The Rabban Gamliel story in Moed Katan provides us with much more than a template for traditional Jewish funeral practice. The Gamliel story is also an opportunity to analyze consumer behavior and human response; to better understand economic theories, business ethics and gain insight into the impact of poverty.
תנו רבנן בראשונה היו משקין בבית האבל עשירים בזכוכית לבנה ועניים בזכוכית צבועה והיו עניים מתביישין התקינו שיהו הכל משקין בזכוכית צבועה מפני כבודן של עניים
The Sages taught a similar baraita:
At first, they would serve wine in the house of the mourner during the first meal after the burial;
the wealthy would do so in cups made from white glass, and
the poor would serve this wine in cups of colored glass.
And the poor were embarrassed, as everyone would see that they were poor.
The Sages instituted that all should serve drinks in the house of the mourner in colored glass cups, due to the honor of the poor.
בראשונה היו מגלין פני עשירים ומכסין פני עניים מפני שהיו מושחרין פניהן מפני בצורת והיו עניים מתביישין התקינו שיהו מכסין פני הכל מפני כבודן של עניים
Furthermore, at first they would uncover the faces of the wealthy who passed away and cover the faces of the poor,because their faces were blackened by famine. And the poor were embarrassed because they were buried in a different manner.
The Sages instituted that everyone’s face should be covered, due to the honor of the poor.
בראשונה היו מוציאין עשירים בדרגש ועניים
בכליכה והיו עניים מתביישין התקינו שיהו הכל מוציאין בכליכה מפני כבודן של עניים
Additionally, at first the wealthy would take the deceased out for burial on a dargash, and
the poor would take the deceased out on a plain bier made from poles that were strapped together,
and the poor were embarrassed.
The Sages instituted that everyone should be taken out for burial on a plain bier, due to the honor of the poor.
בראשונה היו מניחין את המוגמר תחת חולי מעים מתים והיו חולי מעים חיים מתביישין התקינו שיהו מניחין תחת הכל מפני כבודן של חולי מעים חיים
Similarly, at first they would place incense under the beds of those who died with an intestinal disease, because the body emitted an especially unpleasant odor.
And those who were alive with an intestinal disease were embarrassed when they understood that they, too, would be treated in this manner after their death, and that everyone would know the cause of their death.
The Sages instituted that incense should be placed under everyone, due to the honor of those with an intestinal disease who were still living.
בראשונה היו מטבילין את הכלים על גבי נדות מתות והיו נדות חיות מתביישות התקינו שיהו מטבילין על גבי כל הנשים מפני כבודן של נדות חיות
בראשונה מטבילין על גבי זבין מתים והיו זבין חיים מתביישין התקינו שיהו מטבילין על גב הכל מפני כבודן של זבין חיים
Moreover, at first they would ritually immerse all the utensils that had been used by women who died while menstruating, which had thereby contracted ritual impurity. And due to this, the living menstruating women were embarrassed.
The Sages instituted that the utensils that had been used by all dying women must be immersed, due to the honor of living menstruating women.
And, at first they would ritually immerse all the utensils that had been used by zavin, men suffering from gonorrhea, who died, as the utensils had thereby contracted ritual impurity.
And due to this the living zavin felt embarrassed.
The Sages instituted that the utensils that had been used by all men must be immersed, due to the honor of the living zavin.
בראשונה היתה הוצאת המת קשה לקרוביו יותר ממיתתו עד שהיו קרוביו מניחין אותו ובורחין עד שבא רבן גמליאל ונהג קלות ראש בעצמו ויצא בכלי פשתן ונהגו העם אחריו לצאת בכלי פשתן אמר רב פפא והאידנא נהוג עלמא אפילו בצרדא בר זוזא:
Likewise, at first taking the dead out for burial was more difficult for the relatives than the actual death, because it was customary to bury the dead in expensive shrouds, which the poor could not afford.
The problem grew to the point that relatives would sometimes abandon the corpse and run away.
This lasted until Rabban Gamliel came and controlled the weightiness, meaning that he waived his dignity, by leaving instructions that he be taken out for burial in linen garments.
And the people adopted this practice after him and had themselves taken out for burial in linen garments.
Rav Pappa said: And nowadays, everyone follows the practice of taking out the dead for burial even in plain hemp garments [tzerada] that cost only a dinar.
Building on the Rabban Gamliel story, we see a way for leaders to assess a situation, devise solutions, provide education, and motivate their constituency - a Gamliel leadership road map. Look at the organizing principal that is illustrated by each element of the story.
- Speak about the problem – abandonment of the dead
- Point out the behavior that is the contributing to the problem – ostentation in funerals
- Articulate the feelings of those affected – embarrassment
- Identify the root cause of a problem – poverty
- Describe the harm – both religious and practical – that results - honor and respect for the dead is diminished; comfort for the bereaved is not provided.
- Delineate a solution – use simplicity and promote equality; reduce the cost of funerals.
- Codify the solution – make the new standards mandatory for the community.
- Provide leadership – Gamliel dictated that his own funeral would follow the guidelines.
- Analyze success – even “today” (when originally written), the cost is minimal.
- Insure longevity – his writings are being taught and followed almost 2,000 years later.
Together these 10 organizing principles are a model for problem analysis and solution development – a template for educators who see community organizing as a critical piece of their mission.