Lechaim og skål ved kisten. Jødiske og skandinaviske gilder i forbindelse med død og begravelse
'Lechaim' and 'Skål' by the Coffin. Jewish and Scandinavian Feasts in Connection with Death and Burial
This article underlines some significant characteristics of Jewish and Scandinavian customs and beliefs regarding death and burial, and, at the same time, points out some similarities between the two cultures.
The various acts that members of the community – be it Jewish or Scandinavian – perform in connection with the burial of the deceased can be divided into two main categories: Acts performed to assist the deceased, and acts designed to protect the living from the evil will of the deceased. In a way, it is a societal manifestation of the fact that the deceased is still considered a member of the community, and it seems to be a more or less conscious attempt to avoid accepting the final parting. This pleasant way of softening the cessation of the deceased’s existence is probably rooted in the idea that there is a certain malevolence in the attitude of the spirits towards the living, who insult them by being alive. A feeling that the deceased may be hostile because he was forced to leave behind all that was dear to him, and, therefore, envious of the living, who still own what he has lost. This idea is one of the main motives for the efforts members of his community make to satisfy the deceased, or to defend his rights in an expressive way, as this is their last chance to do so.
The ambivalent feelings towards the deceased can be demonstrated in two interesting customs. One is Jewish: The Hevra Kadisha feast with its traditional object – the Hevra Kadisha cup. The other custom is Scandinavian and applied especially in Norway. It is Vakuleik with its traditional Velfarskål.The Hevra Kadisha feast and Vakuleik both underline the close connection between life and death through this mixture of symbols from the two distinct worlds. The feast for the Hevra Kadisha is designed to strengthen the brotherly bonds between the members, who experience pain, grief and death struggle in their daily work.