The loss of a loved one, a painfully inevitable part of life, is arguably the time when we need the support and guidance of Jewish tradition the most. Our synagogue family is particularly sensitive to the needs of mourners. Our Rabbis are always available to assist you, comfort your family in your hour of need and officiate at the funerals of your loved ones. During the entire shiva period the community can provide a minyan at your home. Upon request, Temple Beth Am will also provide food for shiva meals. For assistance, contact the Rabbinic offices at ext. 210. To discuss purchase of cemetery property on a pre-need basis, contact Executive Director Sheryl Goldman at ext. 223.
Tzedakah In Memory
Perpetual Memory Plaques
One of the primary acts that represent living in sacred community, is how we escort a human being from this world to the next. The mitzvot of Kavod ha Met, honoring the dead and Nihum Avelim, comforting the mourners, occupy a central place in our tradition. Many have marveled at the wisdom of the ancient rabbis who defined and codified these mitzvot in such a way that makes sound psychological sense and resonates profoundly with generations of Jews who have taken these mitzvot to heart and to practice.
Even in death, the Jewish tradition teaches us that a blessing constitutes the first words we utter upon learning about someone’s death:
ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם דין האמת.
Barukh atah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha olam, dayan ha-emet.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the judge of truth.
This blessing is complex and in some ways is the last response that we would think of at such a painful moment. Yet, the blessing acknowledges that we don’t fully understand how, why or when we lose a loved one, and saying these words is the first step in attempting to realize a loss. Just as we bless God during times of joy, so too do we bless God during a time of bereavement. From the recitation of this blessing to the final steps of mourning, Judaism seeks to impose some framework and order in time when chaos and grief could prevail.
When we lose a parent, a child, a sibling or a spouse, we become an “onen,” or a mourner. “Aninut,“ this particular phase of mourning, refers to the period of time between death and burial. During this time, an onen is not obligated to observe positive religious commandments such as laying tefillin and praying. It is also customary that an onen refrains from luxury – eating meat, drinking wine etc., as the primary focus of this time is the mitzvah of Kavod Ha Met, or honoring the dead by arranging a burial that can happen as quickly as possible within the framework of Jewish tradition. Contacting TBA is your next step. By reaching out immediately to TBA Lifecycle Coordinator Cori Drasin, Rabbi Kligfeld or me, you will receive the guidance and support needed at such a difficult time. It is important to us that you coordinate with TBA first, even before contacting the mortuary. This will allow us to process with you everything involved with Kavod Ha Met as well as preparing you for marking arrangements with the mortuary/cemetery.
Here is the best way to contact Temple Beth Am in case of a death:
a. During office hours, please call 310-652-7354 and dial ext. 210 to reach Lifecycles Coordinator Cori Drasin. Cori is in touch with Rabbi Kligfeld and with me and can alert us quickly. You can also email Cori at firstname.lastname@example.org.
b. During evening hours or on Sunday, please call 310-652-7354 and dial ext. 401 to reach our emergency contact line. Please leave a message there and Facility Manager James Collins will ensure that your message reaches a rabbi on call.
Rabbis Kligfeld and Lucas want to be there for TBA congregants in times of sorrow as well as times of joy. We feel that the communal presence during a time of loss is one of the most significant parts of being a part of a synagogue.
During the period of “Aninut,“ the period of time between death and burial, our primary goal is the mitzvah of Kavod Ha Met, or honoring the dead. We observe this mitzvah by arranging a burial that can happen as quickly as possible within the framework of Jewish tradition. During the period of “Aninut,“ the period of time between death and burial, the family meets with our TBA clergy to plan the funeral. As well as gathering thoughts, reflections and information about the life of a loved one, we are also preparing the family to engage in the mitzvah of Kavod Ha Met, or honoring the dead.
Jewish Obligations, Secular Obligations
In addition to our Jewish obligations during this time, we also have legal obligations to the secular society in which we live. In order for the mortuary to obtain the necessary permits for the burial to take place, they must obtain certification from the deceased’s primary physician, and file this with the county of death. The mortuary staff will handle this process for you. Also, certain situations may require the involvement of the Coroner or Medical Examiner. Again, the Funeral Director helping you will explain all legal requirements to you.
Our Bodies Are Not Really Ours
Even as human beings are born into this world everyday, Judaism views our bodies as a temporary dwelling place for our souls. God has entrusted our bodies to us, that we may put them to good use during our time here on Earth. When the end of that time arrives, Judaism is focused on returning to God what is rightfully God’s. And that means returning the body to the earth. The traditions of Tohorah and takhrikhim are Judaism’s response to the idea that our body is truly on loan to us. Not only should it be treated with the utmost respect when we are alive, but also bodies that have expired deserve respect and care.
