Rabbi Earl Grollman, world-renowned scholar, dead at 96

Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a renowned scholar and scholar of death and grief, has died at age 96, a spokesperson for Yeshiva University confirmed Friday. “Rabbi Grollman was a pioneer of shlita, the study…

Rabbi Earl Grollman, world-renowned scholar, dead at 96

Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a renowned scholar and scholar of death and grief, has died at age 96, a spokesperson for Yeshiva University confirmed Friday.

“Rabbi Grollman was a pioneer of shlita, the study of Jewish death and grief, and of forensic pathology,” YU said in a statement. “His high-profile life as an American academic and historian demonstrated the power of the Jewish scholar to rethink the world in terms of ritual, law, history, and medicine.”

Grollman, who often traveled to Israel to lead Shabbat services, remained dedicated to studying and teaching about grief, which he called a “religion of dissolution,” as well as the history of medical contributions to death and mourning.

In June, Grollman spoke at Yeshiva University in the Bronx about his “Mourning Covenant,” a conference where he explored how we should use grief as an opportunity to preserve the sanctity of life.

“Death is always like a horror movie where you can take a good hard look at yourself and at your fellow men and women and everybody else in it. And while it’s frightening and it’s occasionally awful and can be upsetting and painful, it’s usually at least not as shameful and dishonorable as we make it out to be,” Grollman said at the conference.

“When you’re feeling sorrow, then you should be able to say: ‘Well, what would Jesus do?’ Because his response, which is not what we would interpret it today, is very similar to that of Mary of Nazareth.”

Grollman was most recognized for his 1973 book “Lekh Cakasha,” in which he described the teachings of the Teshuvah, or the non-Jewish followers of God.

“They learned to understand death by listening to the ancient Shulchan Aruch,” Grollman wrote, referring to the accepted Jewish law that ultimately explains death. “Because God’s work can’t be completed until his people are saved, the dead have meaning that lasts forever.”

Despite this, Grollman said that many Jews ignore God’s instructions as Torah dictates that we be humble before our ancestors and “tear down their mountains without our weapons.”

“Because our [gathering] was undertaken in some confusing way and some messy way, the dead have become unattainable figures in our lives,” Grollman wrote. “We create mythology around them, and it becomes easier to denounce them in the event of their suffering or to exploit them for attention.”

Many Jewish communities have recently come under criticism for failing to properly mourn in light of the #MeToo movement.

“That was not my message,” Grollman told the New York Times last week. “Don’t be afraid of dying. Don’t live afraid of death.”

Grollman and his wife, who were married for 70 years, were cremated. In Grollman’s lifetime, the couple had 15 children and 19 grandchildren, according to YU.

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