Jewish End-of-Life Wisdom
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What to Expect from Funeral Homes

Funeral home staff are usually very well trained in how to help families during the time between death and burial.  However, they are in business to make money.  So it is important to understand that they are working hard to give us good service for a reason.  In addition, some funeral home personnel may not understand Jewish death practices.  Hence it is important to be clear in communicating with the funeral home staff regarding what is desired for a deceased Jew.  

Does the family want a traditional Jewish burial?  
“Traditional” does not mean “orthodox” – neither the family nor the deceased needs to be observant to have a Jewish burial – all Jews deserve to be treated equally in death – Jewish burial ensures the deceased will be treated with dignity and respect.
    – If you are uncertain about this, speak with a rabbi.

Some funeral homes may attempt to sell the family an expensive casket because “their loved one is worth it!” – don’t buy into their sales pitch.  Simply inform them that a traditional Jewish burial includes a simple wooden casket, no cremation, no embalming, preparation of the body by the Chevra Kadisha rather than by funeral home personnel, and burial into the ground.  Most funeral homes will work with you to meet these requirements if you are clear that this is what you want.  If problems arise between you and the funeral home personnel, get a rabbi to intercede on your behalf.  Having said all of this, many funeral homes do know how to work with Jewish families and are extremely supportive and well prepared to perform Jewish death practices.  The important thing for the family to do is be clear to communicate with each other and with the funeral home staff so that problems can be avoided.  

The funeral home may ask for The Hebrew name of the deceased, including Hebrew names of parents, for the Tahara.  They should also ask if the deceased has a tallit (prayer shawl) and whether you want the deceased buried in it

The funeral home will need to know a number of things to prepare the death certificate, the following among them:
* The full legal name of the deceased.  Include maiden name for a married woman.
* Full English names of the parents of the deceased.
* The Social Security number of the deceased.
* Citizenship of the deceased.
* Military status of the deceased.
* Place and date of birth of the deceased.
* Where is the deceased to be buried?  

* If out of town, what is the name of the funeral home handling the burial at the burial location?
* Has the Chevra Kadisha at the burial location been contacted?
* When is burial desired?  Is it necessary to wait for out of town relatives to arrive?
* Will there be a service before burial?  If so, who is conducting that service and where?

What if I’m Not Affiliated?

Unaffiliated Jews deserve the same dignity and respect as all other Jews.  In death it is no different.  The only issue is whom should you contact since you don’t belong to a synagogue or community.  Many funeral homes maintain a list of rabbis who can help the family during this vulnerable time to make appropriate decisions, contact the right funeral home, and make burial arrangements.   If you cannot find a rabbi, contact a local synagogue.  They usually can find an appropriate rabbi for you.  

Some cemeteries have an area reserved for Orthodox families and another area reserved for non-observant Jews.  Don’t be offended when they question how observant was the deceased.  They just need to know where to select the burial plot.  

Death in the Home

Death at home can be a blessing for the deceased, but sometimes harder for their relatives and friends.  This can be mitigated somewhat if Hospice is involved during the last weeks of life.  Once death occurs, the same procedures listed above under “Checklist:  What to Do When Death Occurs” are applicable.  Take the time you need to say goodbye, then have the body transported to the funeral home.  In general, clergy should arrange removal of the body so the family does not have to.  The family living in the same home where the death occurred may wish to light a shiva candle and have a friend clean up the room where the deceased died, restoring it to its normal appearance as much as possible.  Windows should be opened and mirrors covered for the time until burial.

What if We Don’t Have Burial Plots?

Usually consultation with clergy facilitates purchase of an appropriate cemetery plot.  This can be taken care of while making the other burial arrangements.

What if My Deceased Spouse is Not Jewish?

Choosing a Funeral Home


Choosing a Cemetery


What if the Funeral Home is Not Jewish?


What Does it All Cost?

 

 

What are Traditional Practices?


What are traditional Jewish mourning practices?

For information detailing Jewish mourning practices click here.   

     

What is the Chevra Kadisha and what do they do?
          What is Tahara?
          Tahara stories
          Dealing with infectious diseases
          Burial clothing
          How long between death and burial?
          Caskets
          Interment
          Green burial
          What about organ donation?
          What about cremation?
          What about embalming?
          What about viewing the body?
          What if it’s a suicide?
          Can items be included in the casket?
          Do I have to be Orthodox to be treated as a Jew?

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