Rabbi Mel Glazer
Articles on Grief, Loss & Hope
When Death Visits a Jewish Home- 99 Actions
When death comes to visit, the details of doctors and hospitals and hospices often take over.
There is very little idea of what to do next: where s/he will be buried, what kind of coffin to
choose, what will happen at the funeral, how to write the newspaper obituary, how to deal with young children and grandchildren, and other details which need care. These tips will help you with those tasks.
The contents have been arranged in chronological order:
A. Before Death Occurs
B. At the Time of Death
C. Organ and Tissue Donation
D. Between Death and the Funeral
E. Autopsy and Embalming
F. Wooden Casket
G. The Funeral Service
H. At the Cemetery
I. Shiva - Returning to the House of Mourning
J. Mourning Observance
K. After Shiva
L. How to Comfort the Mourners
M. The Unveiling
N. Sources of Information on Death and Mourning
A. BEFORE DEATH OCCURS
1. SPEAK TO A FUNERAL DIRECTOR BEFORE THE IMMINENT DEATH OF A FAMILY MEMBER OR SOMEONE
FOR WHOM YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE.
You will be better able to evaluate a funeral company’s services in a less stressful situation. Check to see if your
synagogue or community has a contract with a funeral home. The Funeral Director will already be acquainted with you when the death occurs and be able to help you more effectively.
2. FIND OUT WHAT SERVICES THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR’S FIRM PROVIDES.
These services can include transportation to and from the cemetery or coffin purchase. Notice if the staff is courteous and
whether the company’s prices are reasonable.
3. INCLUDE THE DYING PERSON IN THESE DISCUSSIONS IF AT ALL POSSIBLE.
Having some control over one’s own final arrangements at a time when control over life and death is fleeting, is crucial, and a
final, kind gesture to the dying.
4. CREATE THE FUNERAL AS A LIFE-PORTRAIT AND A LIFE-CELEBRATION; DISCUSS WHO WILL SPEAK AT THE FUNERAL AND WHAT THEY SHOULD SAY.
Consider your loved one’s accomplishments and values, what life-lessons they taught, and what they want their children and grandchildren to remember about them.
5. PURCHASE A BURIAL PLOT.
Think about whether the plot is conveniently located and if the cemetery administration is responsive to your needs.
6. DETERMINE IF THE CEMETERY IS A KOSHER AREA.
That means there is an area dedicated specifically for Jewish burial.
7. NOTICE IF THE GROUNDS OF THE CEMETERY ARE CAREFULLY MAINTAINED AND THAT THE ENVIRONMENT IS A PLEASANT, RESTFUL ONE.
This is also important for those who will be visiting the grave site.
8. CONSULT WITH A RABBI OR FUNERAL DIRECTOR ABOUT AVAILABLE OPTIONS WHEN BOTH PARTNERS ARE NOT JEWISH WHO WISH TO BE BURIED TOGETHER.
There are usually various possibilities from which to choose.
B. AT THE TIME OF DEATH
9. WATCH OVER A PERSON WHO IS PASSING FROM THIS WORLD DURING THE FINAL STAGES OF LIFE, WHETHER
IN THE HOSPITAL OR IN THE HOME.
It shows great respect.
10. CALL A LOCAL RABBI AT THIS TIME, IF DESIRED, TO AID THE DYING PERSON IN SAYING A FINAL CONFESSION, KNOWN AS VIDDUI.
The Funeral Director can help you find a Rabbi if you do not already have one in mind.
11. FOLLOW AN ANCIENT CUSTOM PRESCRIBING THAT THE MIRRORS IN THE HOUSE BE COVERED IF DEATH
OCCURS AT HOME.
This is to discourage personal vanity.
12. CONTACT THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR OR YOUR RABBI AT THE TIME OF DEATH.
This is another time to ask the Funeral Director to provide you with a Rabbi if you do not have one. The Funeral
Director is usually notified first. He then contacts the Rabbi to coordinate funeral arrangements.
