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. For information on the Institute Staff, click here.
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.
The Gamliel Institute Creed
Vision: The Jewish community will be aware, accept, and integrate into family and community life a recognition of mortality, end of life planning, care of the deceased and comfort for the mourners. The Gamliel Institute is shifting the culture surrounding continuum-of-life issues in the Jewish community – from an attitude of denial and neglect around death to a more open attitude towards death that includes increasing awareness, acceptance, and healthy integration into family and community life.
Mission: The Mission of the Gamliel Institute is to empower our students to lead in the reclaiming of Jewish traditions, rituals, liturgy, and practices along the entire continuum of care at the end of life by building on the Prague Chevrah Kadisha model.
Goal: Through our academic curriculum, the Gamliel Institute’s goal is to encourage, support, educate, train, and develop a strong Jewish corps of professionals and volunteers to become communal leaders who work to inspire, support, organize, teach, and advocate for the full range of Chevrah Kadisha work in synagogues and communities.
Program: The Gamliel Institute’s program of Jewish education is based on, and includes, texts, liturgy, and traditional practices from over 2,000 years of history, and includes historical evolution, political realities, and proven organizing and educational strategies. We cover the entire end-of-life continuum – dealing with life-threatening illness, legacy and preparation of ethical wills, preparing for death and the time of death, care for the body – taharah and shmirah, care for relatives and friends, funeral and burial, mourning, grieving, remembering and providing comfort – with underlying themes of communal obligation, care for the poor and elderly, consumer protection, and Jewish continuity.
We recognize the importance of liturgy and ritual in ensuring that the spiritual dimension of the end-of-life continuum is appreciated, and that the work of the Chevrah Kadisha is done with full regard for the respect and dignity of all involved.
In an environment that acknowledges the contributions of all the streams of Judaism, the Gamliel Institute brings together diverse disciplines – including community organizing, consumer advocacy, chaplaincy, thanatology, hospice care, grief therapy, funeral direction, cemetery management, and legacy planning – to create a matchless, comprehensive Chevrah Kadisha training program.
Code of Conduct: The Gamliel Institute recognizes the importance of respectful behavior and variety of perspectives. We will follow these guidelines:
- The Gamliel Institute engages a variety of instructors in a variety of contexts. The views and opinions of instructors and students are not necessarily those of the Gamliel Institute or Kavod v’Nichum.
- The Gamliel Institute and Kavod v’Nichum believe in a pluralistic approach, which allows for a wide range of opinions and views, but always within the bounds of civility, respect, and concern for all who are included within our faculty, staff, students, instructors, and supporters.
- We do not tolerate any form of discrimination, hatred, bigotry, or persecution in language or actions; we are and will continue to do all we are able to eliminate them whenever and as fully as possible.
- Those who, in any context, intentionally and/or consistently violate the norms established in parts B and C will be subject to actions by the Gamliel Institute faculty and staff that will address the issue, up to and including removal and/or banning from future Gamliel Institute and Kavod v’Nichum events.
Click to see the Gamliel Institute Academic Bulletin.
Click to see the Gamliel Institute Course Catalog.
Reflections on the First Ten Years – conference plenary talk by Rabbi Stuart Kelman, Founding Dean Emeritus, on the first decade of the Gamliel Institute
In 2020, the Gamliel Institute celebrated 10 years since our founding! David and my dream of an educational arm of Kavod v’Nichum has not only become a well-known reality, but far exceeded what we could imagine. And we did this with an amazing staff and faculty and students who have committed to educating the larger Jewish community and ourselves in our unique Jewish ways and customs of death and dying. This is a moment for reflection and dreaming again.