Hevra Kadisha Guide
The Or Zarua Hevra Kadisha (Holy Society) was
established in 1993. Its purpose is to
assist members of the Congregation at the difficult time of death.
This guide reflects the Jewish traditions concerning
respect and dignity for the deceased and the consolation of the mourners. All laws and procedures apply equally to men
and women. The members of our Hevra Kadisha perform their duties, described
below, without any personal or private gain.
The first thing to do in the event of a death is to
call Rabbi Bolton. He is available
to guide you in making your arrangements, to advise you on all aspects of
Jewish law and philosophy pertaining to death and mourning, and to address the
ethical dilemmas that you may encounter.
More detailed definitions of the
Hebrew terms in the above table, and other terms related to mourning, follow. Please note that all gender references are meant for men
and women alike.
From the time the deceased is brought to the funeral
home until the beginning of the funeral, the deceased is not to be left alone.
A shomer sits beside the coffin and recites from the Book of Psalms. Either men
or women may be shomrim regardless of the gender of the deceased. The Hevra
Kadisha provides shomrim throughout this time.
Before the funeral, the deceased is washed, cleansed
and ritually purified, so that, in a symbolic way, he or she leaves the world
in the same condition as he entered it.
Services which the Hevra Kadisha offers to the members of Congregation Or Zarua:
Volunteers to watch the body of the deceased in the funeral chapel
Tahara (purification of the body) and dressing the deceased in takhrikhim (shrouds) by
members trained to perform these duties, showing proper respect for the dead.
A condolence meal is delivered to the mourner's home
The Hevra Kadisha ensures that there is a minyan in the house of mourning for daily services,
and provides siddurim, kipot, tallitot and mourners’ low chairs as needed.
Only individuals of the same gender perform the
tahara for the deceased. The members of the Hevra Kadisha who perform this
mitzvah are trained in the proper procedures to be followed and perform their duties
with utmost concern and respect for preserving the dignity and honor of the
The deceased is dressed in linen garments, the same
basic garments worn by the High Priest in Temple times on Yom Kippur. He is not
altered with cosmetics or dressed in a suit, dress, or any other conventional
clothing. Jewish tradition impresses upon us that whether rich or poor, we are
all equal before God. Our merit will not be based upon our material
possessions, but only upon our deeds. Each of us should symbolically meet our
Maker dressed as if we were the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on Yom
For many people the purchase of a coffin for a loved
one can be a very difficult decision. In addition, the choice is being made at
an emotionally difficult time for the survivors.
Jewish tradition prefers burial to take place in a
plain pine box with minimal ornamentation. That way, all is returned to nature
and, as the soul returns to God, the coffin, body, and shrouds are reunited
with the earth, out of whose substance all life is continually made. You should
feel comfortable expressing your preference for this type of coffin when you
make funeral arrangements. Congregation Or Zarua provides an embroidered cloth
cover to be placed over the coffin during the services.
WHO IS A MOURNER?
Mourners consist of the following people:
1. Children of the deceased
2. Spouse of deceased
3. Brother or half‑brother of the deceased
4. Sister or half-sister of the deceased
5. Parents of the deceased
KRI'AH Rending of Garment
Immediately prior to the funeral, as an expression of
grief, a cut or tear is made in the clothing of the mourner. Mourners are not
expected to wear special or new attire. Old clothes are perfectly acceptable.
In fact one can change into old, plain garments for this act. The tradition of
rending one's garments is a heritage that has its origins in Biblical times.
Since the deceased is no longer part of the living
world, and no longer has control over his appearance or how he wants to present
himself to the public, it is considered a matter of disrespect to keep the
coffin open for "viewing" by mourners and friends. The coffin should
remain closed after the deceased has been placed in it.
When God informed Adam that he was going to die, He
said to him, "By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread, till thou
return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art and
unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19), and later we read
(Ecclesiastes 12:7), "The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and
the spirit shall return to God who gave it." Jewish law is explicit: a
member of the Jewish community must be buried promptly after his death, and
burial means exactly that—the body must be placed in the ground. It is
also traditional to add a small amount of earth from Israel.
Embalming, cremation, concrete vaults, and above‑ground
burial in a mausoleum are contrary to Jewish law and equivalent to leaving the
body unburied. From a Jewish standpoint, leaving a body unburied is a matter of
great discourtesy and irreverence. While these prohibitions have always
reflected the Judaic emphasis on returning the body gently and carefully to
nature, it is especially important after the Holocaust to discourage cremation.
