New Rituals–New Vocabulary! New Life Stages.

In the October 23 edition of The Forward, Michael Millenson writes of the need to create new rituals to respond to the new stages in dying. The piece, “We Need a New Jewish Ritual for the Terminally Ill”, makes the case that the act of dying in our culture can take on many different stages and that our community needs to look at this and perhpas revisit traditional rituals. Amen.
The followers of Jewish Sacred Aging® know that we have been advocating for this for years. Not only do we need to examine this ritual aspect of this, but, we also need to examine the creation or re-interpretation of traditional vocabulary. Traditional terms such as “goses” and “t’refah” may need to be re-defined in light of medical technology. I made this argument in a chapter in the book “Broken Fragments” edited by Rabbi Doug Kohn (URJ Press).
In the workshop of New Rituals for New Life Stages that we do as part of our Jewish Sacred Aging® work, this issue arises regularly. We find that people do wish to have transitonal moments in life recognized through some sort of ritual and/or prayer. One of the new prayers that we will soon publish is one that is designed to be said as one signs his/her advance directive and health care proxy. This is usually done in the privacy of your lawyer’s office. yet, it is a very powerful moment as you, in a way, formalize wishes for moments that surround your own death.
There is no shortage in the creation of new rituals for Jewish life. Sparked by Boomers who wish new life stages recognized, and Millennials who are also searching for personal expressions of faith and community, Jewish life is now rich in creativity. This dialogue needs to continue and be allowed to get increased traction in our community. We have published rituals for the celebration of aging, older adult co-habitation, the removal of a wedding ring after the year of mourning and the welcoming of a person into assisted living. We have also looked at the possibility of creating a ritual or document that would give permission to teh spouse of a person with Alzheimer’s to seek other types of companionship (“Till Death Us Do Part? A Look at Marriage Rituals When a Partner Has Alzheimer’s Disease”; Generations. American Society on Aging. Fall 2011. p. 52)
We at Jewish Sacred Aging® would welcome your ideas and, if you have created rituals that speak to these new life stages, welcome you sending us a sample. Thank you
Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. Each time I renew my drivers license I ponder my thoughts as I check “yes” in the “organ donation” box.

    I say a prayer for my continuing good health but I feel like I should pray for those souls who might receive part of my body to continue their life’s journey.

    I recently filled out my living will, yet I hesitate to formalize it legally.

    How do I put into writing that if I develop Alzheimers or another illness and reach the point that I can no longer recognize my loved ones and cannot function in this life, then I desire to leave this earthly body. If I state my request to be taken off all life sustaining support, including food and water… is this an act of suicide?

    I have spent countless hours praying for guidance in completing this form. I desire to learn something new and give love and thanks for each day of life I am granted.

    If I reach the point where I am more of a burden rather than a contributor to this life then it’s time for my soul to move on. It’s not fair for me to make my loved ones make the determination that I’ve reached that point. If I had an “end of life” pill that I could take…is that also considered suicide?

    It is far easier to gratefully live each day than to think about the end of life. However, for many of us it’s our parents, loved ones or ourselves that have reached this point.


  2. Rabbis Eric Weiss published through the CCAR a book entitled Mishkan Refuah: Where Healing Resides. In it are prayers for receiving bad medical news, terminal diagnosis, entering hospice, preparing to die and prayers of and for the dying. These prayers can be the basis for new rituals. I have used them many times; they are powerful and transformative.

What are your thoughts?

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