V. From The Time Of Death To The Funeral Service
Prayers after the death of a loved one
When one is present at or is informed of a death, the following prayer is customary, along with such other prayers as the heart may prompt:
Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melekh HaOlam, Dayan HaEmet.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, the true judge.
Who is a “Mourner?”
Judaism recognizes that there is a difference between formal rites of mourning and the very personal grief that cannot be regulated. Reform practice recognizes that one may grieve for any dear person, but Jewish tradition holds that it is a religious duty to observe the practices of mourning for a parent, spouse, sibling or child. Those under the age of 13 need not observe the mourning customs. Jewish tradition does not call for mourning observances for an infant less than 30 days old, but Reform Judaism recognizes the devastating character of such a loss by providing for mourning rituals in such cases.
Keriah / Tearing a Garment
According to traditional custom, when one learns of the death of a parent, spouse, sibling or child, it was once customary to tear a garment one is wearing to symbolize one’s grief. Most Jews no longer follow this custom, choosing to wear a black mourner’s ribbon, instead. The ribbon is customarily torn at the funeral or memorial service and worn for the seven day shiva period.
Notifying Family Members
It is a mitzvah to notify all members of the family when a death has occurred, even those who are estranged. If possible, the precious opportunity should be seized to heal wounds by bringing family members together.
Visiting Mourners Prior to the Funeral
Unless you are a very close friend or a relative, it is best to postpone a visit to the home of the bereaved until after the funeral. Decisions and preparations must be made and time taken to begin coping with the loss. There are exceptions, of course, guided by common sense, such as the bringing of food to the family or assisting with other arrangements, as necessary and appropriate.
Activity by Mourners
During the period between death and the burial, mourners ordinarily do not engage in business or other activities except those required for the funeral or to respond to emergencies. They are in the first, most intense stage of mourning, a time when Jewish tradition exempts them from all other ritual obligations.
The body is treated with great respect as the vessel that once contained the soul. By tradition, the body is not left unattended before burial. Arrangements can be made, if desired, with your funeral director for someone (shomer/et ) to sit in attendance and read Psalms. Most Jews, however, tend to be satisfied with the care of the undertaking establishment. Pre-funeral visitation at the funeral home is not in keeping with Jewish custom.
Tradition calls for the body to be ritually washed, a cleansing called taharah, purification, before the body is laid in the earth, but this is not universally done. The body is then dressed in plain white, inexpensive shrouds, emphasizing the principle of equality in death. Those wishing to follow these customs should discuss them with the funeral director. By contrast, most Reform Jews follow the contemporary practice of dressing the dead in their own clothing. Some bury men with a kippah and a tallit, with the tzitzit cut off as a symbolic recognition of the reality of death. Those who wish to bury a loved one with a tallit, often choose to substitute one in place of the tallit that belonged to the deceased, thus preserving the latter as a family heirloom. Another practice some follow is to place a small sack of earth from the land of Israel in the coffin. This emphasizes the attachment of our people to the holy land, the place where, it was believed, the dead would come back to life in the time of the messiah.
Death or Burial Abroad
Consult your funeral director. Burial in Israel can be arranged through Berkowitz, Kumin, Bookatz Funeral Home. Arranging to convey the body back to the United States sometimes requires the intervention of the State Department. When doing so is extremely difficult, impossible or prohibitively expensive, some families choose to have the body cremated abroad and hold a memorial service at home.
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