About the Gamliel Institute
Introduction to Rabban Gamliel
“Formerly, the expense of carrying out the dead was harder on the family than the death itself; the family therefore abandoned the corpse and fled… [This practice changed when] Rabban Gamliel [President of the Sanhedrin] disregarded his own dignity, and had his body carried out in flaxen shrouds. Afterwards, all the people followed his lead and had themselves carried out in flaxen shrouds.”
Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 27a-27b
Creating Holy Community in Life and Death
The Gamliel Institute is a center for study, training, and advocacy concerning Jewish end-of-life practices. The Institute is a project of Kavod v’Nichum (Honor and Comfort), a North American organization that provides assistance, training, and resources about Jewish death and bereavement practice for Chevrah Kadisha groups and bereavement committees in synagogues and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Currently no North American rabbinical school, chaplaincy, mortuary, or thanatology certification program offers a comprehensive, articulated certification program to deal with all the issues surrounding the end of life from a Jewish perspective. The Gamliel Institute fills that gap by addressing the issues and challenges that have an impact on individuals and families and that have implications for communal responsibility. In an environment that acknowledges the contributions of all the streams of Judaism, the Institute brings together diverse elements, including community organizing, consumer advocacy, bikkur cholim, chaplaincy and rabbinics, thanatology, hospice care, grief issues, funeral direction, cemetery management, and legacy planning and preparation into the creation of a unique, comprehensive training program. Institute students include Chevrah Kadisha volunteers, rabbis, chaplains, funeral directors, and Jewish communal professionals. Institute faculty are drawn from notable, respected educators, historians, scholars, and activists. The Institute’s Academic Dean is Rabbi Stuart Kelman, author, Jewish educator, and founding rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley. Rabbi Joe Blair is the Administrative Dean, Dr. Dan Fendel is the Dean of Students, and David Zinner is the Executive Director.
The centerpiece of the Institute is a certification program employing a variety of distance-learning and on-site practicum formats. Students meet each year at the annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference (usually in the early summer) for a Gamliel Institute Day of Learning, an in-person training and networking opportunity. Students are expected to participate in local training opportunities as well as other relevant national conferences. The culminating component of the certificate program is a three-week practicum/study tour to New York, Prague (the home of the first “modern” Chevrah Kadisha), and Israel to study with local Chevrah Kadisha groups and experts. Our core courses focus on five major areas: Chevrah Kadisha history, taharah and shmira, education and training strategies, nechamah, and ritual and liturgy. In addition to these there is a student project course that enables students to apply their learning.
By the end of the program, students develop theoretical and practical expertise in the halachot, minhagim, logistics, and finances surrounding serious illness, death, funerals, burial, mourning, and legacy preparation, including ethical wills. Students are prepared to work with and assist grieving families before and after death and to organize and train volunteers to perform these mitzvot in their communities.
There is a hunger for in-depth education in Jewish death practices. The Gamliel Institute fills this critical void in education and service delivery and has the potential to change the current culture surrounding end-of-life issues in the Jewish community—to help individuals and communities move from denial and neglect to awareness, acceptance, and healthy integration into family and community life.
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