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Community members gathered at the Organic Farm for an unusual interfaith observance.

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College Lays Sacred Books to Rest

August 5, 2016

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Members of the Middlebury community conducted an interfaith event on July 28 to bury dozens of sacred texts that are no longer in use at the College.

Next to a stone bench that was blessed by the Dalai Lama when he visited campus in 2012, the College’s four chaplains gathered with students and staff at the Organic Farm on Route 125 to bury an assortment of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holy books.

Beau P. Scurich, associate chaplain and Muslim advisor, said there are three ways in Islam to dispose of holy texts: burial, tied to a stone and dropped into a body of water, or by fire. The first two are preferred, he said, while the third method is “acceptable but not encouraged.”

Middlebury’s second associate chaplain and Muslim advisor, Naila Baloch, amplified on the symbolism of sacred books. They are believed to have a body, she said, and the light and spirit of holy books persevere, even after they are no longer in use.

Rabbi Ira Schiffer, associate chaplain, said sacred books never lose their holiness and are always deserving of respectful burial. In memory of the books and of the generations of Middlebury students who used them, Schiffer recited the Kaddish prayer, a prayer of praise, which can be read both after study and during memorial services.

Chaplain Laurel Jordan said the books “have shaped hearts and minds” and served as “guides, companions, and friends” for generations of Middlebury students. She offered thanks for the texts and to the many “saints and sages who clarified their thoughts to create works to allow conversations about wisdom and enlightenment across the generations, centuries, and millennia.”

The books were placed in a six-foot-long trench (about four-feet deep) that had been dug prior to the event by Paul Gurney operating a Facilities Services backhoe. After everyone had spoken, attendees took turns burying the books using a long-handled shovel.

Rabbi Schiffer, the organizer of the event, remarked that the combining of books of multiple traditions – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim – in “respectful burial” is a powerful symbol of the “shared sensibility and respect for wisdom and knowledge that we have at Middlebury.”

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