Monday, September 6, 2010

Death and Mourning: An Interfaith Encounter Group Report

Death and Mourning - ADAMA Interfaith Encounter group on July 29 2010
Mailed on Saturday, September 04, 2010 12:38:31 PM
From: "Yehuda Stolov"

The ADAMA group met on Thursday, July 29th. We were happy to hear how one of our Moslem members from the West Bank was able to obtain permits for his family to go to the beach in the Tel Aviv area. Things seemed to be looking up, as beforehand, permits were mostly not obtainable for leisurely activities such as this. Also, we had heard in the news that the IDF might soon allow Israelis to enter Area A which would be a wonderful opportunity for our interfaith work to be able to meet in areas, Jewish Israelis weren't allowed to enter previously.

The theme this month was Death and Mourning. There seem to be many similarities between Jewish and Moslem customs. A few examples were that before burial, bodies have to be washed and covered in white cloth and people pray over the bodies, Jews saying Psalms and Moslems reciting verses from the Koran for the sake of the soul. During both Moslem, and before some Jewish, holy days it is customary to visit the gravesites of close relatives. Also the concept of hell is for purification of the soul, both in Moslem and Jewish tradition. In the days following burial, condolence visits are 3 days for Moslems and 7 days for Jews (in which mourners do not leave their homes and do not shower or change their clothes – people bring food for the mourners), after which Moslems mourn 40 days for their immediate relatives. Moslem women wear black for those 40 days, and no music is listened to - and if a husband dies, the wife can't leave her home for 3 months, however, she is allowed visitors.

The Moslem presenter talked about paradise and hell, paradise being the highest level of 7 heavens. The righteous men get 72 virgins upon reaching paradise, and a Jewish participant asked what do righteous women get in paradise. This was a good question to be asked of our presenter's imam.

Our Jewish presenter noted two types of mourning for Jews – one for close relatives and the other for the ancient Temples, as these are both significant with many similar rituals. Many Jews wish to be buried in Israel – even if they've never visited. The Moslems believe that all bodies will eventually go up to Jerusalem . In Judaism, if you are killed because you were Jewish and refused to convert to another religion, it is believed that those people go straight to heaven. Bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death. The next level after the 7 days of shiva (mourning) is another 30 day period of mourning – where you can leave the home, but cannot go to weddings, cut hair, shave or wear new clothes. Those mourning deceased parents have an additional 11 months where these prohibitions are also in effect. A special prayer for the dead is said - called Kaddish. This is traditionally recited by men in a quorum of 10 men, though some modern congregations allow women to recite the Kaddish.

In mourning the Temples, there are three periods – 3 weeks preceding the 25 hour fast of the 9th of Av, 9 days preceding the fast and the fast itself, which includes many of the laws of mourning for a family - including the prohibition of listening to music, buying new clothes, shaving, cutting hair, drinking wine, etc.

Our presenter pointed out that the closer one gets to the date of the destruction of the Temple, the more stringent the laws of mourning become, as opposed to the eventual easing up of prohibitions when an immediate relative dies.

Christianity doesn't have strict rules of mourning. It is traditional (mostly in rural areas) for both men and women to wear black during the first year of mourning for close relatives. Seven weeks before Easter, Christians remember the death of Jesus who died on Good Friday. So during those 7 weeks one should not eat meat nor drink wine. Nowadays, people are less stringent but may choose other things to avoid like smoking, chocolate, etc. It is customary for Catholics not to eat meat every Friday.

Reported: Leah Lublin
The Interfaith Encounter Association

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