Jewish Funeral and Burial
Every life is unique and the final tribute can be as special as the person it represents. There are numerous ways people celebrate the life of their loved ones. Different communities have their own personal way of celebrating, respecting, sanctifying, and remembering the life of a person, and customs vary widely between cultures and religious affiliations. Regarding any specific custom information, it is best to contact the individual’s personal spiritual leader.
When you are looking to make Jewish funeral arrangements for your loved one, there are certain fundamentals that must be considered in order to guarantee you are following the burial customs of the Jewish faith. No matter how you choose to honor the bereaved, you and your family can produce a Jewish funeral service that best memorializes his or her life. Here are some guidelines to follow.
Contact a local Rabbi to help make the necessary arrangements and decisions regarding the preparation and burial.
When a loved one passes away, it is important to contact your local Jewish funeral director and Rabbi as soon as possible. In the event that your family does not have a clergy affiliation, your funeral agent can assist in finding a rabbi. The rabbi will conduct the service and confirm all rituals are in accordance with the laws of the Torah.
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In the Jewish community, the burial should occur on the same day as the expiration or as soon as possible. Funerals should not be held on a holiday. Certain rituals must take place when arranging a Jewish burial, including the cleansing and dressing of the body in white linen. Tradition indicates that Jews should be buried in a simple wooden casket.
In Lieu of Flowers
In traditional Jewish funerals, it is not customary to send flowers or have floral arrangements at the service. Loved ones and friends may be encouraged to send donations to the deceased’s favorite charity or cause.
A chevra kadisha (Hevra kadishah) (Aramaic: חֶבְרָה קַדִישָא, Ḥebh’ra Qaddisha “sacred society”) is an organization of Jewish men and women who see to it that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition and are protected from desecration, willful or not, until burial. Two of the main requirements are the showing of proper respect for a corpse, and the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial. It is usually referred to as a burial society in English.
The task of the chevra kadisha is considered a laudable one, as tending to the dead is a favor that the recipient cannot return, making it devoid of ulterior motives. Its work is therefore referred to as a chesed shel emet (Hebrew: חסד של אמת, “a good deed of truth”), paraphrased from Genesis 47:30 (where Jacob asks his son Joseph, “do me a ‘true’ favor” and Joseph promises his father to bury him in the burial place of his ancestors).
At the heart of the society’s function is the ritual of tahara, or purification. The body is first thoroughly cleansed of dirt, bodily fluids and solids, and anything else that may be on the skin, and then is ritually purified by immersion in, or a continuous flow of, water from the head over the entire body. Tahara may refer to either the entire process or to the ritual purification. Once the body is purified, the body is dressed in tachrichim, or shrouds, of white pure muslin or linen garments made up of ten pieces for a male and twelve for a female, which are identical for each Jew and which symbolically recalls the garments worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Once the body is shrouded, the casket is closed.
For burial in Israel, however, a casket is not used in most cemeteries.
The society may also provide shomrim, or watchers, to guard the body against theft, vermin, or desecration until burial. In some communities, this is done by people close to the departed or by paid shomrim hired by the funeral home. At one time, the danger of theft of the body was very real; in modern times, the watch has become a way of honoring the deceased.
A specific task of the burial society is tending to the dead who have no next of kin. These are termed a meit mitzvah (Hebrew: מת מצוה, a mitzvah corpse), as tending to a meit mitzvah overrides virtually any other positive commandment (mitzvat aseh) of Torah law, an indication of the high premium the Torah places on the honor of the dead.
Many burial societies hold one or two annual fast days and organize regular study sessions to remain up-to-date with the relevant articles of Jewish law. In addition, most burial societies also support families during the shiv’ah (traditional week of mourning) by arranging prayer services, meals and other facilities.
While burial societies were, in Europe, generally a community function, in the United States it has become far more common for societies to be organized by each synagogue. However, not every synagogue has such a society.
Here in Central Florida, we have a wonderful group that provides a chesed shel emet for our Community. They have supported the Jewish Pavilion in many ways including a grant to provide a chesed shel emet to those in need. We are so grateful for these fine and generous friends.
(adapted from various sites on the internet)
ShivaConnect.com provides information and assistance for sitting Shiva.
- Receive detailed information about the memorial service/funeral including directions
- Learn where, when, & who is sitting Shiva
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