Sunday, April 18, 2010

Funerary Customs- The Jewish funeral

We went to a funeral today, a co - worker of Jeff's, who was taken away tragically.  It was a lovely and moving service, and even though I only knew of him- his name was Zen (yes, , Zen) through things Jeff would tell me, I learned more about him as people spoke at the service. He seems to have been by all accounts, a lovely person and best friend to many, with an outlook worthy of his unusual name.

This was also the first Jewish funeral I have attended.  The cemetery provided a small booklet about the customs, along with the special prayers and such. Since funerary customs are a topic that always fascinates me, I found it an interesting read. Men should have their heads covered, so Yamakas were given out by the cemetery for men to wear- wether Jewish or not.  The plain pine casket and the plain white shroud- whether you are a king or a pauper- you are the same in the eyes of G-d ( the word G-d isn't written either).

  The service started in the chapel then moved to the graveside. It is vital that the casket go into the earth. But in todays world the casket can not go straight into the ground but has to go into a cement crypt first (to prevent ground sink), so once the casket was in the crypt ,the Rabbi put 3 big shovels full of dirt on top of the box, then the lid of the crypt went on. Thus the casket was directly in the dirt.

Then, starting with the immediate family, then each person at the service,  each person takes the shovel and puts 3 shovels of dirt into the grave. And you put the shovel back in the dirt, you never hand it to the next person. In this act you are giving to the deceased with an act that they don't repay you. Its a pure gift.  As soon as the casket is in the ground the period of mourning starts. It goes on for 7 days and includes visitation and prayers.
If you visit a Jewish cemetery , you may see stones placed on top of the grave marker as in the picture above. This is done as a sign to other visitors that the deceased is a person of great esteem, and to mark the occasion of the remembrance visit.

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