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All Jewish funeral and burial customs and practices acknowledge death and they affirm life.
Because Jews believe that we are all created in the image of G-d, central to the Jewish Funeral is Respect of the deceased. In Hebrew this is called Kavod Hamet. Central to this idea are all of the practices of the Jewish Funeral. A Jewish funeral focuses on both supporting and comforting the mourners as well as honoring the deceased.
What is a Jewish Funeral and BurialTraditional Jewish funerals are very simple and usually relatively brief. Visititation are not commonplace. Before the Jewish Funeral begins, the immediate relatives of the deceased (the siblings, parents, children and spouse) tear their garments, Kriah, to symbolize their loss and will recite the blessing, “Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam, dayan ha’emet,” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the true Judge. This is similar to the prayer one says when they first hear of a death. In some communities, the tearing of garments has been replaced with the tearing of a simple black ribbon which is worn by the mourners. The cut is made on the left side of the person mourning the death of a parent and for all other Kaddish relatives, the cut on the person’s right side. This acknowledges that the relationship with a parent is different, and, therefore on the side closest to the heart.
During a Jewish Funeral there will typically be comments made by the Rabbi, which may be accompanied by an eulogy. The service will contain Psalm 23 (XXIII) and will conclude with the recitation of El Maleh Rachamim (the memorial prayer).
Shmeera is the time in between the moment of death and the time that the burial occurs. During this entire time it is a Jewish Funeral custom to have someone with with body. In practice, this time is often split between different Shomrim, or watchers. The acting Shomer will sit next to, or near to, a closed casket and recite psalms (Tehillim).
The Tahara is the ritual purification of the body not dissimilar to the Mikvah. It is performed by a Chevra Kadisha, or Burial Society which, is comprised of knowledgeable and observant members of the community. Men prepare men and women prepare women. The Tahara follows a strictly prescribed order of steps and always seeks to preserve the dignity of the deceased. Once the Tahara has been complete, the body is dressed in traditional burial shrouds. In the Jewish Funeral the Tahara and dressing typically replaces any embalming or cosmetizing.
The burial shrouds used in the Tahara are called Tachrichim. They are a handmade seven piece garment which can be made of simple, white, linen or cotton. For men, a tallith is often times added however one of the fringes are cut off so as to make it ineffective. Comprised of a hat, shirt, pants, shoes, coat and belt, these shrouds have no pockets because worldly goods are no longer of importance.
The Jewish Funeral’s casket is called the oron. Modeled after the biblical teaching, “for dust you are and to dust you shall return”. If is of all wood construction and uses no metal parts whatsoever. This allows the body’s natural return to dust as swiftly as possibly.
When arriving at the graveside of a traditional Jewish Funeral it is customary to have family and friends accompanying the mourners by walking behind the casket. The Rabbi may stop either three or seven times while walking to the graveside. In ground burial is central to the traditional Jewish Funeral practice. “The dust returns to the earth… and the spirit returns to G-d”. The Jewish Funeral’s burial calls upon friends and family to help fill the grave until a mound is formed. Mourners, family, and friends participate in the actual burial because this is something the deceased can not do for himself and the deceased can not ask the mourners to do it for him. Specifically, because it is an act which can never be repaid it is one of special loving kindness. Once the burial is complete it is traditional for those in attendance who are not mourners to form a ‘Shura’, a double line which faces each other. This ‘path’ for the mourners pass to through in which they first receive words of comfort. It is customary to your wash hands when leaving the cemetery. This may be done at the cemetery exit or prior to entering the shiva home, or your own home if you are not going directly from the cemetery to the shiva home.
The accepted customs of dress and behavior in a funeral have changed over time, but courtesy never goes out of style. Here’s what we’d like you to know about funeral etiquette. Making the Most of a Difficult Time
It’s important to know what religious, ethnic or personal considerations you need to take into account. And it’s also important to be respectful of the emotions of close family members.
Here are a few things expected of you:
- Offer an expression of sympathy. Sometimes we are at a loss for words when encountering something as final as death. Simply saying "I'm sorry for your loss" is usually enough. Be respectful and listen attentively when spoken to, and offer your own words of condolence. The same goes for the shiva, but if you have more detailed questions about the shiva, the Rabbi is always the best authority.
- Give a donation In the Jewish tradition, flowers are traditionally discouraged. It is customary to make a donation to honor the life of the deceased. Most of the time, the family will specify where they would like this donation to be made. Please click on the deceased obituary to see if they have made this designation.
- Sign the register book. We provide the opportunity to sign the register book when you arrive at the funeral. That way, the family will be able to see who attend their loved ones funeral days and weeks after the service.
- Keep in touch. It's sometimes awkward for you to do so, but for most people the grieving doesn't end with a funeral. Attending the shiva and helping to make a minyan are a few of the greatest mitzvahs you can do. But, What Shouldn't You Do?
- Don't feel that you have to stay. If you make a shiva call, there's no reason your stay has to be a lengthy one.
- Don't be afraid to laugh. Remembering their loved one fondly can mean sharing a funny story or two. Just be mindful of the time and place; if others are sharing, then you may do so too. There is simply no good reason you shouldn't talk about the deceased in a happy, positive tone.
- Don't allow your children to be a disturbance. If you feel they might be, then leave them with a sitter. But, if the deceased meant something to them, it's a good idea to invite them to share in the experience.
- Don't leave your cell phone on. Switch it off before entering the funeral home, or better yet, leave it in the car. All too often, we see people checking their cell phones for messages during the services.
- Don't neglect to step into the receiving line. Simply say how sorry you are for their loss, offer up your own name and how you knew the deceased.
- Don't be too hard on yourself if you make a mistake. Everyone does, and you can be sure that an apology may be all that's needed to mend and soothe.
When it's all over, always remember to continue to offer support and love to the bereaved. The next few months are a time when grieving friends and relatives could need you most. Let them know that your support did not end with the funeral.