To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death

by | in New Books from OU Press

to mournTo Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death
Edited by Jeffrey Saks and Joel B. Wolowelsky
OU Press

A Bible scholar once commented that the Bible would have been profoundly incomplete had it not included the Book of Job. Written according to tradition by Moses, the Book of Job describes the suffering that befalls people for no apparent reason.

Nachmanides observed that our inability to account for the suffering of the guiltless represents the biggest challenge to, and unanswered question within, religious faith. These questions assail any honest, sensitive religious person, but often we distract ourselves—after all, why dwell on them? Nothing, however, shocks or focuses us more intently on these agonizing questions than the death of a child.

In the realm of human experience, the death of a child is surely one of the most emotionally wrenching events. For a parent, the grief and pain are unendurable. In To Mourn a Child, Jeffrey Saks and Joel Wolowelsky have assembled an anthology which consists primarily of personal accounts written by parents who experienced the death of a child. In addition, there are essays by rabbis and healthcare professionals and selections from traditional Jewish sources.

Many currents flow through the book: theological and philosophical quandaries; psychological and emotional stresses that beset parents, siblings and friends; halachic analysis that strives to combine sensitivity with fidelity to tradition; and, ultimately, inspiring expressions of courage and the indomitable will to accept God’s inscrutable judgment.

Parents do the impossible as they give articulate expression to an unspeakable pain with poetic eloquence, profundity and raw honesty. Each personal account chronicles a story of heartbreak and healing, helplessness and heroism, hopelessness and hope. These are turbulent pieces, as the parents describe the roller coaster of emotions, the bottomless grief and the eventual coming to terms with the inevitable. Each story is moving, each tragedy unique. Collectively, they help us imagine the unimaginable. There is no closure, and there are no easy answers; indeed, there are no answers at all.

To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death is not an easy book to read, but once you start, it will be hard for you to put it down as you are drawn in by each deeply personal narrative. Written by ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, these selections are eloquent testimony to the strength of the human spirit and the redemptive power of Judaism.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Spring 2013.

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