Jew­ish Visions for Aging: A Pro­fes­sion­al Guide for Fos­ter­ing Wholeness

Rab­bi Dayle A. Friedman
  • Review
By – December 16, 2011
The wis­dom acquired in twen­ty-five years of car­ing for the elder­ly as a chap­lain in a large Jew­ish geri­atric res­i­dence is every­where appar­ent in Rab­bi Dayle Friedman’s book. It is appro­pri­ate for lay and pro­fes­sion­al audi­ences, and will be use­ful to any­one who is deal­ing with old­er peo­ple in a per­son­al or insti­tu­tion­al set­ting. Each chap­ter includes bib­li­o­graph­ic ref­er­ences for fur­ther study. 

Rab­bi Friedman’s approach begins with a look at tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish texts that sug­gest the val­ues that should inform our work and rela­tion­ships with old­er peo­ple. For exam­ple, the com­mand­ment to hon­or one’s par­ents is word­ed slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly at each of the two accounts of the giv­ing of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In one, the word kavod, mean­ing hon­or, is used, while in the oth­er, it is the word mora, rev­er­ence, that appears. Rab­binic inter­pre­ta­tion sug­gests that kavod refers to pro­vid­ing for an [aged] parent’s mate­r­i­al needs, while mora refers to an atti­tude, pre­serv­ing the dig­ni­ty of the par­ent. In addi­tion, tra­di­tion­al sources rec­og­nize that peo­ple, who them­selves are car­ing for elder­ly fam­i­ly mem­bers, have legit­i­mate needs of their own, and that the par­ent is in fact for­bid­den from mak­ing things hard­er for a child. This is a more nuanced view of the rela­tion­ship between adult child and aging par­ent than one might expect, and indeed, it could be quite use­ful in help­ing fam­i­lies sort out their com­pli­cat­ed feel­ings and con­cerns as they face these issues. 

Rab­bi Fried­man also con­sid­ers the near absence of life-cycle rit­u­als, Jew­ish or sec­u­lar, that mark events and tran­si­tions in the lives of old­er peo­ple, apart from retire­ment and, of course, death. She sug­gests that pas­toral care­givers, fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and elders them­selves cre­ate, adapt, or use exist­ing rit­u­als to mark oth­er kinds of pas­sages, such as mov­ing to a small­er home, giv­ing up dri­ving, or even adapt­ing to phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions and disabilities. 

Rab­bi Fried­man is a strong pro­po­nent of life­long Jew­ish learn­ing, which can be a source of great sat­is­fac­tion and mean­ing for old­er peo­ple. She encour­ages well-planned inter-gen­er­a­tional pro­gram­ming through syn­a­gogues and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty groups. Above all, it is clear from her book that Rab­bi Fried­man has spent many, many hours lis­ten­ing to the joys and sor­rows of old­er peo­ple in a vari­ety of set­tings, and has strug­gled, as we all should, to tru­ly under­stand them. Glos­sary, notes. 

Discussion Questions