13. LOOK TO THE RABBI FOR HELP WITH EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES.
Questions such as “How do I deal with guilt or sorrow?” or “What do I tell the children?” are difficult and
important questions to be answered. The Rabbi can assist with this.
14. REALIZE THERE ARE MANY CONFLICTING EMOTIONS SWIRLING AROUND BEFORE AND AFTER A DEATH.
These feelings are normal. It helps to express them and to validate their presence. While death is not always an enemy, as when it comes to bring an end to pain and suffering, the heart always hurts when death comes to visit.
15. WRITE AN OBITUARY FOR THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER SOON AFTER THE DEATH OF YOUR LOVED ONE.
Include not only necessary personal information (names of close family members, time and place
of funeral and shiva), but also values which were important to him/her. Ask yourself: what did
s/he stand for? Your answers will become the obituary. Also include mention of charities for
C. ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION
16. UNDERSTAND THAT THE DONATION OF VITAL ORGANS AND TISSUE WHICH LEAD TO THE SAVING OF
A LIFE IS A MITZVAH (COMMANDMENT) OF THE HIGHEST LEVEL.
To save a life by donating an organ or tissue takes precedence over any other concern.
17. MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR DONATING ORGANS AND TISSUE AHEAD OF TIME WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
Permission for organ and tissue donation may be given by the family at the time of death when advance arrangements have not been made.
18. ASK ONE OF THE HOSPITAL STAFF TO PUT YOU IN TOUCH WITH THE LOCAL ORGAN AND TISSUE DONATION ORGANIZATION IF IT IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY SUGGESTED.
They will guide you through the process.
D. BETWEEN DEATH AND THE FUNERAL
19. BE AWARE OF TRADITIONAL OBSERVANCE REQUIRING THAT FROM THE TIME OF DEATH UNTIL BURIAL THE
BODY NOT BE LEFT ALONE BUT BE ATTENDED BY A WATCHER (SHOMER).
This is a sign of respect, an understanding that the body is the repository of the soul. Even though the body has no more life,
it must be respected until it is buried in the ground. A relative or friend may perform this mitzvah, known as shmira, or someone else may be hired.
20. OBSERVE THE PRESCRIBED TRADITION OF WASHING THE BODY IN A SPECIFIC RITUAL MANNER IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH. This act, known as tahara (ritual purification), must be performed by members of a Hevra Kaddisha, a Jewish Burial Society. Should you wish to obtain the services of tahara and shmira the Funeral Director will be honored to assist you.
21. MAKE FINAL DECISIONS ABOUT THE TIME AND PLACE OF FUNERAL SERVICES AND BURIAL, TRANSPORTATION, THE PURCHASE OF A COFFIN, AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS.
Some of these decisions have been made in advance and now only require confirmation. Other aspects must now be determined.
22. KEEP IN MIND THAT THE BODY MUST BE TREATED WITH GREAT RESPECT UNTIL IT IS BURIED IN THE GROUND.
Jewish law requires burial to take place within twenty-four hours following death. Practical considerations sometimes make that
time frame difficult for the family, so as soon as possible is advisable.
23. REALIZE SOME CASES IN WHICH A DELAYED BURIAL IS PERMITTED.
These include: when civil law requires delay; when close relatives have a long way to travel to the place of burial; if the day of
burial would be Shabbat, a High Holiday or a Festival; or if the services of the funeral home or the cemetery are unavailable. In any case the burial must not be delayed any longer than absolutely necessary.
24. RECOGNIZE THAT THE NAME APPLIED TO THE PERIOD BETWEEN DEATH AND BURIAL IS ANINUT (AH-NEE-NOOT).
The mourner is known during this time as an onen (onayn).
25. UNDERSTAND THE JEWISH LAWS GOVERNING ANINUT.
Aninut is a time of pain and numbing disorientation for the mourner whose memory of loss is intensely fresh. Yet during aninut the onen is required to make immediate and significant decisions concerning the funeral service and interment of the deceased.
