Guide to Jewish Funeral and Mourning Practices

 by
Rabbi Dr. Goldie Milgram, author of

Living Jewish Life Cycle:
How to Create Meaningful Jewish Rites of Passage at Every Stage of Life


The Jewish Funeral Process

Special Prayers:
El Maleh Rachamim,

Kaddish

Preparing a Eulogy

The Funeral Service

Kriah, the black button ribbon explained

Infant death before a full 30 days of life

What is Shloshim?
 

Upon Hearing of a Death, What to Say

When Meeting a Mourner, What to Say

Taharah and Shmirah, How is the body prepared for a Jewish funeral?

Can Jews have autopsy, embalming, cremation?

Are there special casket requirements?


What Information Goes on a Jewish Tombstone?

Going back to the house after
the funeral or memorial service
what to serve, what to bring

 Yizkor


Is There a "World to Come"
Jewish Views on the Afterlife


Suicide

 


Following up on a burial or cremation where there was no Jewish ritual

Memorializing Someone

 

Unveiling Ritual

Other Losses

Miscarriage

A Care Giver's Kaddish

Closing your business
or leaving a job 

Divorce and
"Get" Ritual

 

 

 

My Dearest Friend: 
      Going to your grandmother's grave to recite the traditional prayers is an important and powerful mitzvah.  Judaism seeks to help us transform the pain of loss over the course of a year into an enduring honoring of their life as part of our stored and accessed memories.       

       So far as I can sense, her soul will be buoyed up on its travels by your willingness to do this mitzvah which a soul cannot do for itself. Your family did the first half of the mitzvah, restoring the body to the earth. A soul cannot do that mitzvah for itself either, as it is already entering it's next level of experiences.
       You don't have to be a rabbi to create a meaningful ritual.  In the steps that follow I've outlined simple and powerful steps for offering a meaningful Jewish ritual for your circumstance.  Please let me know how this goes for you.
                                                                                                        Reb Goldie

1. It is traditional to start with a psalm. Psalms are rich in the variety of human emotions.
See which verse strikes you and just repeat it over and over as a way of being in touch with God and your feelings. Do this beside her grave.

2. Recite a small eulogy, let her soul and God know at least one good thing about her life. It is a time to sing praises as a soul moves on and send it blessings to be free of its issues on the next plane of existence.

3. Read the following words. These are only said at a funeral, sometimes unveilings and at yizkor (memorial) services on certain holy days. These are words which seem to help midwife a soul to the next level and are a source of comfort to us as we mourn their absence in our daily lives.

El malei rachamim    God Who is Full of Compassion
Shokhein ba-m'roemim      Who dwells beyond
(ed. note, I think of this as the God aspect which is like the eggshell is to the egg)
Ha'm'tzei m'nukha n'khona     Locate a true rest
(ed. note, customized experience where the issues they bore on the embodied plane are no longer operative)
Al kanfei HaShekhinah   on the wings of the Shekhinah  (Ed. note: I sense our sages saw this as image of baby eagles warmly nestled together under a mother eagle's wing...........meaning properly parented, which often wasn't a person's case in embodied life.)
B'ma-alot k'doshim u'tohorim  may this soul rise to the level of the holy, purest of                                                               intentioned beings
k'zohar ha-rakeeyah mzheerim   who shimmer like the sky at its most stunning moments
Et nishmat................her first name Hebrew if possible or English
(For the soul of .........................)bat ...........................her mother and father's first names
(daughter of ................and ........................)