Toharah – Loving Preparation of the Body for Burial
The Hevra Kadisha, the corps of dedicated Jews who take on this mitzvah, carry out a simple and dignified washing of the body. The washing is accompanied by the recitation of Biblical verses and then the body is clothed in takhrikhim, traditional white burial shrouds. The rabbis teach us that there is ultimate equality in death and that the simple burial shrouds for every Jews represent this equality. For this reason, Jews are not traditionally buried in their own clothing, jewelry or other adornments.
A kittel, a simple white robe, is worn by Jews during significant moments during life, such as one’s own wedding, leading a seder, or other significant parts of the liturgy during the year and on the High Holidays. At the end of one’s life, the kittel becomes a burial garment. We link these meaningful life moments to the end of our life, by donning this simple garment with no pockets. This symbolizes that just as we came into the world without physical possessions, so too do we leave the world in this way. It is also traditional to bury a Jew in his/her tallit. The tziziyot, the ritual knots on the tallit symbolizing mitzvot, are cut off to symbolize that the deceased person is no longer responsible to observe mitzvot. The tallit should be given to the Hevre Kadisha before they prepare the body for burial. If the deceased did not own a tallit, the Hevra Kadisha may often supply one.
For more information on the history and background of this mitzvah, please see Rabbi Noah Golinkin’s halakhic response at http://www.responsafortoday.com/engsums/5_7.htm
Helping TBA Help You
If you have purchased any pre-need burial property at Eden Memorial Park, Hillside Memorial Park or Mount Sinai Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills or Simi Valley), please contact Cori Drasin, TBA Lifecycle Coordinator and let her know where your property is and what type of pre-need arrangements have been made. Temple Beth Am is assembling a database of all TBA member pre-need property so that Rabbi Kligfeld and I can be aware of this important information.
One of the primary values representing in the mitzvah of Kavod Ha Met, or honoring the dead, is the return of the body to the earth. Because our bodies are on loan to us from God, we believe that returning our bodies to the earth is a critical mitzvah. For this reason, the use of a wooden casket is of utmost importance in order to facilitate this physical return of the body. The rabbis teach us that there is ultimate equality in death and Jewish tradition reflects this value by burying in the least expensive, plain wooden casket available.
Because of this emphasis on equality, we are encouraged to use our financial resources wisely in observing the mitzvah of kavod ha met. We avoid “investing” in caskets or other related items that in any way detract from the most simple of funerals. It is for this reason that flowers are not traditionally a part of Jewish funerals. The tradition encourages us to use our financial resources for the living, by giving tzedakah in memory of the deceased.
Before the funeral begins, one family member is usually asked to identify the deceased in the casket. The viewing is limited for the purposes of identification. The rabbinic thinking behind this limit is related to the inability of the deceased to see or sense us. It is considered a violation of kavod ha met to view or sense another person without that person being able to see the viewer. These ideas are codified in rabbinic literature related to privacy issues. And the rabbis applied this logic into the realm of viewing the deceased. This is the halakhic reason why we do not have open caskets at traditional funerals.
A traditional part of every Jewish funeral is kri’ah (tearing). This is the ritual tearing of a ribbon to symbolize the tearing of a garment upon the loss of a parent, spouse, sibling or child. Upon the loss of a parent, the ribbon is placed on the left side of chest over the heart. The rabbis reasoned that because our parents gave us life, the loss of parent is truly a tear in the heart and one of the most significant losses that we face as human beings. The ribbon is placed on the right side of the chest upon the loss of a spouse, sibling or child.
We then say the following blessing and tear the ribbon:
ברוך אתה ה' אלקינו מלך העולם דין האמת.
Barukh atah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha olam, dayan ha-emet.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the judge of truth.
The funeral is composed of psalms, a eulogy and the recitation of the prayer El Malei Rahamim, (God filled with compassion). When Rabbi Kligfeld or I meet with a family, we speak about the eulogy and discuss who will speak at the funeral. The Mourners’ Kaddish is not recited until after the burial.
When the Jewish community gathers to honor the memory of a loved one, the focus is on the deceased. Conversation is limited to the memory of the deceased, whether in the chapel service or the graveside portion of the service. Although difficult to do, we attempt to delay greeting the family until the community has finished the mitzvah of burying the dead. The rabbis call this “Hesed Shel Emet,” an act of true loving kindness. The person whom we bury can never return this favor to us and so our actions reflect selfless giving. This mitzvah has also been likened to tucking someone in at night. Burying is the final “tucking in” and we strive to do this with love, focus and dignity that every human being deserves.
The rabbi invites the family forward to begin this mitzvah. It is traditional to place three shovelfuls of dirt on the casket. Some also use the back of the shovel. In using the back of the shovel, the process of burying is slowed and this demonstrates the reluctance with which we do this act.
We also do not pass the shovel from mourner to mourner. Burying the dead is not a mitzvah that we wish to “pass on” to another person, so we place the shovel back into the pile of dirt allowing each person to pick up the shovel on one’s own. When the top and the sides of the casket are covered, the immediate mourners gather to recite Kaddish for the first time.