26. SINCE IT IS MOST DIFFICULT TO MAKE THESE SIGNIFICANT DECISIONS AND FULFILL OTHER MITZVOT (RITUAL COMMANDMENTS) AT THE SAME TIME, JEWISH LAW RELIEVES THE ONEN OF ALMOST ALL RELIGIOUS AND SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS. This includes the formal observances of mourning, which do not begin until after the interment. The exceptions are the observance of Shabbat and the first night of Passover.
27. CONSULT YOUR RABBI OR ONE OF THE SOURCES LISTED IN THE BIBLIOGRAPHY AT THE END OF THIS BOOKLET FOR OTHER LAWS REGARDING ANINUT.
You are certain to find answers relevant to your situation.
E. AUTOPSY AND EMBALMING
28. ANTICIPATE THAT YOU MAY BE REQUESTED BY THE HOSPITAL TO ALLOW AN AUTOPSY TO BE PERFORMED. JEWISH LAW IS VERY CLEAR IN THIS REGARD.
Since, in most cases, the cause of death is known, no specific benefit would be obtained from performing an autopsy. Under these conditions autopsies are forbidden.
29. KNOW THAT AN AUTOPSY IS NOT ONLY PERMITTED BUT CONSIDERED A MITZVAH OF THE HIGHEST ORDER WHEN THERE ARE EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES.
These situations include death from rare disease or unknown causes, or where civil law mandates.
30. CONSULT WITH A RABBI ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF EMBALMING.
This practice is forbidden except when the funeral is to be unavoidably delayed. Even then, out of respect for the body, only
certain methods are permitted. Since viewing of the body is not a Jewish custom, strictly cosmetic alterations to the body are
unnecessary. Refrigeration is almost always a readily accessible alternative to embalming. Talk with your Rabbi about any questions or concerns you have.
F. WOODEN CASKET
31. DECIDE WHAT KIND OF CASKET TO USE.
Jewish law is quite explicit in its demand for an unadorned wooden coffin. This ordinance is derived from the belief that all people are equal before God.
32. LAY THE BODY OF THE DECEASED TO REST UNADORNED FOR THE SAME REASON AS REQUIRED FOR USING AN UNADORNED WOODEN COFFIN.
The deceased should be dressed in white garments (tachrichim) provided by the funeral home before being placed in the coffin.
33. OBSERVE JEWISH LAW BY USING BURIAL GARMENTS FOR THE DECEASED MALE THAT INCLUDE A TALLIT (PRAYER SHAWL) WITH ONE OF ITS FRINGES (TZITZIT) CUT.
Modern egalitarian ritual practice may indicate that inclusion of a tallit is appropriate for women as well.
34. SELECT A TALLIT THAT WAS WORN BY THE DECEASED IN HIS OR HER LIFETIME OR ONE THAT IS PURCHASED
SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS PURPOSE.
Either is completely acceptable.
G. THE FUNERAL SERVICE
35. CHOOSE A LOCATION FOR THE FUNERAL SERVICE THAT IS BEST FOR YOU, YOUR FAMILY, AND YOUR FRIENDS.
This could be the sanctuary or chapel at your synagogue. Some funeral homes also have chapels available for services. Services may take place at the graveside if few people are expected or if the majority of those who will attend live near the cemetery.
36. MEET WITH YOUR RABBI OR CANTOR BEFORE OR DURING THE PERIOD OF ANINUT TO DISCUSS THE SERVICE AND OTHER ISSUES.
These issues include special readings you may desire at the service, the eulogy, family participation, and the recommendation of memorial contributions.
37. REALIZE THAT THE JEWISH FUNERAL SERVICE IS QUITE SIMPLE.
Its liturgy begins with the ceremony of kri’ah (kree-ah), a ritual tearing of garments, to express the pain of loss.
38. NOTICE THAT THE MOURNER MAY ELECT TO CUT A BLACK RIBBON PROVIDED FOR THIS PURPOSE.
If the deceased is a parent, the tear is made over the mourner’s heart. Otherwise the tear is made on the right side. The torn garment or ribbon is worn for seven days following the funeral, except on Shabbat.
