and respect for the dead.

For example, the prohibition of both cremation (the unnaturally speedy disposal of the dead), and embalming (the unnatural preservation of the dead), bespeak a philosophy of man and his relationship to God and nature. Repugnance to the mutilation of a body expresses a reverence for man, because he was created in God's image. The ban on necromancy is founded on very precise theological concepts of creature and Creator. Likewise, the commandment to bury the dead without delay draws a very fine, but clear, line between reverence for the dead and worship of the dead. The profound psychological insights implicit in the highly structured Jewish mourning observances speak eloquently of Judaism's concern for the psychological integrity of the human personality.

The writing of this book was a chore, perhaps even an exercise in agony. This is not because of the arduous and difficult task of research into the numerous customs and beliefs, which tend to leave one moribund in the constant preoccupation with death. Primarily, it is a result of a sense of futility—the feeling that such a book must fail in its educative task, and that the failure is built into the very fabric of the work. The futility can be expressed in a paradox simply stated: People do not wish to learn about how to deal with death until they are confronted with death, and when they are confronted with death they are not inclined to study how religion approaches it.

People do not desire to study the Jewish way of death because of what Geoffrey Gorer calls "the pornography of death," the distaste of contemplating the problems raised by death in the family, the compulsive shying-away from discussion, the use of every possible euphemism to shield themselves verbally and visually from its sting. We who live in one of the most violent societies in all history, who calculatingly refer to "over-kill," and "body-counts," and "mega-corpse," the measurement of millionfold mutilation of human beings as a consequence of nuclear bombing; we who feed on a daily diet of crime reportage and who view every conceivable method of dying on television; we are frightened sick by the consideration of the eventuality of our own deaths. We are, in fact, deathly afraid of death. In view of this attitude, the study of mourning observances is not likely to be undertaken before it becomes absolutely necessary.

But the crisis will come. If thinking on the subject is to be deferred, if there is to be no education before the crisis, what chance is there that we shall know how to handle the crisis when it arrives? And if we are not privy to this information, will those who lived as Jews be able to be buried as Jews? Will we not inevitably succumb to the standards established by commercial funeral directors, rather than by authentic spiritual teachers? Will we not tend blindly to embrace every American practice, whether its origin be in the church or in some transitory fraternal organization? What will be left that is Jewish in our Jewish way of death? And if there is no Jewish way of death, what Jewish way of life could there have been?

The book was, therefore, written for the layman. There are no footnotes. No scholarly disputes are hidden in abbreviated italics. No complicated rabbinic analyses are here disentangled. I have, in short, made no effort to impress the reader with profundity. The scholar, I hope, will detect the traces of my research and recognize the sources in Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Codes and Responsa literature. In this age of unprecedented Jewish ignorance, the major task of the scholar is to popularize the law, rather than to apply himself solely to pure research.

For this reason, too, I have decided on a different method of presentation for this work. Heretofore, popular texts on Jewish law have been written in one of two styles. One has been the exhaustive listing of the details of the law, presented in cookbook fashion, without providing any rationale. This technique left the reader confounded by a maze of halachic by-ways, with no direction, no criteria for discriminating between major and minor laws or between biblical mandate and local usage, and no intellectual underpinning. An illustration of this genre is the English edition of the Abridged Shulchan Aruch.

Another style places the emphasis on major observances, leaving all details and nuances to be decided by local rabbis and educators—if they are asked, that is. The reader of this kind of text is left intellectually stimulated, but with no guidance as to where to begin the actual practice of the law he now understands.

Both these styles surely have useful functions for specific audiences, but they leave the reader unsatisfied-either intellectually or practically.

I have strenuously sought to avoid both extremes. Nevertheless, if I have failed, the fault lies with me, and surely not with the subject matter. My work will not be demeaned if it is to be considered a handbook, nor will I be offended if it is to be pegged "apologetics." I have tried to trace the religious practices in detail, as well as the rationale that appears to underlie the observances. I have made every effort to interpret the ancient tradition in a manner relevant to moderns, and to make palatable to the contemporary Jew that which on the surface appears to be esoteric.

In this attempt I may have raised more questions than I have answered, created more problems than I have solved. I have not attempted to bypass a custom out of fear that it might be misunderstood, or viewed in an unsympathetic light by readers with little Jewish background. Whether the subject be physical resurrection or family relations during Shiva, or "paying" for the Kaddish, I have tried to be forthright—perhaps to a fault.

I have rendered decisions on numerous complex problems-probably to the chagrin of many of my colleagues. Naturally, it is an absurd and altogether impossible task to decide on every individual issue, with its abundance of subtle nuances and complex ramifications. In such cases, I have referred the reader to local religious authorities who are specially trained and able to make halachic decisions. At the very least, the reader will "know how to ask." If this work provokes only questions it will, to me, have been supremely worthwhile. We are suffocating, today, from too many answers to questions we have never learned to ask.

I must express my profound gratitude to those who unselfishly assisted me in preparing this volume: To Rabbi David Silver of Kesher Israel Congregation, Harrisburg, Pa., who helped me as a respected mentor rather than in his position as Chairman of the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of America; to Rabbi Norman Lamm, rabbi of The Jewish Center, New York City, and professor of Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University, who reviewed my work as scholar, not as brother; to Rabbi Sidney Applbaum, rabbi of Congregation Beth Judah, Brooklyn, N. Y., and chairman of the Funeral Standards Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America; to my wife who prodded my pen from planning to publication; and to the members of the Hebrew Institute of University Heights who have been a source of encouragement.

I owe a great personal debt to my publisher, Rabbi Alfred Kolatch, whose unimaginable patience has given me a four-year-long guilt conscience, and whose insight into the mind of the lay reader has caused me more work in rewriting than the original work of research. His friendship through these few years has truly been in the spirit of Jonathan and David.

Maurice Lamm
Ten Mile River
Narrowsburg, N. Y. July, 1968

Preface by Dr. Emanuel Rackman, Assistant to the President Yeshiva University

During the course of a lifetime, virtually no one can avoid an encounter with death. Yet it is an experience for which one is rarely prepared. Psychologists explain why, but they do not condone the evasion. Perhaps this excellent volume by a learned and sensitive colleague, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, will help many to think and act maturely when having to deal with this inevitable circumstance of life.

The book differs radically from earlier attempts with the subject, for Rabbi Lamm has written with feeling and insight about every aspect of the problem. He has collated all the relevant laws and customs of Judaism; he has added interpretation; he has related the behavior and practices of our forbears to modern practices and evaluated their relative merit. He has brought to his theme the legal scholarship of the Orthodox rabbi, the competence of one well versed in the behavioral sciences, and the humanity and empathy of a warm human being. Indeed, he is to be congratulated on the wide scope, depth, and thoroughness of his presentation which will help all people to cope with the circumstances surrounding death. In addition, Rabbi Lamm's approach will give the Jewish reader a greater appreciation of his ancestral heritage.

The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning fills a definite gap that has long existed in the field of Judaica. Rabbi Lamm's superb contribution provides the English reader with the first readable and comprehensive study in an area of vital importance.