Monday, December 24, 2012

Readings for the end of life

I saw an interesting question the other day: What Jewish reading material would you recommend for someone elderly, who is contemplating his eventual death?

I'm not at all sure how to approach this; clearly, a lot depends on the person.

I suppose that one should really begin by asking what question the person is looking to answer. Is the person looking for information about Jewish belief regarding the afterlife? Is the person looking for ways to deal with the end of his presence here? Is the person looking for ways to cope with fear, or to manage disappointment, or to develop acceptance?

Koheles might be a reassuring read for some, and frightening for others.
Some might benefit from Rabbi Maurice Lamm's The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, I suppose.
Others might want to read Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's works on Jewish beliefs.

And others might want Breslov works on emunah.

I'm not sure what to do with this; what would you recommend?


  1. I don't have any experience with this... but for anyone who has read various writings throughout their life, maybe I would recommend going back and reading the a few of the books that they most wish would be read and absorbed by the people they love in the younger generations. That way they could be reminded of the things that have made their lives meaningful and be thankful to God for those, and they can also have the material fresh in their mind for conversations with others... which gives a sense of being able to pass on what is most important to them. I think this is something I would do, and I would treasure those kinds of conversations from others as well.


  2. These could be helpful and are available at various online book dealer sites:

    English translation of part of Gesher Hachaim:

    This is available as a book and online:

  3. I'm sorry but as a working rabbi-chaplain who is in contact with the elderly ill and dying on a day-to-day basis, reading isn't the point. Only an outsider would request reading matter -- unless he or she had been scholarly all along, such a person wouldn't be drawn to books per se whatsoever. He or she should speak from the heart to a rabbi and or counselor who would know how to respond, and should just be told about the merits and comforts accrued by emunah peshuta (in Hashem, Olam HaEmes,nitzchiyus haneshama, etc.).

  4. It's been a while since I've read these, but I think some of these would be relevant for either caregivers or patients themselves:

    Longing for Dawn(R. Nachman Bulman's translation of Yalkut Lekach Tov Pirkei Emunah v'Nechamah, by R. Y.Y. Baifus)

    The Power of Hope(R. Maurice Lamm)

    Illness and Crisis: Coping the Jewish Way(R. Tzvi G. Schur)

    To Walk in God’s Ways: Jewish Pastoral perspectives on Illness and Bereavement(R. Joseph S. Ozarowski)

    There is also a bibliography on the website of the National Center for Jewish Healing of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services (some on the listing are not by Orthodox authors).

  5. I can't argue with my rebbe-chaver, R' Feldman, who deals with the issue daily.

    For those who are academic and/or not actually the person dying (yet), I have to second one of R' Bob Miller's recommendations. When I had to put my life back together after losing a daughter, I found the translation of the aggadic portion of Gesher haChaim of great use. But finding aveilus books is far easier, and far afield from the original question.

  6. The original question posed in this article was "What Jewish reading material would you recommend for someone elderly, who is contemplating his eventual death?" I think the key word here is "eventual". Reading has a place among the ways to get a perspective on this.

    Rabbi Feldman's comment is more to the point when the person sees death more as imminent than as eventual.

  7. I also thought of "Making Sense of Suffering: A Jewish Approach" based on the shiurim of R. Yitzchok Kirzner zt'l.

    Someone commented in a Hamodia article about these lectures:

    "Nobody in the crowd who was in his classes realized that he was struggling with the issue himself and working it through. It was an amazing series of classes based on his dealing
    with the issue. But he was so positive in his approach; it was so internalized that nobody in the crowd knew he was speaking from his own experience. There was no trace of it in his mood and his way of teaching"

  8. Annelise, Bob, Shades of Grey-
    I hear that, certainly. Thanks for commenting.

    R' Yaakov-
    Thanks for posting, and I hear your point of view - but in this case, the request came from a real, live human being, in this situation.

    R' Micha-
    Thanks; may you continue to find nichum.

  9. Erica Brown's new book on end of life is coming out in the spring. She is an Orthodox Jewish educator.

  10. The Article and Store sections of The National Institute for Jewish Hospice's website has articles(free), books, and CD's by R. Maurice Lamm and others that are relevant for patients, example of CD's,

    "Hope A powerful Ray of Sunshine.
    Offering inspiration to those in need"

    "CD 2: Spiritual Issues: The Roots of Suffering, The Search for Meaning, the Nurturing of Acceptance and Hope"

  11. Anonymous 8:11 PM-

    Shades -
    This is good - especially because I have heard from some who would prefer audio resources!

  12. It is not for everyone, but Martin Buber's I And Thou might be good, or at least excerpts.

    The part I find relevant is this: Most things that you cherish eventually fade or are lost. You live with your parents, but you grow up and leave. Eventually they will die. Your childhood friends move away and are forgotten. You make new friends. Most of these friendships expire over times as well. You own things: cars, houses, books. Most of these will eventually be gone as well. You will have children, but they will grow up, marry and move away.

    As you grow older and you look back, you come to realize that there is only one relationship that does not end, and that is your relationship to G-d. If you are lucky other relationships (wife and kids?) may last, but there is no guarantee. G-d stays with you wherever you go, and as long as you live. G-d will be with you all the way to the end.

    Others may find different meaning in Buber, but that's what I get out of it.

  13. Fenster-
    A good thought. You might enjoy Rabbi Carmy's piece in the latest Tradition; he muses on the realization that living in a relationship with Gd is of greater significance than assigning merit and demerit points to particular deeds.