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The American Jewish Way of Death

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Michelle V. Agins - The New York Times

 

The Jewish Daily Forward, 7/30/13

 

In August 1963, “The American Way of Death” by Jessica Mitford sold out its first printing on its publication date and topped The New York Times best-seller list for weeks.

 

Inspired by her husband, Robert Treuhaft, a radical Jewish labor lawyer who was an unnamed co-author of the book, Mitford brought a sparkling British wit to her investigation of the American funeral industry. She focused on such practices as embalming bodies for viewing in ornate, expensive caskets, demonstrating how funeral industry profits had become dependent on these items — and on the inducement of bereaved families, at their most vulnerable, to pay for them.

 

Mitford’s (and Treuhaft’s) book struck a responsive chord among millions of Americans, prompted new Federal Trade Commission regulations and gave a significant boost to what is known as the funeral consumer movement.

 

Fifty years later, what can we learn from “The American Way of Death” as we consider our current Jewish choices for responding to life’s final chapter?  (...) READ MORE