The grave is filled with earth before Kaddish is
recited. Sharing the task of filling the grave is considered a privilege and
duty. It is a way of saying a "last good bye" to the deceased, and
the participants are joining in their last act of care and loving kindness for
SE'UDAT HAVRA'AH Meal of Condolence
This is the first meal the mourners eat upon their
return from the cemetery. It includes hard‑boiled eggs, their roundness
symbolizing the continuous nature of life.
SHIVAH The First Week of Mourning
Seven days, starting immediately after the burial and
ending on the morning of the seventh day, are set aside as a period of intense
mourning when the mourners stay at home, abstaining from their normal
activities and accepting visitors who come to offer consolation. Traditionally,
the mourners sit on special low chairs. In addition, mourners are enjoined to
refrain from personal grooming, wearing new clothes or conjugal relations. It
is customary for mourners to wear slippers rather than normal footwear.
In memory of the deceased a special candle, provided
by the funeral chapel, remains lit for the period of the shiva.
Who should visit the house of mourning? (Nichum Aveilim)
One cannot overestimate the importance of these
visits, even when the mourner is not known personally by the visitor. The
individuals sitting shivah are members of our Congregation and need our encouragement and support during their time of
heartache and pain.
When you conclude your visit,
Jewish tradition offers a phrase to be spoken to each mourner: "May God comfort
you together with all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." The original
Hebrew is :
Ha-Makom y'nakhem etkhem b'tokh sh'ar avelei Tziyon
The phrase reaffirms the connection of each Jew to
Klal Yisrael, all the people of Israel, as it extends a hand of comfort to the
MINYAN and KADDISH
Daily services with a minyan are held during the
Shivah period in the house of the mourner so that the mourner may recite
Kaddish, demonstrating respect and honor for the deceased. Mourners should not
act as hosts during Shiva. This is the time for the community to comfort them.
For members of the Congregation it is a privilege and obligation to be part of
the minyan in the house of mourning. Our community is strengthened by each of
us participating in these minyanim to the fullest extent possible so that the
mourner is assured of the opportunity to recite kaddish during shivah.
Recitation of Kaddish continues after Shivah
concludes. For a parent, kaddish is recited for 11 months; for other
relatives, for one month.
Tzedakah is one of the traditional ways a Jew can
give a meaningful, enduring tribute to the memory of the deceased. Making a contribution in the deceased name to the synagogue or
to an organization, school, hospital, or other charity, especially one in which
the deceased had an interest, is a sign of respect and praise and is an
effective, positive way to keep his or her memory alive.
1. The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Rabbi Maurice
2. Jewish Insight on Death and Mourning, Jack Riemer, Editor
Jonathan David Publisher, Middle Village, NY, 2000 (Revised
3. Death and Bereavement, Rabbi Abner Weiss
Ktav, Hoboken, NJ, 1991
4. To Begin Again, Rabbi Naomi Levy
Ballantine Books, 1998
5. Living When a Loved One Has Died, Rabbi Earl Grollman
Houghton Miffin, 1997
Plaza Jewish Community Chapel
630 Amsterdam Avenue (at 91st Street), NYC
Tel: 212-769-4400; 800-227-3974
Riverside Memorial Chapel
180 West 76th Street (at Amsterdam Avenue), NYC
Tel: 212-362-6600; 800-448-1939; 800-262-6609
You will need to initially contact the funeral chapel
by phone to make arrangements for bringing the deceased to the chapel. It is
important to find out the possible funeral times and to clear a time with the
Rabbi. Please refer to the above section "ARON " as a guide for the
purchase of the coffin.
When you go to the funeral home to make arrangements,
you will need the following information:
1. Name of
deceased and Hebrew name
3. Next of
kin (only one person)
4. Date and
place of birth of the deceased
names including maiden name of mother
Occupation of deceased before retirement
information, if the deceased was a veteran
8. Name of
cemetery. The chapel will ask you for a deed.
Complete payment for the funeral is expected upon completion
of the funeral arrangements. You can pay by personal check. A portion can
usually be paid by credit card, after discussion with the chapel.
You will be asked, by the chapel, how many death
certificates they should order for you. Keep in mind that quite a few will be
needed as they must be presented for every legal transaction, i.e. probate of will, bank accounts, stock
and bond accounts, insurance, etc.
There are many individual issues and special concerns that have not been touched upon in this guide. We urge you to
discuss these matters with the Rabbi.
The Hevra Kadisha is a cornerstone of Jewish life and community. We welcome you to join the Hevra
Kadisha and to participate in any
(or all) of the four services provided, as described in this guide.
May we all be blessed with happiness in our homes, to do honor to our
friends and community, and to share good health for many years to come.