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Death and Mourning

Jewish law forbids tattoos.

Death and Mourning

'Death and Mourning' includes the burial procedure for Jews.

Beliefs may vary depending on which strand of Judaism the deceased belongs to - Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. All Jews believe that when they die they will go to Heaven and will be with God. This next world is called ‘the world of truth’ and as death is very much seen as a part of life, it is therefore a part of God’s overall plan.

If a deceased Jewish person has a tattoo ....
they cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery
a rabbi cannot officiate at the burial
the tattoo is removed before burial
the burial goes ahead
While Jewish law forbids tattoos, it is only a myth that this prevents a consecrated burial in a Jewish cemetery. While a small minority of strictly Orthodox cemeteries will not accept a corpse with a tattoo, Jewish law does not specifically mention the burial of those with a tattoo. Removing the tattoo of a deceased Jewish person is not permitted as it would be considered as damaging the body. There is also the case where the deceased may be a survivor of the Holocaust where Jews were forcibly tattooed by the Nazis
The remembrance for a deceased person takes the form of ....
visiting the graveside once a year to tend the plot
saying dedicated prayers on each normal secular year anniversary of the death
saying dedicated prayers on each Jewish year anniversary of the death
entering an anniversary seven day period of mourning in the primary family residence
Yahrtzeit, meaning "Time (of one) Year" in Yiddish refers to the anniversary of the day of death of a relative. A special Yahrtzeit candle will be lit in the homes of the primary family mourners, while the male members of the family (husband, brother and son/s over the age of 13) will attend synagogue for remembrance prayers during the period that the candle burns (usually for early morning and the combined afternoon/early evening services)
After returning from the cemetery ....
a candle is lit
a special unveiling ceremony of a photograph of the deceased takes place in the family’s principal home
the family of the deceased return to the synagogue for prayers
the immediate family of the deceased return to their normal daily routine
This marks the start of seven days of mourning that takes place at the principal house of the mourning family. This is the time when family and friends can offer their sympathies to the mourners. Despite the austerity of the occasion, the conversation is usually more upbeat to remember the joy felt when the deceased was alive and an active member of the family
Following the burial service ....
there is a second service to erect a gravestone
there is the equivalent of a “wake” where the family invite those who attended the burial back to their house for a meal
those in attendance provide the mourners with food
the mourners return to the synagogue for a special service of remembrance
After the burial service has concluded, a meal is prepared by friends to help the mourners regain their strength, often including symbolic hard-boiled eggs whose shape is said to match either life or the journey through grief
When visiting a grave, a Jewish person will ....
leave a stone on the grave
leave flowers by the grave
leave a small personal item so as to identify the visitor to the deceased
face East and bow gently three times
The custom for a Jewish person visiting a Jewish grave is to place a small stone using the left hand (it being the hand nearest the heart). This shows that someone visited the graveside, and as a traditional perspective from biblical times when graves were marked with mounds of stones rather than a singular headstone, placing (or replacing, as in ancient times) them, it preserves the actual existence of the site
When a Jewish person dies ....
the body is left alone and a rabbi called
a ritual ‘meal’, such as a piece of fruit and a glass of water is placed at the side of the body
the body is embalmed
the body is covered
The deceased person’s eyes are closed, their body covered and candles are lit. The body is never left alone until the actual time of the burial. Any eating and drinking near the body is not allowed as a sign of respect. Jews may not be cremated or embalmed
When a Jewish person dies, they are buried ....
the following day
exactly a week to the day of death
on the first Sabbath after the death
they are not buried, they are cremated
That is, unless they die on a Friday, then the burial is held over until the Sunday, but the burial should be held as soon as possible, preferably the next day, as it is said that the soul cannot rest until the dead person is buried. However, there is a more practical element to this ‘speedy’ burial than tradition dictates and that is a little more traditional in practice having originated from the fact that Israel was, and still is, a country with a very hot climate. In Biblical times, there were few ways of keeping the dead body from decomposing in the heat
In Jewish tradition, the face of the deceased at a burial is ....
covered except for the eyes
covered except for the mouth
completely uncovered
The deceased body is washed, cleaned and dressed in a plain white shroud, except for the face, which is left uncovered. The reason for the simple shroud is to ensure that those who cannot afford fancy clothing are not "embarrassed" that they do not have any fancy clothes themselves, and to reinforce the belief that all men (and women) are created equal, come into the world with nothing and should therefore leave with nothing
Some Jewish families enter a seven day period of mourning, similar to that for the deceased if ....
a family pet dies
a family member leaves Judaism for another faith
Jews abroad are killed in an atrocity or act of terrorism
the President of Israel dies
Some very traditionally Orthodox Jews, especially the ultra-Orthodox Chassidim (those who are seen to dress in black with long hair locks and large black hats) continue the practice of mourning for a family member who has left Judaism. The more liberal Jews do question this practice, seeing it as an overly harsh act that could make it much more problematic for the particular family member to return to traditional Judaism should they wish to, citing that being born a Jew means you will always be a Jew
Immediately following the lowering of the coffin into the grave, it is usual for ....
those assembled to recite a special prayer of the week
immediate family members to shovel earth onto the coffin
friends to shake hands with family members of the deceased
immediate family members to be left by the graveside while others walk away
Once the coffin has been lowered into the grave, immediate family mourners are invited by the celebrant of the burial service to shovel earth onto the coffin. This tender ritual is perhaps the most important in terms of helping individuals face the reality of their loss and is strongly encouraged. One custom is to use the back of the shovel to indicate a reticence at actually carrying out this custom. Once family members have placed soil on the coffin, everyone else in attendance is invited to also share the family’s grief by helping to fill in the grave


Author:  Ed Moss

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