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Jewish Funeral Traditions

While the details and observance of funeral practices vary according to each Jewish community, traditionally they include a burial which takes place as quickly as possible so that the body can decompose naturally. In the United States, the funeral services starts either at a funeral home, the cemetery, or at a synagogue. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. If the funeral does not begin at a cemetery, then the funeral procession, called a levayah in Hebrew, accompanies the body to the cemetery. Jewish custom believes in this procession as a way to accompany the dead to the grave, And so when a levayah comes near you, it is Jewish custom to stop and turn and walk in the direction of the funeral procession for a few steps.

Stages of Mourning
Each stage is very meaningful, and offers a structured rountine in which to experience grief and sadness, while being intentionally supported by friends and loved one, and larger Jewish communities.

During the first stage of mourning which lasts until the funeral is over, the survivor is excused from prayer in order to attend to funeral arrangements. The mourner is said to be considered to be in a state of total shock and disorientation

Immediately following Aninut, mourners in Avelut do not attend parties, listen to music, or any
other joyful activities such as marriages or Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, unless absolutely necessary

Shiva is a period of grief that lasts for 7 days, called sitting shiva. Mourners frequently avoid household chores, so friends and family gather to take on caretaking roles in the house of mourning, like bringing and serving food to the family and other guests. Prayer services are frequently performed as well.

In the period of 30 days following the burial, men generally do not shave and During shloshim, a mourner is forbidden to marry or to attend a seudat mitzvah (“religious festive meal”). Men do not shave or get haircuts during this time.

Shneim asar chodesh
Mourners who have lost a parent observe a twelve-month period in which most activities return to normal but the mourners must recite the kaddish as part of synagogue services.

In accordance with the Jewish calendar, Yahrzeit is the one year anniversary of the death. At sunset, the mourner lights a candle and allows it to burn out. During synagogue services, the mourner recites the kaddish.

In this ritual, marking the end of the traditional mourning period, the headstone is unveiled. While there is no hard rule, it is usually done a year after the death. The Yahrtzeit falls annually on the Hebrew date of the deceased relative’s death according to the Hebrew calendar.

Body Preparation
Body preparation in the Jewish tradition is done with deep honor for the deceased, paying last respects to the person who has died. Each Jewish community assembles a hevra kadisha (holy society), responsible for preparing the body according to Jewish tradition. In a ceremony called tahara, they prepare the body by placing the feet towards the door and wash the body with warm water, symbolic of releasing all impurities, reciting verses and prayer. At the end of this ritual, the body is moved upright and warm water is poured all over it. The body is then dried and wrapped in a shroud known as a tachrichim, made from white cotton. At no time is the body ever left unattended because this is considered to be disrespectful.

Jewish Burial Traditions
In the United States, local laws often require bodies to be buried in coffins, and in the traditional and Orthodox tradition, a plain coffin made out of soft wood is used. Frequently, sacred books and dirt from Israel are frequently placed in the coffin along with the body.

Visiting the gravesite
Even when visiting Jewish graves of someone that the visitor never knew, he or she may place a small stone at the graveside. This shows that someone visited the graveside, and represents permanence. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. Another reason for leaving stones is tending the grave.

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