It is regarded as imperative that Jews are buried as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours of death.
Burials do not take place on Shabbat (Friday night & Saturday), nor on Religious Holidays.
Burial / Cremation
Orthodox Jews only permit burial.
Reform and Liberal Jews also allow cremation.
Jews will normally wish to be buried or interred in a Jewish cemetery.
All Jews are clothed in a white shroud, and buried in simple, unadorned coffins.
There are no distinctions of wealth or status in death.
Protocols with Authorities
It is helpful the prepare a protocol in advance with Doctors, Hospitals, Coroners and the local council Registrars, in order to negate any possible hurdles to the speed of this process.
Doctors and hospital administrators should be made aware of the necessity of a 24 hour burial as soon as possible.
In cities with large Jewish populations, hospitals and Registrars will often be sensitive to this and can process the necessary documentation quickly.
In other areas it may well be worth opening up a dialogue with health care and statutory organisations in advance of any need.
The alternative of a scan is preferred, unless completely unavoidable, as process of the autopsy is regarded as a desecration of the body.
It is becoming increasingly common for a body scan to be performed as a suitable alternative.
A protocol should be arranged with the Coroner’s Office, whereby a coroner can be contactable at all times.
Burial Society / Costs
It is common for many Jews to be a member of a Burial Society, the Chevrah Kadisha. Subscribers pay into a fund over their lifetime and this covers the costs of a funeral, when carried out in the community.
If the subscriber has moved some distance away from the Burial Society, there may be additional costs involved that are not covered by the Society.
Shemira / Keeping watch
It is a tradition for someone to stay with the deceased right up until burial.
Some hospitals have special facilities to enable this.
Preparation for Jewish Burial
Taharah / טהרה
Purification — Taharah / טהרה. It is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes 5:15 — “Exactly as he came, he must depart / כל עומת שבא כן ילך”.
A newborn child is immediately washed after birth and enters this world clean and pure.
The one who departs this world must also be washed and made pure through Taharah / טהרה — purification, in Hebrew.
The Taharah / טהרה — purification of the body, should preferably be performed as close to the time of the funeral as possible, ideally no more than 3 hours prior to the funeral. The body is thoroughly washed and then it is ritually purified preferably by immersion in a Mikvah / מקוה — ritual bath, or by pouring in a continuous flow a substantial amount (Nine Kabin / תשעה קבין) of water over the body. It is done by the Chevra Kadisha / חברה קדישא — the Jewish burial society, which engages God-fearing Jews, who are knowledgeable in this specific task. Men prepare deceased men and women prepare women.
In accordance with the Jewish tradition, Taharah is performed while reciting special prayers and relevant scriptural verses such as “Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness and from all your idols, I will cleanse you / וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם מכל טמאותיכם ומכל גלוליכם אטהר אתכם” (Ezekiel 36:25). Usually one person recites the prayers loudly enough to be heard by each participant.
Those engaged in doing the Taharah, are careful to maintain the dignity of the deceased, immediately covering parts of body they washed. Additionally, at no time is the face of the deceased allowed to face downward. In some communities it is customary to wash the deceased under a sheet without uncovering any part of the body for washing. No objects are passed or handed over the deceased and all unrelated activities, such as eating, drinking, smoking or unnecessary talking, are prohibited. Since it is extremely rare that members of the family will do the Taharah, we shall omit a detailed description of the Taharah process.
Circumcision. An infant, who died before being named, must be given a name and, if the child is male, circumcised (without a blessing) before doing the Taharah.
Arrangements to consider
If you are a member of a Synagogue there’s a good chance you subscribed to the Burial Board also.
Burial Boards/Societies (Chevrah Kadisha) provide the means for everyone in that community to receive an equal burial.
All the costs will have been taken care of by your subscription.
Almost all that is left to do is for family and friends to mourn.
However if you or a relative are not part of a Burial Board then there will be no advanced provision.
The costs will have to be covered by the family, probably immediately, who will hope to recoup them from the estate left behind by the deceased.
Here are some pointers, if you are wondering what needs considering, for when the time comes.
Many people join the Burial Board of their synagogue, and often continue to pay a subscription even after they have move some distance away.
If you know of any history of synagogue membership, it may be worth investigating further.
Transferring funds from one Burial Board to another is notoriously difficult (and often impossible), and frequently that is the reason that people stay with the original even if they move to another synagogue or another city.
If the individual has no Burial Board provision, it would be prudent for them or their Next of Kin to approach an appropriate Synagogue and their Burial Board, as far in advance as possible.
Bear in mind that one-off costs for non-members of burial boards can be steep.
This can be offset by the estate or life assurance policies.
If the synagogue had no previous connection with the family, don’t be surprised or offended if they insist on receiving full payment before carrying out a funeral.
It may not “sound” very charitable, but they are obliged to protect the resources already assured for existing members.
Having made suitable arrangements with a synagogue/burial board, you should have a contract in writing, outlining what services they will provide and how much the fixed and other costs are.
It would be normal for all the standard costs of a Jewish funeral to be included. This will probably include the services of an appropriate undertaker.
Check who would officiate at any funeral, and whether the synagogue would provide the low chairs (required) and siddurim (prayer books) for the seven days of sitting Shiva after the funeral. Also whether they would provide people to official at prayers each day/night.
If the individual lives some distance away, it could be that the transportation costs may have to be borne by the estate or the family.
Points that a discussion with a Synagogue / Burial Board should cover…
- – Existing Burial Board Membership or Costs / financial plan.
- – Contact between a Residents Home and the Burial Board regarding procedure.
- – Name of the undertakers to be used.
- – Transportation.
- – Preparatory arrangements prior to funeral.
- – Requests for Shemira (staying with the deceased)
- – Attendance of Rabbi / Officiant at a) funeral b) Shiva
- – Help with arranging a Minyan (to enable saying of the Mourners Prayers)
- – Chairs and siddurim for the seven days of sitting Shiva
- – Recommendations for stonemason
The above isn’t exhaustive, but should put you on the right road.