Burial and Mourning: A Liberal Approach

The questions that a liberal Jew asks when a loved one dies often go beyond the strict requirements of Jewish law.

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Excerpted with permission from Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, & Mourn as a Jew (Schocken Books).

Traditional Jewish law, halacha, is very clear about this process, defining what is permitted and what is forbidden for the dying, the dead, and the bereaved. While there is great comfort in understanding the architecture of Jewish mourning customs, this knowledge is only the beginning for non-Orthodox Jews­--Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and unaffiliated--who tend to view halacha as reference point and guide rather than mandate.

Liberal Jews committed to burying and mourning their dead within a clearly Jewish framework often face ques­tions and choices that are outside the purview of the law.

·        Will we be sitting shiva? For how long?

·        What do we do with flowers sent to the funeral home?

·        If Dad never wore a prayer shawl, would it be disrespect­ful to him to have his body wrapped in one for burial?

Contemporary life brings heartfelt new questions to the uni­versal crisis of grief:

·        How can I, as a Jew-by-choice, mourn for my Catholic father or my Baptist sister?

·        How do I reconcile the fact that Mom told us she wanted to be cremated when Judaism opposes it?

·        Since virtually all Jewish mourning rituals pertain to first-degree family members, how can I grieve for my best friend?

·        How do I mourn for a lover?

·        How do I mourn my ex-husband, who was the father of my children?

·        Is it hypocritical to recite Kaddish if I don't believe in God?

Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.