Funerals

Funerals: Not a topic I would have picked but an excellent one especially since most readers don’t know much about Jewish funerals.

1. There are no wakes. Originally, if a person died before sunrise, the funeral was held that day. Think of the hot climate that was the birthplace of the Jewish religion. Neither ice cubes or embalming fluid had been invented 4000 years ago. People lived close by and getting to a funeral in a few hours was feasible.

2. The deceased was simply washed down and wrapped in a shroud. Once a person died, not one is allowed to look at the uncovered body which means no wakes usually.

3. Coffins are simple and may not have metal parts since metal was used I waging war.. Unless the location requires a vault, one is not used. The idea is the body begins to decay as soon as possible, Dust thou art and dust return.

4. Normally a Jewish funeral is held grave site or at a funeral home. Sometimes, it may be held in the social hall of the synagogue. Some conservative synagogues will allow a body to be brought into the sanctuary but this is rare.

5. Most times the grave site will be filled in by those attending the ceremony. It is considered an honor to help cover the coffin but it takes a strong will as well. In wintertime, it is a major hardship.

6. One does not adjourn to say the San Marino Restaurant for lunch. Normally there is a light lunch at home and meat is never served. Buckets of water are left outside of the entry of the house for the traditional hand washing.

7. Shiva, the Hebrew word for seven, begins after the funeral. Traditionally people mourned for seven days. They didn’t work and visitors were encouraged to come and pay their respects. Mourners might attend services at a synagogue or a minyan, 10 men or (10 adults in a conservative synagogue) come together for the evening service.

My sister and I sat shiva for seven days but this tradition is disappearing in some circles. Now people officially mourn for 3 days only.

Non-Jews should feel free to make a shiva call. Of course there is no open coffin to contend with. The mirrors in the house will be covered by sheets so the mourners do not look into them and note how lousy they might look. The deceased’s family sits on low chairs and that are not supposed to be comfortable.

Men do not shave for the shiva period.

You may bring a small plant. Note that flowers are never sent to a Jewish funeral but donations to a charity (your favorite if you want) are nice. You may bring a cake, candy or similar but check if the mourners keep a Kosher house. Originally, visitors might bring food since the mourners are not supposed to cook/work.

8. Mourners are not supposed to visit the grave site for 11 months when the mourning period ends and the gravestone is placed or unveiled.

Evelyn Marshak
Waterbury, CT 2012

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