How to Plan a Jewish Funeral

A Practical Guide to Preparations for Jewish Burial and Mourning

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Arranging for a Traditional Meal after the Funeral

Many families, including some who are not observing Shiva, welcome visitors at the family home after the funeral service for a traditional meal, called a "seudat havra’ah" (meal of consolation).  This meal is mostly intended for the mourners, who may feel too saddened to eat if left alone.  The community is present to provide the food for the mourners, encourage them to take care of their own needs, and usher mourners into a new stage in their lives.  This is also a time in which mourners may light a large candle (usually provided by the funeral home) which will burn in the home for the next week.

There is a tendency in many places for families to engage a caterer to provide for this meal.  However, it is best for extended family members, synagogue members, or friends to arrange the meal.  Mourners should not arrange for the food, greet or entertain guests. 

Planning for Shiva

Before the burial, priority should be given to arranging a respectful farewell to the departed loved one.  Once these efforts are in place, attention should turn to the details of mourning.  If mourners will be sitting shivah  (i.e. observing the seven-day-long period of mourning in a family home), preparations must be made, usually with the help of a rabbi or synagogue members.  (Some families may alternately make use of a leniency which permits a three-day mourning period when economic necessity requires an early return to work.)  This full week of withdrawal from daily concerns provides a chance for mourners to grieve together, exchange memories of the deceased loved one, and be comforted by each other and the community.

FUNERAL CHECKLIST

Although the most vital tasks and decisions must be made by family members, an excellent way to deal with other tasks is to recruit as many friends and non-first-degree relatives (in-laws can be excellent for this) as possible to make phone calls, help transport out-of-town relatives, arrange food for the meal following the funeral, and assist with other needed errands. 

Burial Arrangements

o      Contact a Hevra Kadisha (burial society) and/or funeral home.  If there is no local organization of this type, contact other local Jewish families, the closest synagogue, or Jewish Federation.

o      If the departed person has a pre-arranged burial and funeral plan, find the necessary information. 

o      If the deceased one owned a talit (prayer shawl), decide if they should be buried with it.  (It may also be kept as a family heirloom.)

Sharing the Sadness

o      Inform--in person, if possible--the closest family members.  For out-of-town members of the immediate family, do your best to make sure that the person being called is not alone or in an inappropriate location to receive the sad news of their loved one’s death.  (For example, one should not notify a sibling that their sister has died while he or she is on their cell phone and driving.)

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