To the Editor:

In Theodor H. Gaster’s interesting article on the significance of Yizkor (“Tizkor: the Living and the Dead,” March 1953) he remarks that it has nothing in common with the custom of “sitting shiva”; the latter is a “quarantine” with an emphasis on death rather than the “ultimate triumph of the larger life.” . . .

Sitting shiva hardly involves quarantine. In America, at least, one finds that the mourning period permits a gathering of the clan. It is customary for members of the extended family to visit the bereaved; very often this is the only time relatives see one another over long periods of time. . . . On these occasions talk revolves around recollections of the mourned person, and each relative remembers his own past relationships with the dead person. In other words, the family relives and once again rediscovers its own history with the person who has just died at the center of the stage. . . .

As with the Yizkor service, sitting shiva involves, by its very nature, turning towards a memory that “makes alive.” What it makes alive and tries to save from the destructive consequences of death is the family group which for the Jew has served as an anchor with which he rides out the storms of his life.

Murray Hausknecht
Elmhurst, New York



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