Sheh halkhah et olama      who is on the path to her next world of being
B-ah-vore she anahnu mitpah-l'lim b'ad hazkarat nishmatah     
for whom we are praying so that her soul will become a sacred memory
B'gan Ayden T'hay mnukhatah     let her rest be Edenic
La-kheyn baal ha Rachamim               therefore, Compassionate-Womb-like One
Yastireyha b'seyter knahfayv l'olamim secret her into the world beneath your wings
V'yitzror beet-tzror ha-hayim et nishmahtah keep her soul-ties alive ed. note, let her/us remain in touch
Adonai hi nakhalatah That Which is Becoming What It is Becoming is her inheritance .. (ed note, she is within Creation's process, as are we all.........ongoingly important are we to the Source)
V'tahnu-ahk b'shalom al mishkavah May she be resting in completion/peace .........(ie., may her soul not be restless and it accept this moving on)
V'nomar ameyn. And let us say, amen.........[amen can be seen as an acronym for El (God) Melekh (rules/continues) ne-eman (faithfully) ed note, i.e. trust the Process.........all is connecting and unfolding and we are loved and part of this, even when we can't figure it out because we are limited by being human.)

4. Take a rock and place it on or near her grave. It is a tradition to do this whenever we visit a grave to show that to those who walk by that someone is indeed remembered.

5. Leave a pitcher of water and a bowel and towel outside your doorway at home. When you return from the cemetary it is traditional to wash your hands. Lift your hands up after the washing and send a blessing from your heart to the Source for supporting us through these transitions and blessing us with the radically amazing phenomenon that is this life.

All my love to you and blessings for the integration of the loss of this important, special person into a meaningful, cherished series of memories for you and generations in your family to come.  Reb Goldie
 

Kaddish is written in the lingua franca of the rabbinic period (when we lived under the Greeks and Romans); presumably so that every person would understand the prayer. Today most Jews don't understand Aramaic (or Yiddish/Ladino/Amharic/Arabic or German) the linguae franca of our most recent historical periods) and the cadence of Kaddish has taken on the quality of a mantra.

Its rhythmic, repetitive quality holds a deep, sacred comforting place in the life-cycle practices of our people. A rendition of the meaning I find in the words is listed below the Aramaic transliteration.

Yitgadal v'yitkadash shemi rabbah

V'almah divrah khirutei v'yamlikh malkhutei

V'khayeh-khon u'v'yoh-mey-khon u'v'kheyey d'khol beyt Yisrael

Ba-ah gah lah u'vizman kah-riv v'yimru ah-meyn.

Y'hey shmei rabbah m'vorakh, l'olam u'l'awl-mey almaya yitbarakh

Yitbarakh v'yishtabakh v'yitbah-ahr v'yit-roh-mam v'yitnahseh

V'yithadar, v'yitah-leh, v'yitha-lal shmei d'kud'shah brikh hu.

L'aylah min kal birkhatah v'shee-rah-tah

Tooshb'khata v'neh-khe-mata ba-ahmeeran b'almah v'imru ah meyn

Y'hei slhama raba min shamaya v'khayiim alyenu v'al kol Yisrael v'imru

ameyn.

Oseh shalom bim-roe-mahv hu yah-ah-seh shalom aleynu v'al kol Yisrael v'al

kol yoshvei teyvel.  V'imru ameyn.

Interpretive Translation  of Kaddish by Rabbi Goldie Milgram:

Ever evolving and increasing in holiness are the many names of God within this intentionally created world. May awareness of this governing principle be in effect for the days of each life and the lives of all our people in a time that is quickly approaching.
     Let us affirm this faithful God.

May these many names be blessed in all the dimensions and even more dimensions.....

Blessed, praised, transcendently wondrous, ever trying harder and ever more glorious, going up to new levels, praiseful is this Holy Consciousness. Blessed be. Above and beyond all blessings and songs and praises and sweetness that could be spoken in any dimension.
       Let us affirm this faithful God.

May there be increasing peace from cosmic intention and life for us and all our people.
       Let us affirm this faithful God.

May the one who makes cosmic harmony make this for us, our people and all residents of this planet.
       Let us affirm this faithful God.

A Caregiver’s Kaddish
Jointly composed by Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Barry Bub, M.D.
 

Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice, Meaning and Mitzvah, & Make Your Own Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Is it possible to allow time in a medical practice to really notice who has died and what they have meant to those who have been involved in their care?

