Jewish Funeral Arrangements
Before beginning to plan the funeral, it’s worthwhile to find out if the decedent left a will or estate plan. Sometimes, these estate planning documents will include instructions or specify what they wanted at their funeral. Therefore, contacting the deceased’s lawyer or locating the will immediately is a smart move.
Also before arranging the plans, it is worthwhile to consult with other family members who can be of help, figuring out what your loved one would have wanted most.
Judaism dictates specific customs and procedures that are followed upon death, related to Jewish rituals for death, Jewish funeral traditions, as well as Jewish burial customs. If your loved one was Jewish and you aren’t fully aware of the customs that apply, consult an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. The Rabbi will be helpful in supporting you throughout the process, as well as outlining for you what your immediate actions should be upon confirmation of death,
When making arrangements for the funeral and for sitting shiva, it’s important to know which family members are included in the mourning and Jewish death traditions. Only immediate family members are considered mourners for the purposes of these traditions. These family members are:
- Contact a Funeral Home
The first step to planning Jewish funeral traditions is to contact a funeral home. This should be done as quickly as possible. An important principle in Jewish death is kavod hameis, which means honoring the dead. As part of honoring the deceased, it is considered appropriate to hold a Jewish funeral and burial at the earliest time possible. Usually, the funeral home will try to perform the burial within 24 hours of the person’s demise.
When you contact a Jewish funeral home, funeral parlor staff often provide support and information regarding what needs to be done for a Jewish funeral. Decide what funeral home you would like to hold the funeral in. You can ask people you know for recommendations. When you book, you may be asked where the deceased was affiliated. This is important information for the funeral service.
Ask the funeral parlor what services they will provide. They should take care of all the Jewish rituals for death, providing everything necessary including a coffin. Typically, they also host the funeral service. Some funeral parlors also assist with burial arrangements, and coordinating with the cemetery. These services can make the planning far easier for you.
- Take Care Of a Burial Plot and cemetery arrangements
To fulfill Jewish burial customs, the body of the deceased is honorably buried in the ground. This entails purchasing a burial plot in a Jewish cemetery. Find out if the deceased owned a burial plot and where it is located. Otherwise, contact a local Jewish cemetery to buy a plot.
Ensuring that Jewish burial traditions are followed can be done by Jewish funeral home staff, or a rabbi. These practices include washing the body (taharah), wrapping a simple white shroud, (tachrichim) around the body, and using a simple pine coffin to bury the body in.
- Plan a Funeral Service
At the funeral, Jewish traditions are followed, beginning with kriah (tearing one’s shirt) as a sign of mourning. Mourners who are immediate family members will begin the funeral with this practice, making a rip in their clothes, usually near the neck.
It is common practice for a Rabbi to deliver an eulogy. If your loved one had a rabbi, it’s worth contacting him right away so he can prepare the eulogy to honor the deceased’s memory. Family members can also be asked to speak, if that is what the deceased would have wanted. In a eulogy, the accomplishments and good deeds of the person who died are described in detail. The eulogies serve to inspire all those attending the funeral, and as a merit for the departed.
After the eulogy, charity is given in the merit of the deceased, by the children or any of those present. The one leading the service (often the rabbi) says psalms and a prayer called Kel Malei Rachamim (a prayer that invokes G-d’s mercy for the deceased in the merit of the charity given.) The rabbi or a relative (usually the son of the deceased) will also say Kaddish. Kaddish is really a prayer of praise to G-d. Because every Jewish person’s life is so valuable, when a Jewish person passes away it can be said that G-d’s glory in this world is diminished. By reciting the Kaddish prayer, glory is brought to G-d’s name once more.
Jewish funeral customs conclude with everyone present accompanying the coffin as it leaves the funeral home. In Hebrew, a funeral is called a levayah, which means to accompany. Those present fulfill a mitzvah (good deed) by accompanying the body. Fully accompanying the body will mean going to the cemetery, which many family members choose to do in honor of their loved one.
If there is anything else you want included in your ceremony, it’s worthwhile to consult with the rabbi or funeral home manager in advance.
- Arrange For Transportation
Depending on who is going to the cemetery, you may have to arrange for transportation to the cemetery. The funeral parlor may transport the body to the cemetery, so that you won’t have to take care of that.
- Let People Know About The Funeral
Start by compiling a list of people who would like to be informed about the funeral and attend the service. Add their contact information. When you begin calling people, you can ask them to let others know about the funeral so that you don’t have to call everyone yourself.
At the Cemetery
A Jewish funeral continues at the cemetery, where burial takes place. In Jewish funeral traditions, participating in the kevura (burial or interment) by shoveling soil over the coffin is considered an honor. The shovel isn’t passed from hand to hand in this procedure, but rather, as each person finishes with it, he sticks it into the dirt for the next person to retrieve. Also at the graveside, a mourner or the rabbi will recite Kaddish, with special additions. You may want to plan who will be saying this Kaddish as well.
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Jewish Mourning Practices
The majority of financial and legal matters related to settling your loved one’s affairs can be postponed until after the shiva week. Nonetheless, it is crucial to get in touch with your loved one’s attorney as soon as possible following their passing or to locate the will they have prepared. This is because a will or estate plan may include instructions for a funeral, such as where the funds to pay for funeral services are located. Informing the lawyer right away also means that he can start the probate proceedings by informing the court that will handle the legal distribution of the estate, if necessary.
If your loved one did not leave a will, all his assets will be frozen while the probate process takes place. If your loved one left a will naming beneficiaries for each asset, then those assets will not have to pass through probate, and can be distributed immediately.
Either way, a person is appointed to take care of all asset distribution. This person is called the executor. The executor of a will is often the lawyer, or whoever the deceased named as executor in his will. If there was no will, you may find yourself handling the estate distribution as well, as the administrator of the estate. It’s worth getting legal advice on this matter to ensure that your distribution is legal.
Here are the steps you may have to take to organize your loved one’s financial matters:
- Informing banks and creditors about the death
After a death, you’ll want to ensure that there is no debt, such as a bank loan or mortgage, in the deceased’s name, since that will cut into their estate’s value. You’ll also want to close the deceased’s accounts and transfer any remaining funds to new accounts. In order to do so, you’ll need to show the bank a copy of the death certificate.
Informing the bank and closing accounts is important to do because the bank accounts may have monthly payment arrangements that are taken out of the account automatically. Closing the account means there will no longer be charges to the account that you are unaware of.
- Transferring title
Often, jointly-owned property is immediately transferred to the surviving owner’s name. However, if a property was solely under the deceased’s title, it may need to pass through probate court and then have its title legally transferred to the new owner.
- Informing beneficiaries of assets
Anyone named in a will as a beneficiary of an asset should be informed of their inheritance or bequest. These may include family members or charitable organizations that have been made beneficiaries of charitable bequests.
- Consider the deceased’s legacy
Legacy giving to charitable organizations is a popular way of leaving one’s legacy to the world. If there was no will, and you are the administrator of the estate, you may decide to create a charitable bequest to the deceased’s favorite organization, or to the type of cause they favored. When you know that this is what the deceased would have liked to do with their money, it is a powerful way of honoring their memory.