Sanctified Vestments, Secular Outfits – Holy Dressing for a Sacred Purpose

June 1, 2016

“You look so nice today,” my student told me.

I had just arrived for a Sunday afternoon class for rabbinic and cantorial students and I was uncharacteristically dressed up, having come to teach directly after officiating at a funeral.

While it’s always pleasant to be told that someone notices and appreciates my appearance, my student’s kind remark prompted me to reflect about why I make special—apparently, noticeably so—efforts with my appearance when I officiate at funerals. It prompted me to think about how I have developed a distinctive set of preparatory rituals that extends from washing and styling my hair to cleaning and pressing the dedicated clothing that I wear only when officiating at funerals to cleaning my shoes one more time, even though I know that they will certainly be dusty or muddy by the time that I leave the cemetery.

Her comment raised my awareness about how, when I am asked to officiate at a funeral, I am as particular about my appearance as I am about the process of meeting with families, writing hespedim and selecting each prayer and reading so that they are as uniquely appropriate and meaningful as possible to the meit(ah) and family. Recently, for example, for a woman who died on the seventh day of Pesach, I spoke about the meaning of the seventh day and its connection to her life and death; for a photographer, I included a quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson and a poem on the nexus of photography and the inner life by Daisaku Ikeda; for an avid hiker and spiritual seeker, I read the extraordinary “Poem” by Rene Daumal.

Exodus 28:2 elaborates on the special clothing that was worn by the priests “for honor and beauty” when performing their service in the Temple. Rabbi Yochanan referred to his clothing as mechabduta—that which gives honor (Tractate Shabbat 113a). Thinking about how I strive to practice Hiddur Mitzvah [enhancing the obligation with beauty] for each funeral raised my awareness of how the care that I take in preparing myself physically parallels my spiritual preparations. I pray for inspiration while composing and preparing a funeral service so that I will offer the meit/ah and family a sensitive, personal and meaningful ceremony that will reflect the principles of Kavod HaMeit [honoring the deceased] and Nichum Aveilum [comforting the mourners]. And I pray while preparing myself physically that I will be able to convey the deep holiness that I experience when families place their trust in me and share their grief with me.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.





Now Online: information about the 14th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, to be held in Lexington, MA Sunday to Tuesday, June 5-7, 2016. Register Check online for information on almost anything you might want to know. Click here to ” target=”_blank”>more about the conference and our plenary ” target=”_blank”>options. Look at the direct   


Gamliel Institute students (past and present) are encouraged to attend the Kavod v’Nichum conference and plan to remain for an additional day (through mid-day/lunch Wednesday) following the conference for a live educational program we are calling Day of Learning. During the conference, we will be celebrating the first group of graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and looking forward to the next cohort. Immediately following the close of the conference, we continue with learning directed towards Gamliel Students. We have as our instructors for this fabulous closed-session series of Text study opportunities Reuven Kimmelman on Kaddish, Eddie Feld on Psalm 49, and Ruth Langer on Tziduk Hadin. This will be an in-depth, informative, and inspirational program! Mark your calendar, make your plans, and register to attend now! The class is free to Gamliel students, but donations to help us offset the cost are very welcome.  Please RSVP to David Zinner info@jewish-funerals.org to let us know to expect you.  

Please visit our newest website location for Gamliel Institute information, and look over the amazing Gamliel Student projects posted there at  




Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!

Fall 2016:

Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016. The focus is on practices and all ritual and liturgy related to dying, death, funeral, and mourning (excluding Taharah & Shmirah, which are covered specifically in Course 2). Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend.

You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of the courses is there as well. For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website.

Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.





Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of the Gamliel Institute, help us provide scholarships to students, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, projects under the auspices of the Ben Zakkai Institute, community education and support provided by Kavod v’Nichum, and many other programs and activities. You can donate online at  “>here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).



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