It is traditional to say Kaddish once burial has taken place. There are several forms of Kaddish in Jewish liturgy more familiar among them are the Reader's Kaddish, hatzi-kaddish, Kaddish d'rabbanan (respect for teachers) and Mourner's Kaddish.

This caregiver's Kaddish is based on the internal meaning of the traditional Kaddish, and is designed to be said by the professional staff.  This could really be a Kaddish said by any professional care giver - chaplain, home health aide, therapist, etc. 

Note: While family and friends certainly are often the primary caregivers, the traditional Kaddish seems more appropriate for them in its traditional times and places.

     We gather for just a few minutes to acknowledge and mourn

the passing of ___________ __________ ,  whom we cared for

in this practice.

     As his/her physician/nurse/caregiver, etc. 

I have a few memories of him/her to share.

I also invite those our staff to engage in this mitzvah of "zakhor" - remembering. 

[Allow time for sharing memories of person who has died, then continue below]

Those who are comfortable doing so, please join me in a Kaddish

prayer:  Also, feel free to express your own words of prayer.


Yitgadal, v’yitkadash
.

Ever expanding in our awareness is the miracle of life.

That connects every cell to each other and every life to one another.

Yet, in all the worlds of possibility only certain paths do cross.

Let us say, Amen.

Y’hay shlamah rabbah min shamaya

How surprising and what a blessing it is to serve

and when required, to help escort a soul past its ties to the body.

Let us say, Amen.

Oseh shalom bimrohmahv

May the Source of ultimate wholeness,

support us in creating peace and healing for all -

mind, body, spirit and planet.

Let us say, Amen.

May our memories of ___________ ________________

always be for a blessing.

Let us say, Amen.

[Note: Hold onto some silence here, try not to rush right into work.]
 

The Memorial Mitzvah

It is traditional to honor the memory of our loved ones by giving to a worthy cause in their name.
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Unveiling Ritual:

Dear Reb Goldie:  None of us speak Hebrew and the translations of traditional prayers don't seem useful for our mom's unveiling.  Could you suggest a ritual that would be accessible and grounded in Judaism?

Dear Reader:  You have asked an important question.  Such a ritual follows, with a little responsive piece I wrote for a beloved aunt's unveiling.  Also this is a good time to take note of the transition you have been going through, reflect upon the journey you and your family have been upon to integrate this loss and honor her life.   Let me know how this ritual works for you.  Reb Goldie

l.  Select a psalm or a few psalms that speak to the occasion.

2. Remove the veil and quietly be with the stone, the place, the memories.

3. Invite sharing if that feels safe.

4. Optional: chant or read the traditional prayer El Malei Rachamim

El malei rachamim    God Who is Full of Compassion
Shokhein ba-m'roemim      Who dwells beyond
(ed. note, I think of this as the God aspect which is like the eggshell is to the egg)
Ha'm'tzei m'nukha n'khona     Locate a true rest
(ed. note, customized experience where the issues this soul  bore on the embodied plane are no longer operative)
Al kanfei HaShekhinah   on the wings of the Shekhinah  (Ed. note: I sense our sages saw this as image of baby eagles warmly nestled together under a mother eagle's wing...........meaning properly parented, which often wasn't a person's case in embodied life.)
B'ma-alot k'doshim u'tohorim  may this soul rise to the level of the holy, purest of                                                               intentioned beings
k'zohar ha-rakeeyah mzheerim   who shimmer like the sky at its most stunning moments
Et nishmat................her first name Hebrew if possible or English
(For the soul of .........................)bat ...........................her mother and father's first names
(daughter of ................and ........................)