39. CONTINUE FOLLOWING KRI’AH IN THE SERVICE WITH PSALMS, READINGS, AND A EULOGY.
The service concludes with the chanting of El Malei Rachamim, a memorial prayer asking that God grant shalom (restful peace) to the soul of the departed.
40. INVITE MOURNERS WHO WISH TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SERVICE TO READ A SIGNIFICANT PASSAGE OR DELIVER PART OF THE EULOGY.
This is always encouraged, though emotions may make speaking difficult at such times. A mourner who participates in the service should write down carefully whatever is to be said.
41. END THE SERVICE WITH THE COFFIN BEING CARRIED OUT BY THE PALLBEARERS.
These are people chosen from friends and family of the mourners. Psalm 23 is recited at this time.
42. LEAVE THE PLACE OF THE CEREMONY WITH THE OTHER MOURNERS AND FAMILY.
Jewish law excuses them from the usual demands of politeness. They are not expected to greet those who have
come to be with them, though they may do so if they wish.
H. AT THE CEMETERY
43. REALIZE THAT JEWISH LAW IS ADAMANT CONCERNING BURIAL OF THE BODY IN THE GROUND, CITING GENESIS 3:19: “FOR YOU ARE DUST, AND TO DUST YOU WILL RETURN,” AND DEUTERONOMY 21:23: “YOU SHALL SURELY BURY THEM.”
Some people, for personal reasons, request cremation of the body. This is not a traditional Jewish option. There are those Rabbis and Cantors who will not officiate at a funeral that is followed by cremation, and there are those who will. Consult your Rabbi for advice.
44. NOTICE THAT AFTER THE FUNERAL SERVICE, THE CASKET IS CARRIED TO THE HEARSE, WHICH FORMS THE HEAD OF THE FUNERAL PROCESSION TRAVELING TO THE PLACE OF INTERMENT.
American custom prescribes that those who follow in their cars indicate that they are part of the procession by
turning on their headlights.
45. WORK WITH THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR TO MAKE ALL THE NECESSARY ARRANGEMENTS WITH THE CEMETERY.
Upon arrival at the cemetery the coffin is carried from the hearse and lowered into the grave, beside which is a mound of dirt
and a shovel.
46. PARTICIPATE IN A BRIEF GRAVESIDE SERVICE.
The service consists of psalms, readings, the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim, and (if a minyan is present) the recital of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
47. INVITE THE MOURNERS AND OTHERS TO BEGIN FILLING IN THE GRAVE.
A bag of soil from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is frequently provided to begin this process. Though a
difficult action to perform, it is often of great psychological benefit to the mourner. It emphasizes the reality and finality of death, thus aiding the mourner to begin the process of acceptance and healing.
48. ASK THE COMFORTERS TO FORM TWO LINES FOLLOWING THE BURIAL SERVICE, LEAVING AN AISLE THROUGH WHICH THE MOURNERS PASS TO RECEIVE THE FIRST EXPRESSIONS OF COMFORT.
Judaism provides a ritual phrase: “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
This ritual is in recognition of the difficulty in finding appropriate words for this situation. (See the glossary under “Memorial phrases” for the Hebrew text and transliteration.)
I. SHIVA - RETURNING TO THE HOUSE OF MOURNING
49. ARRANGE BEFORE DEPARTING FOR THE FUNERAL SERVICE THE THREE OBSERVANCES THAT WILL BE PERFORMED UPON RETURNING FROM THE CEMETERY:
-A basin and a cup for the ritual washing of hands before re-entering the house. Jewish law states that contact with the dead
imparts ritual impurity. This does not refer to personal cleanliness or hygiene but indicates respect for the mystery of death.
The symbolic action of rinsing the hands in plain water renders the person suitable for return to life and the living.
