Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jewish Values at the End of Life

Paul Root Wolpe is the first chief bioethicist for NASA. It is his job to think through some of the the ethical challenges that occur in space. He was interviewed about his role and offered some interesting examples of the kinds of issues he faces in this article that appeared in the NY Times on August 11.
Interestingly, he is also quite knowledgeable about Jewish ethics. He explains in the article how he was able to offer advice after the tragic crash of the Columbia space shuttle, and how the Jewish laws encouraging speedy burial had to be balanced by the impossibility of identifying all the remains of the astronauts (who included Ilan Ramon, the first Jewish Israeli person to fly in the space program)

If you are teaching a course about the Jewish Life Cycle
  • Behrman House offers the following textbooks Life Cycle
  • Torah Aura Publications includes these
  • Ktav has a selection as well that you can see at this link
  • There are many on-line resources about Jewish life cycle

No matter which textbooks you use, you may want to supplement your classroom learning with current news articles and on-line material which can engage your students in thinking about how what they learn in your classroom is reflected in the world around them.

Big Idea: What do you want your students to remember after they have forgotten everything else?
  • There is Jewish wisdom that can guide our behavior in making decisions in our lives.
  • We should consider Jewish wisdom relevant in our everyday lives.

Essential Questions: What will your students have to be able to answer in order to show understanding of the big idea?
  1. What does Judaism teach about death and dying?
  2. Why is it important to know what Judaism teaches about life cycle?
  3. How can you find out what the Jewish perspective is in addressing the challenges inherent in living life?
Learning Activities: What can enable students to learn the information that can help them answer the essential questions

These activities are suggestions, not detailed lesson plans. Please use them as a guide for making your plans for your class. Keep in mind students' age, level of maturity, and the context in which you teach.
  1. Read the section of the interview with Paul Wolpe about the situation after the Columbia crash. What questions do you have? How can you find the answers?
  2. Read the chapter(s) in your life cycle text about death and dying. What appear to be the big ideas?
  3. Invite the Rabbi of your congregation to talk to your students about Jewish values expressed in the customs and laws concerning death and dying. What did you learn that you didn't know before?
  4. Most synagogues have memorials for members and relatives of members who have died. Go to visit these memorials as a class and examine them. Who is memorialized? How are they remembered? How does having a memorial fulfill Jewish values?
  5. If there is a chevre kadisha (Jewish burial society) in your area invite a representative to come and explain the rituals involved in preparing a body for burial. What did you learn?
  6. There are a number of videos available that explain the Jewish rituals associated with death and dying. They are available for rental or purchase at Alden Films
  7. Read the Mourner's Kaddish with your students. What does it say? What does it not say? What conclusion can you draw?
  8. Listen to the memorial prayer, El Mole Rachamim on YouTube. (there are several different versions). How does it make you feel? Find a translation of the prayer in a siddur and read it. How does the music enhance the meaning of the words?

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