An eloquent account of the traditional customs that are put into practice when a Jewish person dies that provides both an informative perspective on Jewish rites of mourning and a moving chronicle of the loss of a father. This unique narrative covers and recovers the boundary between the academic and the religious, the personal and the general, reflecting Heilman's changing roles as social scientist, bereaved son, and observant Jew. Not only describing but explaining the cultural meaning behind Jewish practices and traditions, this extraordinary book shows what is particular and what is universal about Jewish experiences of death, bereavement, mourning, and their aftermath.
Heilman describes the many phases of death: the moment between life and death, the transitional period when the dead have not yet been laid to rest, the preparation of the body (tahara), the Jewish funeral, the 7 day mourning (shivah), the nearly 12 months during which Kaddish is recited, and the annual commemorations of bereavement. The richly informative ethnography that surrounds Heilman's personal account deepens ones understanding of the customs and traditions that inform the Jewish response to death.