Why Make Plans for Jewish Funeral Traditions?
Death can happen any time, anywhere. Someone can be 60 years old, hale, hearty, and full of life. But he may have a sudden heart attack and collapse, to the shock of everyone around them.
In such cases, the family members of the deceased feel lost, as they grieve the sudden death. But sometimes, they aren’t able to focus on mourning, because there’s too much to be done. They need to plan a funeral, figure out where the deceased would have wanted to be buried, and which money should be going to pay for the expenses. Even when someone makes a will, he may not have been specific about his funeral wishes. Figuring all this out makes a difficult time overwhelming.
The best way to prevent a scenario like this from occurring to any of your family members is to prepare a thorough departure guide for your children. In this guide, you will write down all the instructions related to your future death and Jewish funeral traditions, so there’s no guessing. It’s a beautiful way of taking care of your family in their time of grief.
What to Include in Your Planning
Writing a will is the basic step that comes to most people’s minds when they hear about planning for death. But there is so much more you can do to make sure your loved ones don’t have to go through the agony of figuring everything out on their own.
1. Create comprehensive estate planning documents
These include: wills, power of attorneys, advanced healthcare directives, and beneficiary designations. You might appoint guardians and make charitable bequests in these documents as well. Preparing these estate planning documents is often done with the help of an attorney.
Part of estate planning is deciding how your assets will be distributed among beneficiaries. If you want to bequest part of your estate to charity, you would mention that in your will or trust.
2. Document ALL your important information in one place
- Copies of your estate planning documents
- All personal information like Social Security cards, birth and marriage certificates, and other legal documents you own
- Financial records, deeds and title documents
- Contact information for your lawyers, insurance broker, accountant, rabbi or anyone else your family may have to contact post-death.
- Digital information: passwords and usernames to every online account you have, including social media accounts, online bank accounts, and even bill-paying accounts
- If you’d like, you can include a document where you give your loved ones encouragement or insight that they can take comfort in as they mourn your death
3. Talk to your family
It may be awkward to talk about what Jewish death traditions you’d like done after you die when you’re young and healthy. But in real life, many people feel grateful that they’ve been able to convey their wishes to their families. It helps to discuss what would happen in a theoretical emergency, so you can empower your family to do whatever you want them to do for you. You should also tell them where all the important information is stored.
4. Let your funeral wishes be known
Don’t leave your loved ones guessing. Tell them you’d like to follow Jewish funeral traditions, and specify your wishes clearly in your will. Leave a bank account designated for funeral expenses and make sure your loved ones know how to access it.
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Leave a Lasting Imprint on Hearts & Souls
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Planning for Jewish Traditions at Death
What to Include in Jewish Funeral Planning
Your list of instructions will depend on your specific wishes. Here are the general Jewish funeral customs that are practiced at Jewish death to bring honor to the deceased.
1. Buying a cemetery plot
- Making it easy for family members to visit
- If there are more plots nearby for family members
- If the cemetery is only for a specific affiliation or level of observance
2. Planning a funeral procedure
If you’d like your funeral to be held in a specific funeral parlor, it’s important to specify that. You can also name a rabbi to officiate at the service, and decide what kind of service you would like to have. Any eulogies you want given, or people you’d like to be invited is information you can document in your Jewish funeral instructions. A funeral is called a levayah, which means to accompany. This is because it is a mitzvah (good deed) for the funeral attendees to accompany the deceased to the cemetery. By accompanying the body, further honor is shown to the departed. You can leave instructions for this practice to be followed.
3. Handling the burial
Part of Jewish customs for death include a taharah (ritual washing) that is performed by the chevra kaddisha (a group that performs last Jewish rites). You can include the number of your local Jewish burial society or rabbi to make it easy for the one planning the funeral to find a chevra kaddisha. Another custom to consider is shmira (guarding the body). According to Jewish death traditions, a Jewish body is never left alone, until it is are buried. This is another way that Judaism shows respect for the dead. Specify that you would like this done, and whether you want someone specific to do this ritual for you.
4. Keeping Jewish burial customs
Jewish burial traditions include wrapping the body in a tallis (prayer shawl), using a simple wooden casket, and not embalming the body. If your family uses a Jewish funeral parlor and a chevra kaddisha, they will know the procedure. If the funeral home is not only for Jewish funerals, you can specify that you want these Jewish burial practices to be followed: no embalming, covering with a tallis, and a plain wooden casket.
5. Perpetuating one’s memor
Life after death is an important belief of Judaism. Your essence lives on even after your death, as your neshama (soul). That spiritual essence that is the real “you” can still benefit from mitzvos (good deeds) that are done in your memory. The most common act that is an integral part of Jewish funeral etiquette is giving charity in your memory. You can ask that this tradition be carried out at your funeral, and specify organizations you admire that you’d like attendees to donate to.
If you think that there won’t be many people fulfilling this at your own Jewish funeral, you can consider including legacy giving to charity as a way of leaving an impact for yourself.
Other preparations for honoring your memory can include:
- Asking for a family member to say Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) every day for the first month or year after death. Or, you can prepare an account to pay for someone to say Kaddish at services every day in your name. Kaddish is a powerful merit on the behalf of the departed. You can sign up for this arrangement with RMBH Charities.
- Arranging for Torah to be learned in your memory by scholars through a paid arrangement.
6. Shiva arrangements
Sitting shiva is the way that Judaism mourns. People who sit shiva for the memory of their family members spend the week following death talking about the good deeds of the departed and remembering how special their life was. It’s a beautiful way of allowing mourners to express their grief. During this time, family members typically receive condolence calls and visitors, and may observe various customs and restrictions such as refraining from work, sitting on low stools or cushions, and covering mirrors. The atmosphere in the shiva house is serious and thoughtful. Mourners find comfort in focusing on Jewish ideas about life after death and bringing merit to the departed through good deeds done in their memory.
All immediate family members keep the Jewish shiva traditions, which includes parents, spouses, children, and siblings. If you have family members that will be sitting shiva for you without knowing what this includes, it’s important to leave instructions so they know what to do during the shiva week. You can also specify where you would like them to sit shiva, such as all together in the home you live in.
A good idea might be to consult a rabbi, who can help you figure out what’s most important. If you leave the rabbi’s number for your family, he can be helpful to them when they need it as well.