-A shiva candle in a prominent place, ready to be lit immediately upon re-entering the house. This candle, provided by the funeral home, will burn for seven days. The candle’s flame is a pervasive symbol in Jewish ritual. It represents the soul’s constant striving for higher realms of life. It should not be replaced by an electric fixture.
-A Meal of Condolence. This is prepared by friends of the mourners. Minimally it should include bread (the “staff of life”) and
eggs (symbols of life’s continuity). It may also include cooked vegetables (some traditions prescribe lentils, their roundness
a symbol of continuity) and sweets. Your synagogue may help perform this mitzvah when needed.
50. MAKE OTHER PREPARATIONS IN THE FURNISHINGS OF THE HOUSE.
Low benches are often provided by the funeral home for the mourners to sit upon, and mirrors are customarily covered.
J. MOURNING OBSERVANCE
51. REALIZE THAT THOSE WHO ARE OBLIGATED BY JEWISH LAW TO MOURN WITH RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE ARE FATHER, MOTHER, SISTER, BROTHER, SON, DAUGHTER, AND SPOUSE.
Relatives a step removed from these are considered to be obligated mourners only if they have involved themselves with some aspect of the funeral arrangements.
52. ENCOURAGE CHILDREN WHO ARE NOT YET BAR OR BAT MITZVAH TO PARTICIPATE TO THE EXTENT OF THEIR UNDERSTANDING OR ABILITY.
They are not obligated to follow mourning observances, but absolutely should attend the funeral and burial services.
53. MOURN WITH RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE THE LOSS OF SOME RELATIVE OTHER THAN THOSE LISTED ABOVE AS YOU CHOOSE AND TO WHATEVER EXTENT YOU FEEL TO BE APPROPRIATE.
This includes the loss of a step-parent, or of a beloved friend. This choice may be made even when the deceased is not
Jewish, as in the case of a convert’s parents. Consult your Rabbi for guidance in this matter.
54. BE AWARE THAT OVER THE COURSE OF MANY CENTURIES JUDAISM HAS DEVISED A RITUAL FRAMEWORK IN TIME WHICH AIDS THE MOURNER TO RECOVER GRADUALLY FROM THE DISORIENTATION AND ALIENATION CAUSED BY BEREAVEMENT.
This formal span of mourning is divided into four periods:
Aninut -the time between death and
Shiva -a seven day period following
Shloshim -a thirty day period following
The twelve month period following
55. OBSERVE SHIVA, THE WEEK AFTER THE FUNERAL (COUNTING THE DAY OF THE FUNERAL AS DAY ONE), IN TWO PARTS.
The first three days, according to tradition, the mourner is given space to grieve deeply with tears and laments, without needing to respond to greetings. In the next four days the mourner begins to emerge from isolation, speaking to and receiving comfort from friends whose visits slowly soften the feelings of retreat that bereavement has caused.
56. EXPECT THE RITUAL COMMITTEE OF YOUR SYNAGOGUE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROVIDING PRAYER BOOKS AND KIPPOT AT THE MOURNER’S HOME.
The mourning family ensures the presence of a minyan by inviting friends to join them for services. In most egalitarian
congregations, both women and men are counted. The Rabbi or Cantor will be present to lead the service if possible, though any knowledgeable person may do so.
57. ATTEND SERVICES AT THE SYNAGOGUE FOR THE PURPOSE OF SAYING KADDISH IF, ON A WEEKDAY DURING THE SHIVA PERIOD, THE MOURNER IS UNABLE TO HOLD A SERVICE AT HOME.
All public mourning observances are suspended on Shabbat and the mourner prays with the community at the synagogue.
58. FOLLOW SPECIFIC JEWISH LAW REGARDING SHIVA DURING THE ENTIRE SEVEN DAY PERIOD, EXCEPT FOR SHABBAT.
This means the mourner stays in the house, sits on low, non-upholstered benches or chairs, washes only for reasons of personal hygiene (not for comfort or vanity), does no business, and is diligent in the recital of Kaddish (see below). On Shabbat, however, public mourning observance is suspended and the mourner attends services in the synagogue.
