Crime Scene

Closing the Book of Life: A Jewish Forensic Expert on Death’s Mysteries

For many Jews, the Day of Atonement marks a time for solemn reflection. After all is said and done—sins tallied, forgiveness asked, the Book of Life sealed shut—how did they measure up? As a forensic pathologist, Judy Melinek’s concerns are a little different. “It always makes me a bit worried,” says the San Francisco physician and bestselling author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. “Does this mean I'm going to have more work next week?” Readers, be prepared: Melinek's book teems with bodies in dumpsters, New Yorkers boiled alive and maggots doing backbends. When you're handling 20 corpses a month, it seems, the mysteries of life and death become a little less mysterious. Here, the Israeli-born Melinek, M.D., speaks to Moment about "kosher autopsies," what it was like to be San Francisco's only Jewish assistant medical examiner, and why studying death ultimately...

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