Jewish Customs After Death

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    Rending of Garments

    • When a close relative, such as a parent, child, spouse or sibling, first hears of the death of a loved one, it is traditional to express the initial grief by tearing one's clothing. The tear is made in a visible area of the garment, such as a collar or a pocket.

      Other Jewish groups receive pieces of torn black ribbon from a rabbi, and the family members pin these to their clothes to symbolize their loss.

    Care of the Body

    • Bodies are wrapped in a white linen shroudlinen image by Silver Bromide from Fotolia.com

      When a death occurs, the body is placed on the floor and covered. Mourners light special candles and place them beside the body. From the time of death until the burial, the body is never left alone, as a sign of respect. The people who sit with the body are called “shomerim” which means “guards” or “keepers.”

      In preparation for burial, the body is washed with warm water from head to toe and dressed in a plain white linen burial shroud. Embalming is not permitted and autopsies are discouraged except in cases of absolute necessity. Simple wooden caskets hold the remains. Jewish law forbids displaying the body in an open casket ceremony.

    Chevra Kaddisha: The Holy Society

    • Most Jewish communities offer the services of a holy burial society called the Chevra Kaddisha. These volunteers prepare the body for burial; men preparing men and women preparing women. They may also assist in other ways, such as sitting with the body and carrying the casket to the grave.

    The Funeral Service

    • Jewish funerals must be held as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours. In some cases, the funeral may need to be delayed, but never more than a day or two.

      Ceremonies are generally brief and simple. All life is considered sacred, so the funeral must be simple, to show no distinction between the rich and the poor. After the recitation of psalms, a eulogy and prayers are shared before the actual burial.

    Shiva

    • “Shiva” means “seven” and refers to the communal mourning during the first seven days following a death. Family and close friends gather at the home of the deceased to bring food and support one another during the initial days following a death. Customary practices include covering mirrors and for visitors to sit on low or hard chairs to experience sympathetic discomfort.

    A Year of Mourning

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