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Outsourcing

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

text by Du Mu (803 – 852)


It’s raining hard at the time of the Ching Ming Festival,
The mourner’s heart is overwhelmed on the road upland.
May I ask where there’s a tavern to drown my sorrows?
The shepherd boy points to Xinghua Village in the distance.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange was closed today for a Chinese yontif; Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day. Celebrated just two weeks into the Spring season, this day is set aside to tend the graves of loved ones as well as make offerings on their behalf.

It was a holiday of which I knew nothing until I heard a story about it earlier today. Rather, the story focused on the trend among the younger generation to outsource this most solemn obligation. For, as I recently noted, there seems to be nothing so sacred these days that it cannot be outsourced.

Some, as the story noted, find this trend to be distasteful, objecting to the idea that this duty is being handed off to a complete stranger for the convenience of living relative. Others are capitalizing on it. One gentleman, for example, tidies up the gravesite, brings flowers and whatever offerings the family requests, and videotapes the entire event for the American equivalent of $100.

Which, as it turns out, is a steal. If you want someone to say kaddish for your dearly departed, it can cost you anywhere from $350-$800. At least, according to this site. Kaddish by proxy. Which is permitted — under very specific circumstances. It certainly is not the first choice. Nor ought it be done in order to shirk one’s responsibility. For saying Kaddish for one’s parent, child (God-forbid), sibling, or spouse is an obligation. Rabbi Maurice Lamm, author of The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, expresses his objections to this practice and encourage individuals to take this obligation seriously.

Over the years, I have been surprised to discover that our folks, Reform Jews, will pay to have Kaddish said in memory of their loved one by an Orthodox rabbi. Folks who have no trouble driving to shul on Shabbos, counting women in a minyan, and so forth. As Rabbi Lamm points out, it is as if they are “covering their bases.”

Not all that different from the Chinese, as it turns out. Perhaps we have more in common than the food…

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 6 April 2011 8:15 am

    Fascinating. I suppose that in China it could be good to do the ritual by proxy if the ancestors are buried quite far away.

    I know a lot of people who outsource much of their Pesach cleaning, but I think that’s a smart move, especially if there are many little kids around who are ever so talented at hiding Cheerios is unexpected places…

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 10 April 2011 4:24 pm

      I have mixed feelings about the outsourcing of any ritual — even Pesach cleaning. Rituals are meant to bring meaning to our lives. The potency is weakened (or lost) when we have others do them in our stead.

      Although I do fantasize about closing up shop and flying to Aruba, Mexico, or some other Kosher-for-Pesach all-inclusive in order to avoid the cleaning, cooking, etc.

      But MamaBear, z”l, drilled into our heads that Pesach is celebrated here…with the family. So no Club-Med for Frume Sarah.

  2. Phyllis permalink
    Wednesday, 6 April 2011 7:49 pm

    My best friend growing up was Chinese-American. We could never get over how similar our homes were in such different ways! I know this is why we were such good friends…different types of food but everything else was so similar:)

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 10 April 2011 4:25 pm

      Yes, but we have such an appreciation for their food 😉

      (In fact, we had Chinese to celebrate my MAHL)

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