Every version of the tale is different, but certain elements persist: A wanderer encounters somebody disrespecting a corpse that, in life, had not paid its debts. Outraged by this behavior, the wanderer pays off the man’s debts, and then continues his wandering. Down the road, he faces hardships of his own, and is only saved by a travelling companion -- a stranger -- who helps him avoid disaster. In the end, the stranger reveals himself to be the spirit of the body who was redeemed at the beginning of the tale.
The grateful dead.
"You can’t get more Jewish than that," Yaakov Dov Miller says.
A Jewish musician who followed the Grateful Dead in the late '80s and early '90s, Miller will co-lead "Blues for Challah: Second Set," the second-annual gathering of Jewish Deadheads at the Isabella Freedman retreat center.
Organizers got the idea for a Grateful Dead-themed Jewish weekend while hosting another retreat, "Sacred Undertaking: Embracing Life by Caring for the Dead," which explored the traditions and rituals of the Jewish secret society known as the Chevra Kadisha, those responsible for watching the bodies of the dead before burial.
“What blew my mind as a very Jewish value from the very beginning -- and this is really what it’s about -- is that the story of grateful dead is about Livayat HaMet and Chesed shel Emes," Miller says.
He's referring to the Jewish practice of accompanying a dead body to the grave, a selfless act that is perhaps the most sacred of all Jewish rituals related to death. After all, one could ask, who's going to repay the favor?
The grateful dead folktale, from which the iconic California band got its name, provides an answer: an eternal, thankful spirit.
Even from the grave, kindness repays kindness. Physical life may end, but the song echoes on forever.
As it is written: "The fields are full of dancing / Full of singing and romancing / 'Cause the music never stopped."
Below you'll find a collection of photos, anecdotes, scripture and quotes that illustrate the deep connection between the Grateful Dead's psychedelic soundscapes and Judaism's spiritual practices and insights. Please contribute!