Jewish Funeral Traditions
The Process of a Jewish Funeral
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Once the funeral service over, the mourners–those immediate family members of the deceased–return home to a engage in a specified time of seclusion. This period is known as Shiva, and gets its name from the Hebrew word for the number "seven"–the proscribed length of time for this Jewish mourning practice.
While not all Jewish families mourn in this way, certainly sitting Shiva is a long-standing tradition. It's a beautiful practice where mourners are given time to withdraw and seek the solace of sanctuary in their home. During the period of Shiva, which traditionally lasts for seven days, mourners remain at home, not participating in the wider community. Maurice Lamm, author of The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, shared this insight:
"Mourning is an in-depth experience in loneliness. The ties that bind one soul to another have been severed and there is a gnawing sense of solitude. To remain incommunicado is to express grief over the disruption of communication with someone we loved. At certain times every person has a right, even an obligation to be alone. This is such a time. The mourner, therefore, remains at home during the entire period of the Shiva. It then becomes the moral duty of the Jewish community to come to the door of the bereaved and to comfort him with words of praise for the deceased, and thereby to draw him out of his loneliness and into the social structure once again."
Following the instructive words of Pirke Avot, "Do not try to comfort your friend while the body of his deceased lies before him," making a Shiva call is all about comforting the bereaved mourners. In fact, it is thought to be a mitzvah, or commandment; an act of loving kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. This comfort comes from three Sources:: words, food, and action. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
Make an aware decision about when to visit, based on an announcement made at the funeral, or by reaching out to members of the extended family. Certainly, if you are at a loss as to when to make your Shiva call, it may be appropriate to call ahead.
Always close your Shiva call by saying farewell to the bereaved. You may wish to say, "May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem". You may also choose to wish them strength, long life, or other such blessing.
Shiva is part of the thirty-day period following the burial known as Shloshim. Once Shiva is completed, the days which follow serve as a time of re-entry for the mourners. They may return to their normal daily life, however, tradition asks that they avoid music and other forms of celebration.
Need Additional Guidance?
Certainly, choosing to make a Shiva call is one very special way you can support your grieving friend and their family of mourners. Yet, for many of us, it's a new–and often anxiety-producing–experience. Let the professionals at Sherman's Flatbush Memorial Chapel, Inc. assist you. Simply pick up the phone and call us at (718) 377-7300. We will be delighted to answer any questions you may have about this beautiful Jewish mourning tradition.