Rites and Ceremonies
Written by: Allan Nadler
Judaism has extensive customs and rites for mourning the loss of a relative. Burial is to take place as quickly as possible, ideally less than twenty-four hours after death. The body is ritually cleansed by volunteers from a community organization known as the chevra kadisha, or Holy Society, and buried is white shrouds—and, in the case of men, in the tallit, or fringed prayer-shawl, with one fringe removed to render it unfit for ritual use. Jewish law strictly prohibits the use of any materials that are not completely degradable, such as metal, in the construction of the burial casket, and religious Jews are typically buried in a simple pine box, with no nails, hinges, or decorations. Sefardic, or Oriental Jews, hailing from Muslim lands, bury their dead in shrouds and avoid the use of caskets.
Following the burial, immediate relatives of the deceased return home to observe a week of mourning, known as shiva (from the Hebrew word for seven), in which they receive visitors who come to comfort, feed, and otherwise sustain the spirits of the bereaved, as well as to provide for a minyan in order to conduct the thrice-daily prayers in the shiva home. Mourners are not supposed to work or even to cook for themselves during this week. Following the end of shiva, a period of less intense mourning is continued during which the bereaved are prohibited from participating in public celebrations, such as weddings parties or musical concerts. Men are prohibited from shaving during the first thirty days of mourning, known as sheloshim. The memorial prayer, known as Kaddish, is recited at all three daily services (provided a minyan is present) by those mourning the loss of parents for eleven months following the funeral.
1. Why was circumcision an important indicator of Jewish identity?
2. What is kashrut? How does it create a sense of the sacred?
3. How is the mikvah a part of Jewish ritual?
4. What rites are associated with death?