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Monday, May 6, 2013

Jewish Funerals and Jewish Mourning Customs

I was going to post about security, politics, the more usual topics, but considering that I had been at two funerals and a wedding in less than twenty-four hours, the funerals are weighing in more on my thoughts than the lofty news in the media.

Unfortunately, in the almost forty-three years I've been in Israel I've attended dozens and dozens of funerals.  Some have been under the broiling, bright sun and others have been late at night, even starting after midnight.

According to Jewish Law, one is to have the funeral as soon, as quickly as possible, because it's considered cruel to the body to make it wait for burial.

In Shiloh we have adopted the Jerusalem custom of nighttime funerals, sometimes just a few hours after death.  Scheduling a funeral for midnight or later is not unheard of, especially when the person had died on Shabbat.  That's what happened just this Saturday night in Shiloh.  It was the second time in recent months when a neighbor died on Shabbat or minutes later, and then we buried him a few hours after Shabbat.

Our Chevra Kadisha, burial society, is local and quickly prepares the pre-dug grave in the local cemetery.  A few months ago, it was winter, so Shabbat ended early, and we had time for a "two stop" funeral.  The custom is to take the body to his/her home, synagogue etc. on the way to the cemetery.  That neighbor had a sizable part of his funeral by the yeshiva where he had worked and studied for over thirty years.  Then we took him to the cemetery for the final prayers, eulogies and burial.  We arrived home after 2am.

Saturday night, being spring, after Shabbat was very late, so the family decided to do the entire formal funeral service at the cemetery.  There were a number of eulogies from members of his large family.  And then he was buried in the Land he loved so enormously.

Jewish Law does not demand that people dress in "formal black" for a funeral.  We don't dress up like that.  It's a Christian custom. 

At an Israeli funeral you'll see bright colors and prints on the mourning family and friends.  The official halachik, according to Jewish Law, mourners know that their shirts will be ripped.  The ripped clothes will be worn the entire weeklong shiva period, except for Shabbat.  Bathing and combing of hair also isn't permitted except before Shabbat.  Shabbat overrides mourning. 

There are mourning customs that continue for thirty days after death, such as no shaving/haircutting, new clothes, listening to music and more.  If one is mourning for a parent, most of those restrictions continue for eleven months or a year.  Jewish holidays, such as Rosh Hashnnah, Yom Kippur, Shavuot and first day of Succot and of Passover cancel the shiva and thirty day שלושים shloshim restrictions.   For more details about it, contact your local Orthodox Rabbi, LOR or other expert source.

During shiva, the mourners should be cared for by friends and relatives who are not required to sit shiva.  Food should be prepared, phones answered etc.  The mourner may talk on the phone but it's nicer if someone else answers to make sure all the calls are necessary.

It's not the purpose of shiva to entertain visitors.  It's customary to bring food the mourner can eat or serve to those who had come from afar.  Sfardim, Jews from North Africa have the custom of providing various foods for the visitor to say blessings out loud.  Some, like the Yemenites, have feasts every night to honor the dead.

Li'ilu'i nishmatam
May their souls be elevated...

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