59. TERMINATE SHIVA ON THE MORNING OF THE SEVENTH DAY FOLLOWING THE FUNERAL.
It is cancelled by the occurrence of one of the three Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, or Sukkot) or the
High Holy Days.
60. INVITE FRIENDS TO THE HOUSE ON THE LAST DAY OF SHIVA FOR A SHORT WALK OUTSIDE SYMBOLIZING
THE RETURN TO SOCIETY.
Do this as recognition of the difficulty of this transition, since there is no specific observance prescribed for the ending of
61. OBSERVE SHLOSHIM FOR THIRTY DAYS FOLLOWING THE FUNERAL, INCLUDING THE WEEK OF SHIVA.
This provides a time for the mourner to leave the house and rejoin society, though only to a limited extent. The bereaved continues daily recital of Kaddish, and neither shaves nor puts on new clothes.
62. FOCUS ON MOURNING DURING SHLOSHIM RATHER THAN CONCERTS, MOVIES, PARTIES, WEDDINGS OR OTHER FESTIVE EVENTS THAT ASK THE PARTICIPANT TO BE LIGHT-HEARTED.
When the time of shiva has been cancelled by the onset of a Festival or High Holy Day, the ending time of shloshim also
63. UNDERSTAND THAT THIS MANUAL PRESENTS ONLY THE BAREST OUTLINE OF THE LAWS OF OBSERVANCE OF SHIVA AND SHLOSHIM.
Many people have found the thoroughness of these mourning observances to be philosophically and psychologically
satisfying, and serious study of them to be rewarding. Consult the sources listed at the end of this manual or your Rabbi for further information.
K. AFTER SHIVA
64. MARK THE END OF THE DAILY RECITATION OF KADDISH AND OF THE FORMAL MOURNING PERIOD AT THE CONCLUSION OF SHLOSHIM FOR THOSE BEREAVED BY THE LOSS OF SOMEONE OTHER THAN A PARENT.
Kaddish is recited for eleven months only for a parent.
65. CONTINUE RECITING THE KADDISH DAILY FOR ELEVEN HEBREW MONTHS FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF A PARENT AND OBSERVE CERTAIN RESTRICTIONS OF SOCIAL ACTIVITY.
Avoid attending festive events (as during shloshim) and diligently perform acts of kindness and tzedakah.
66. PLACE A RENEWED EMPHASIS ON LIFE AND LIVING AFTER THE FORMAL MOURNING PERIOD IS ENDED.
Observe Yizkor and Yahrzeit. Jewish law prescribes that the bereaved cease to otherwise mourn outwardly once the formal mourning period has ended.
67. RECITE THE KADDISH DAILY.
This prayer is one of the most often performed Jewish mourning observances. It is important therefore to note that the Kaddish makes no mention of death. Rather it combines a plea for the swift and universal recognition of God’s dominion with a hymn of praise and requests for the gift of shalom.
68. BE AWARE OF THE JEWISH TEACHING THAT ASSERTS THE RECITAL OF KADDISH BY THE BEREAVED WILL SPEED THE DEPARTED’S SOUL TO PARADISE.
The recital is equally for the benefit of the mourner, providing a link to former generations and an expression of hope in the future.
69. EXPERIENCE AN IMMEDIATE LINK WITH THE COMMUNITY OF COMFORTERS THROUGH THE JEWISH LAW REQUIRING THAT THE KADDISH BE RECITED ONLY IN A GROUP OF TEN ADULT JEWS (A MINYAN).
Throughout the period of shiva the law directs a minyan to gather in the home of the mourner to pray one or more of the daily services and provide an opportunity for the recital of Kaddish.
70. NOTICE THAT THE SERVICE IS OFTEN THE MA’ARIV (EVENING) SERVICE.
This is by no means a rule and individual needs may prompt other arrangements.
