Pastoral Thanatology and Judaism

Judaism and Pastoral Thanatology

As a Pastoral Counselor and Thanatologist, it is important to have a broad understanding of all religious ideals and faiths.  This enables the counselor to pastorally care for the suffering and soon to die in a compassionate way that accommodates the individual.  Christians will not always deal with Christians, so it is important to broaden one’s theological knowledge into all faiths.   We will briefly review some of the primary concepts of Judaism and death to sharpen one’s knowledge in inter-faith dialogue and practice.

A Yemeni Jew in traditional garb
A Yemeni Jew in traditional garb
Judaism as a non-creedal religion has various interpretations on the afterlife, but the general consensus is affirmation of the next world.  Heaven and Hell again or not clearly defined but within the Jewish circle, most contend that it is a reunification with God and a sharing of happiness with family.  Salvation is based upon a good life on earth that is open to all people.  One does not need to share in the Jewish religion to be saved, but must adhere to a good and moral life to obtain salvation.   Upon death all are judged and eventually share in the resurrection.  Resurrection is believed to be physical if a Traditional Jew, while the resurrection is believed to be only spiritual if one is a Reformed Jew.  These slight differences and no dogmatic declarations leave one with a small variety of differences, however, if counseling a dying Jew, one can rest assured if the Jew is religious, he or she shares in a belief of God and the afterlife.
In regards to burial, the traditional Jew is placed in a simple wooden box casket and clothed in plain white shrouds.  These shrouds are placed upon the deceased after the cleansing prayers.  The funeral itself is divided into two parts.  The first is held at the synagogue or funeral home and the second is held at the gravesite.  Mourning, freedom of emotion and other public expressions are encouraged here as the relatives and friends share in their grief.
As a pastoral counselor this information is important, but most important to the science of Thanatology is the care of the dying.  In Judaism, care for the dying is extremely important.  The person who is dying must be constantly attended to and never left alone.  All of their wishes, even the most minor thirst, must be answered.  Close members of the family consider these to blessed tasks.   Such close care allows the family to express their love but also to give the dying a sense of peace and love.  Once the person has expired, the son or nearest relative closes the eyes and mouth of the parent are closed.  The body then undergoes a ritualistic series of cleansing and purification.
It is important if witnessing the death of a devout Jew to understand these rituals.  While you may not partake individually in these functions, having a solid understanding of them may come to be of service to the family.  It is also important for the dying themselves to feel understood.  Potentially sharing scripture and God’s love can be of great service to a dying Jew.  Remember, if a Theist, there is much Christians and Jews share in regards to the God of Abraham.   Share these precious mutual stories and beliefs of faith that bind Christians and Jews alike.  In the end, that is what will allow you as a Pastoral Counselor to succeed in inter-faith dialogue.