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THE JEWISH FUNERAL

 

Death is the crisis of life. How a man handles death indicates a great deal about how he approaches life. As there is a Jewish way of life, there is a Jewish way of death.

DEATH RITUALS:

The mitzvah of preparing and burying a body is highly valued in the Jewish tradition because it is an act performed without any possible ulterior motive, such as hope of recompense. The funeral and burial arrangements are traditionally seen as a community responsibility.

The Moment of Death:
During the last minutes of life, it is customary that one should not leave the room, out of respect for the dying person. The confession recited before Death is.

Understand O Israel the lord our God is one. I acknowledge before thee, my God, God of my fathers, that my recovery and my death are in your hands. May it be your will to heal me completely, but if I should die, may my death be an atonement for all sins that I have committed."

On witnessing or hearing of a death, one should say the following berakhah (though it is often said at the funeral itself):

"Blessed are you, lord our God, King of the universe, the true Judge."

At the moment of death (or else at the funeral as is customary today) the immediate relatives perform the traditional Jewish act of mourning and grief, beriah or the tearing of a garment. In the house of mourning, "mirrors should the covered to de-emphasize the beauty and ornamentation of the flesh at a time when another person's body has begun to decay". In accordance with the highest degree of respect for the deceased, the body is not to be left alone from the moment of death until the burial. The family should arrange for someone to be at the side of the deceased at all times reciting psalms. Since the family is distraught, mourners are not obligated to perform any positive commandments (e.g. tifillen) until after the funeral.

TAHARAH:

The practice of taharah, the ritual washing of the body, is on absolute must. The specific steps of the taharah are performed by the funeral home It is wise to check to be sure that the funeral home director is acquainted with the details of the ceremony for washing. The taharah is accompanied by the recitation of prayers and psalms, appropriate to the situation. The body is washed thoroughly from head to foot and the deceased's face is never allowed to look downwards out of respect to the deceased. A detailed and concise description of the taharah procedure as well as other duties of the Hevra Kadisha can be found in Laman.*

DRESSING THE BODY:
Jewish tradition recognizes the egalitarian nature of death. Tradition demands that all Jews, rich and poor alike, should be buried in the same garment. The traditional garment, as it was originally by Raban Gamaliel, is takhrikhein , shrouds - simple, handmade, perfectly white and clean. The shrouds symbolize purity and dignity. Shrouds have no pockets and so no material wealth can be placed in them.
"Not a man's possessions but his soul is of importance".
Men should be buried with a tallit over the shroud - some authorities also state that one of the fringes should be cut.

THE ARON:
(Casket) "For dust you are and to dust you shall returns". The purpose of burial is that the body can decompose and return naturally to the earth. The basic requirement is a coffin made of wood, preferably pine wood. In Jewish traditions, wealth and elegance are not recognized as means for showing respect to the deceased.

THE FUNERAL:
It has been the Jewish practice for the funeral to take place within 24 hours after the moment of death, though it is permissible to wait a bit longer for relatives to arrive. The attendance at the funeral is seen as additional honor to the deceased. It was considered a great humiliation to the dead to leave them unburied because the body should return to earth and should decompose as soon as possible. A service takes place at the funeral home during which psalms and prayers are recited and eulogies and given. Friends of the deceased carry the coffin from the funeral home to the hearse and from the hearse to the burial sites. The act is considered a hesed shelemet, an act of truthful and pure loving kindness because there cannot possibly be any ulterior motive involved ; the dead person can never repay the people for their assistance in his burial.

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