71. CALL YOUR SYNAGOGUE TO CONFIRM WHEN THE SERVICES ARE HELD.
Some congregations hold them every weekday morning and evening, as well as on Shabbat and Festivals.
72. DEDICATE A SHORT PERIOD EACH DAY TO THE STUDY OF SOME JEWISH TEXT IN MEMORY OF THE DEPARTED.
Given the realities of the modern world, custom and tradition offer this as an alternative for those unable to attend a minyan
daily to recite Kaddish.
73. CONTACT THE STAFF OF YOUR LOCAL SYNAGOGUE TO HELP GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE TRADITIONS AND LAWS OF MOURNING.
They can help you adapt the laws to your specific needs.
74. REALIZE THAT MEMBERS OF SOME TRADITIONAL CONGREGATIONS CONSIDER JEWISH LAW TO BE A STRICT GUIDE OF OBSERVANCE.
Others use it as a model for fashioning personal rituals to express spiritual reactions to their lives and environment.
L. HOW TO COMFORT THE MOURNERS
75. OFFER COMFORT BASED ON THE GENERAL MESSAGE THAT “TO COMFORT THE BEREAVED IS A MITZVAH.”
Jewish law does not provide detailed instruction on how to do this. Rabbinic commentary on the passage Genesis 25:11 says that just as God comforted Isaac in his bereavement after the death of his father Abraham, you must do likewise for the bereaved in your community
76. BE ALERT AND SENSITIVE WHEN COMFORTING THE BEREAVED.
Particular circumstances provide opportunities for acts of kindness beyond what is mentioned here.
77. HELP TO PREPARE AND/OR DELIVER A MEAL OF CONDOLENCE OR ANY MEAL FOR THE GRIEVING FAMILY DURING SHIVA.
A meal for Shabbat eve may be particularly welcome.
78. ATTEND THE FUNERAL AND, IF POSSIBLE, THE BURIAL.
Your presence means a lot to the family and friends of the deceased.
79. GIVE TZEDAKAH IN HONOR OF THE DECEASED.
Often the family will specify a charity to which they would like you to give. There is certainly no lack of choice.
80. REALIZE THE GIVING OF FLOWERS, SINCE THEY ARE SHORT LIVED, IS DISCOURAGED BY JEWISH CUSTOM.
Flowers are not permitted at funerals that take place in some synagogues.
81. OFFER CHILD CARE TO THE GRIEVING FAMILY.
This can be a particularly welcomed gift for the family at this difficult time.
82. SEND A LETTER OR CARD OF CONDOLENCE.
Express whatever thoughts your heart prompts.
83. VISIT THE MOURNERS WHERE THEY ARE “SITTING SHIVA” WHETHER TO BE PRESENT AS PART OF A MINYAN AT SERVICES OR JUST TO BE COMPANY.
There are some guidelines for making “shiva calls” found below.
84. CALL OR GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE BEREAVED DURING THE PERIOD BETWEEN THE DEATH AND THE FUNERAL ONLY IF YOU ARE A VERY CLOSE FRIEND.
Your expression of sympathy will also be appreciated after that time.
85. CONSIDER THAT TRADITION ASKS YOU TO ALLOW THE MOURNER TO INITIATE GREETINGS WHEN YOU VISIT DURING SHIVA.
Say only what you mean sincerely if you do offer words of comfort or compassion.
86. UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO SAY ANYTHING WHEN YOU VISIT DURING SHIVA.
Your presence, as yourself and as a member of the community, is enough. The thoughtful support that your visit implies is of utmost value to those who are bereaved. It reminds and encourages them to return from the “valley of the shadow of
death” to life and joy.
87. ACCEPT THAT MOURNERS MUST NOW BEGIN TO CREATE FOR THEMSELVES A “NEW NORMAL.”
Your compassionate presence can help them grieve and recover.
M. THE UNVEILING
88. PLACE A MONUMENT OR MARKER AT THE SITE OF THE GRAVE TO SHOW HONOR FOR THE DECEASED.
The American Jewish community customarily sets the marker in place around the time of the first Yahrzeit, about a year after the conclusion of shiva.