With burial, the final act of Kavod Ha Met has been completed. Jewish tradition now instructs us to turn our attention to Nihum Avelim, comforting the mourners. At graveside we form two lines, allowing the mourners to walk through the lines and receive words of comfort:
May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
If you do not know these words by heart, please offer your own words of comfort to the mourners as they move through the lines formed by the community. This is the beginning of shiva, the seven days of mourning that are distinguished by specific observances in Jewish tradition.
During the period of Nihum Avelim (Comforting the Mourners), mourners observe a variety of different traditions. When TBA clergy meets with a family who has lost a loved one, we discuss the concept of and planning for shiv’ah, the seven days of mourning that are distinguished by specific observances in Jewish tradition as well as subsequent markers in the mourning cycle.
Who is a Mourner?
The mitzvot associated with mourning are limited to seven relationships: spouse, father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister. For the death of these relatives, the mitzvot include: observing the Shiv’ah and Shloshim periods, recitation of Kaddish (duration varies according to different relationships), marking the Yahrzeit anniversary of the death, and participating in Yizkor memorial services held on Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesah and Shavuot.
What is Shiv’ah?
Shiv’ah means “seven,” and refers to the days following burial. Shiv’ah begins the day of the funeral, immediately following the first Mourners’ Kaddish recited at graveside. The first day of shiv’ah is constituted by the portion of the day that is remaining after the burial. The second day of shiv’ah begins with sunset. During clergy meetings with the family, we assist the family with counting and understanding the exact days of shiv’ah, taking into account holidays that may affect how shiv’ah is counted and observed. Although Shabbat is counted in the days of shiv’ah, the public expression of mourning is suspended. Mourners remove the kriah ribbon from their clothing before Shabbat come to the synagogue for services.
Before entering the home, we wash our hands to mark the transition from the funeral to consoling the mourners. Some wash directly upon leaving the cemetery and others wash at the home with a pitcher of water, a bowl and paper towels provided outside the home for this purpose. At this time a seven-day candle, symbolizing the soul of the deceased is lit in the home and burns throughout the shiv’ah.
The first meal after the funeral is known as the “Se’udat Havra’ah,” the meal of consolation takes place at the shiv’ah home. This meal is provided by members of the community and typically features round foods such as hard-boiled eggs to symbolize the circular nature of the lifecycle and wholeness. TBA has designated volunteers to help with this mitzvah and our Lifecycles Coordinator helps to connect these volunteers with mourners. The mourner should refrain from the role of host, but rather allow the community to care for and comfort them in a time of need. Shiv’ah participants are encouraged to bring food to the home while avoiding flowers, candy, or liquor.
On the other days of shiv’ah, (except Shabbat) morning and evening services are held in the mourners’ home. Mourners leave routine activities aside and concerns for personal appearance are set aside by covering mirrors and avoiding cosmetics. TBA congregants come to the mourners’ home to attend services there and to comfort the mourners. Our tradition focuses on turning the private space of a home into a public prayer space during the period of shiv’ah. TBA provides prayerbooks, kippot and low mourners’ chairs for each shiv’ah home and our Lifecycles Coordinator works with our clergy to help provide prayer leaders for the services during Shiv’ah. Traditionally these prayer leaders also share a Dvar Torah or a teaching from our tradition as a part of each service.
When visiting a shiv’ah home, we take cues from mourners. Rather than initiating conversation ourselves, we provide a quiet presence to allow the mourner to share memories of the deceased. We avoid typical greetings and resist the natural inclination to try to “cheer up” the mourner or distract him/her from expression of grief.
At the end of shiv’ah, it is traditional to be pulled up from the low chairs after the final kaddish is said. The mourner(s) are escorted on a brief walk around the block to symbolize their return to aspects of their routine, including a return to work.
Shloshim, 11 months and Yahrzeit
Shloshim, the thirty days that are counted from the time of the funeral, also marks a significant period in the mourning process. Mourners continue to say kaddish throughout this period and some observe other restrictions on attending joyous celebrations and listening to live music. With the conclusion of shloshim, mourners are no longer obligated to recite kaddish on a daily basis for the loss of a spouse, child, or sibling. However, children continue to say kaddish for the loss of a parent for eleven months and some continue to observe the restrictions of shloshim.
Around the first anniversary of the death, a simple tombstone is prepared for the deceased and a brief ceremony, an “unveiling” takes place at the grave.
Yahrzeit is the Yiddish word for the anniversary of the death that is determined by the Jewish calendar. Each year this is a time to recite kaddish in the synagogue minyan and to remember the deceased. Also the El Malei Rahamim prayer may generally be recited during a weekday or Shabbat afternoon Torah service during the week of the Yahrzeit. On the eve of the Yahrzeit, it is traditional to light a Yahrzeit candle in the home that burns for twenty-four hours.
Yizkor (Memorial) services are held at the synagogue on the eighth day of Pesah, the second day of Shavuot, the eighth day of Sukkot, and on Yom Kippur. Those who have lost a parent, sibling, child, or spouse participate along with the entire congregation.