A system that honors the dead. Comforts the bereaved.
Jewish custom is to leave a written legacy or ethical will for one’s children. This is done as personal preparation for death.
Judaism teaches that one must face one’s own death and attend to each other’s death. Viddui- Jewish deathbed confession- said by the dying or on their behalf. Believe in being at the bedside of the dying keeps them a part of the human community, avoids denial of grief.
The Jewish culture believes death brings equality. Caskets are simple, unlined wooden boxes called aron. Wooden pegs are used and there are holes in the bottom to facilitate return to the earth. The body is carefully, respectfully bathed, dressed simply, usually in linen. A prayer shawl called a tallit and earth from the Holy Land are placed in the casket.
Spouse, parent, sibling or child of the dead is called the Onen which means “someone in between”. Upon hearing of the death the Onen will tear the garment they are wearing.
The funeral is usually held in a synagogue, funeral home or at the graveside. The service includes the reading of the prayer of remembrance -El Maleh Rahamim, and the psalms. A hesped (eulogy) and the Kaddish Prayer are said. At the end of the ceremony the mourners will throw dirt onto the casket as the others say, “May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.
Shiva is the 7 Days of Mourning. The fundamental message is that the dying and grieving are supported by community. The Onen (immediate family) will sit on low stools, and will not wear leather shoes, shave, have sexual contact, wash clothes, or work- except in economic hard ships which may return to work after 3 days.
There are three prayer services held daily in the home requiring 10 Jews to be present. The community shows support by making Shiva calls( visits) and providing food and support. Visitors should arrive immediately after the funeral and during the minyan(prayer services) –mornings, during the day and in the evening.
Appropriate dress for visitors is the same as for a synagogue service. Immediately after the funeral there will be a pitcher of water, basin, and towels for washing hands because contact with the dead makes one impure.
Do not ring the bell but enter the home quietly. Take food to the receiver in the kitchen and identify meat, dairy or pareve (neither). Find the mourners and name the deceased in your remarks. Participate in the minyan( prayer service). Eat only if invited.
You may greet friends who are present but avoid casual conversation. Don’t stay too long. As you say goodbye wish good health, strength and long life or other blessings for the mourners. Afterwards donations to charity are acceptable but flowers, candy, liquor are considered inappropriate.
After Shiva the first 30 days of mourning is called the Shelosim. For a parent the period is 11 months(avelut) and daily recitation of Kaddish( prayer) is performed. The mourning family members return to some normalcy but continue to avoid activities of pleasure.
The anniversary of the death (Yahrzeit) is observed each year. The deceased is also remembered at Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Shemini Atzeret. The unveiling of the tombstone is often held one year later.
On Preparation for death: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Dying/Ethical_Wills.shtml://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Dying/Ethical_Wills.shtml On Dying :http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Dying.shtmlhttp://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Dying.shtml On Death and Burial: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning.shtml://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning.shtml On Making a Shiva Call: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning/Shiva/How_to_Make_a_Shiva_Call.shtml http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning/Shiva/How_to_Make_a_Shiva_Call.shtml On Shiva: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning/Shiva.shtml://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Burial_and_Mourning/Shiva.shtml On Going to a funeral: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Practical_Aspects/Going_to_a_Funeral.shtml://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mournin g/Practical_Aspects/Going_to_a_Funeral.shtml Photo courtesy of Lynn Beasley