89. UNDERSTAND THAT SOME JEWISH AUTHORITIES CONSIDER THAT PLACING A MARKER BEFORE A YEAR HAS PASSED IMPLIES THAT THE MEMORY OF THE DECEASED IS QUICKLY FADING.
Other Jewish authorities disagree, they believe that the memory will never fade. Placing the marker officially ends the formal mourning period.
90. TALK WITH THE CEMETERY ADMINISTRATION WHERE THE DECEASED IS INTERRED TO ASSIST YOU IN LOCATING FIRMS WHICH FASHION MONUMENTS AND MARKERS.
The firm usually provides a form on which to write what you wish to appear.
91. DETERMINE WHAT YOU WANT WRITTEN ON THE MONUMENT.
This may include the English and Hebrew names of the deceased, the date of death according to Western and Hebrew calendars, and abbreviations of traditional Hebrew phrases expressing honor to the deceased. See the glossary under “Memorial phrases” for suggestions.
92. ASK YOUR RABBI TO ASSIST IN PREPARING THIS FORM AND IN MAKING CERTAIN THAT THE HEBREW NAMES AND PHRASES ARE THE CORRECT ONES.
Ask the monument firm if they provide you with a final copy of what will be engraved on the monument for your approval and how they ensure that it will be ready on time.
93. NOTE THAT THE MONUMENT IS DEDICATED BY THE FAMILY AT A CEREMONY OF “UNVEILING” HELD AT THE GRAVESIDE. Usually this service is similar to the service of burial but shorter. It consists of the reading of psalms and prayers, the chanting of the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim, and (if a minyan is present) the recital of the Mourner’s Kaddish. A Rabbi or Cantor leads this service for you or gives you assistance in preparing to lead it yourself.
94. REALIZE THAT THE UNVEILING CEREMONY MARKS A TRANSITION FROM THE YEAR OF GRIEF AND MOURNING, TO THE NEW YEAR OF RECOVERY.
When the following two statements can be made with fullness of heart, the time is right to schedule the unveiling service:
We miss you and we love you.
We are all right.
95. SEEK HELP FROM YOUR RABBI WHEN THESE TWO STATEMENTS CANNOT BE MADE HONESTLY.
This means that there are normal grief issues still present which must still be resolved.
96. RECITE THE MEMORIAL SERVICE OF YIZKOR ON FOUR OCCASIONS DURING THE COURSE OF THE YEAR.
They are the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the eighth day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret), the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. At each of these services mourners gather to honor the memory of those whom they have lost, to hear the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim chanted, and to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.
97. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH ACCORDING TO THE HEBREW CALENDAR EACH YEAR.
Do this by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and lighting a candle which will burn for twenty four hours. This observance is called Yahrzeit.
98. SAY KADDISH IN THE SYNAGOGUE ON THE PRECEDING SHABBAT WHEN THE NAME OF THE DECEASED IS ANNOUNCED AS WELL AS ON THE ACTUAL DAY.
Some synagogues reserve a special aliya on Shabbat mornings for all those whose Yahrzeit falls during the following week.
99. RECOGNIZE THAT MANY CONGREGATIONS NOTIFY MEMBERS OF THE DATE OF THE YAHRZEIT IN ADVANCE.
Those same synagogues may also read at the end of every evening service the names of those whose Yahrzeit falls during the coming day.
N. SOURCES OF INFORMATION ON DEATH AND MOURNING
There are several thorough and lucid sources of information on Jewish laws and customs regarding
death and mourning.
The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Rabbi Maurice Lamm (Jonathan David Publishers. N.Y., 2000). Perhaps the best source of information in one volume, this has been a major source for this manual.
Mourning and Mitzvah, Anne Brener (Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 1997) Walking mourners through the pain of loss.
www.Jewish-funerals.org Sponsored by Kavod V’Nichum (Honor and Comfort), an organization dedicated to supporting those who care for the dead.