Sheh halkhah et olama      who is on the path to her next world of being
B-ah-vore she anahnu mitpah-l'lim b'ad hazkarat nishmatah     
for whom we are praying so that her soul will become a sacred memory
B'gan Ayden T'hay mnukhatah     let her rest be Edenic
La-kheyn baal ha Rachamim               therefore, Compassionate-Womb-like One
Yastireyha b'seyter knahfayv l'olamim secret her into the world beneath your wings
V'yitzror beet-tzror ha-hayim et nishmahtah keep her soul-ties alive ed. note, let her/us remain in touch
Adonai hi nakhalatah That Which is Becoming What It is Becoming is her inheritance .. (ed note, she is within Creation's process, as are we all.........ongoingly important are we to the Source)
V'tahnu-ahk b'shalom al mishkavah May she be resting in completion/peace .........(ie., may her soul not be restless and it accept this moving on)
V'nomar ameyn. And let us say, amen.........[amen can be seen as an acronym for El (God) Melekh (rules/continues) ne-eman (faithfully) ed note, i.e. trust the Process.........all is connecting and unfolding and we are loved and part of this, even when we can't figure it out because we are limited by being human.

5. Option to use the priestly blessing - chant or read, Hebrew or English

                 May the blessings of God rest upon you.
                 May God's peace abide in you.
                 May God's spirit illuminate your soul.
                 Now and forever more.                             (Some will recognize this as a verse from the Dances of
                                                                                   Universal Peace...others will note it was taken from
                                                                                    the Jewish priestly benediction.)

 If you are so inclined, a biblical Hebrew version of the above would be:
     Y'vareh-h'ha m. y'varekh f. adonai [v'yish-meh-reh-kha m.] [v'yishm'reykh f.]
     Yah-air pah-nahv [ey-leh-khah m.] [eyleykh f.]
     [V'yee-hu-nekka m.] [v'yee-hu'neykh f.]
     Yeesah Adonai pah-nahv [aylekhah m.] [ayleykh f.]
     V'ya'saym [l'kha m.] [lakh f.] shalom.

5.  Everyone places a small stone on the headstone, the leader might say:

  Dear  (aunt, uncle, mother, father, nephew, niece, cousin, friend....) ______________:
     Reader #1:  Your memory is sacred to us.
     All Together:  We will never forget you.
     Reader #2:   May the ongoing journey of your soul be joyful.
     All Together:  We will never forget you.
     Reader #3:  We will tell stories of your life.
     All Together:  We will never forget you.
     Reader #4:  Send us blessings when you can.
     All Together:  We will never forget you.

Is There a World-to-Come? Jewish Views of the Afterlife

          Many options exist within the range of traditional Jewish sources on this matter:

Some say:  The world to come is the world we leave to our children.
Some say: The body will be physically resurrected into renewed life when a messiah or messianic age dawns
Some say:
Souls travel disembodied through many levels in another realm of being until they rejoin the pool of all souls or cluster to create a wisdom pool called the “World’s over-soul.”
Some say:
There is a form of reincarnation, gilgul. You may be surprised to learn this means that souls that have not yet reached the level of tzaddik, of the highest level of an ethically pure life, will be reconditioned and “re-cycled” after being in an interim space called sheol for about a year. These souls are said to re-enter life as the soul sparks of a newborn in order to evolve more completely. This can happen repeatedly, even with rebirth as an animal or plant. Many soul sparks can combine to comprise the soul of any one person.

 

Some say: Souls are able to touch this earthly plane of being with messages in dreams or by the process of ibbur, wherein an elevated soul chooses to enter and help you with the mission of your life.


Some say:
There is also the process of dybbuk, wherein a soul that was meant to depart enters someone quite randomly and clings to that person, requiring professional intervention to help soul accept that its term here is over. 

Scholarly documentation of these diverse approaches to life after death is widely available; please see the suggestions for future reading at the back Living Jewish Life Cycle.
 

 

 

Books on Jewish Spirituality by Rabbi Goldie Milgram


Meaning & Mitzvah:
Prayer, G*d Torah,
Hebrew, Mitzvot & Peoplehood













Reclaiming Judaism
as a
Spiritual Practice


Living Jewish Life Cycle:
Creating Meaningful
Rites of Passage
for Every Stage of Life


Make Your Own
Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Personal Approach to Creating a Meaningful Rite of Passage