Empower yourself with knowledge

Comprehensive answers to your after-life care questions

The Neshama Foundation

Sure. Our team has extensive knowledge and resources to assist you in finding a cemetery that best suits your specific needs.

Each situation is assessed on a per-case basis as the cost of funerals and burials differ. We have long-standing relationships with many funeral homes and cemeteries, and we aim to help every person who needs financial assistance.

Absolutely! We will help you find the right people and resources in your area to ensure your loved one receives a proper kosher burial. 

After-life care

A tahara is a ritual act of purification that occurs after a person passes away. During this process, the body is washed, cleaned, and clothed appropriately. 

Why are we washing and cleaning a body? The body leaves the world the way it entered. A newborn is immediately cleaned and washed when it enters the world. As such, the body is cleaned,  washed, and clothed appropriately when it leaves. Additionally, the soul is about to be reborn in a new spiritual world, so we prepare it accordingly. 

Taharas are performed by members of the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society). Strict procedures are followed, including complete cleansing of the body and dressing in burial shrouds. Prayers and Psalms are recited and forgiveness is asked of the deceased. The Jewish value of modesty is upheld even in death. Men handle male bodies and women prepare female bodies. While the tahara requires that the body be made as presentable as possible, embalming, cosmetic use, or any attempts to create a life-like appearance through artificial means are contrary to Jewish Law.

Tachrichim are the shrouds that the body is buried in. The soul is about to face its final Judgement Day and clothes do not matter—good deeds do. That is why every Jew is buried in the same clothes: a handmade, simple, perfectly clean, white linen shroud. This includes a white linen hat, shirt, pants, shoes, coat, and belt. Men are also dressed in a tallis (prayer shawl). The shrouds have no pockets to emphasize the fact that no worldly belongings accompany us into the Next World. 

The shrouds are modeled after the white uniform worn by the High Priest in the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur. On that holy day,  he would stand before G-d, beseeching for forgiveness for himself and the entire Jewish nation. In a similar vein, on the final Day of Judgment, each soul asks for forgiveness and implores for the needs of their  family.

Another reason that every Jew is buried in the same shrouds is to protect the poor. Nineteen hundred years ago, Rabbi Gamliel instituted this practice so the poor would not feel ashamed, and the wealthy would not compete for the fanciest burial clothing.  

Cremation is a pagan ritual that essentially denies G-d’s existence. It is the harshest form of indignity to the body. We believe that man’s soul comes from above, and when it finishes its mission on earth, it returns to G-d. The body, on the other hand, comes from the earth and shall return to the earth. Cremation destroys the body and prevents us from returning it whole to earth. Another Jewish concept is that the body belongs to our Creator and is simply loaned to us during our lifetimes. It is our duty to care for it so it can be returned in its entirety to G-d.

The act of embalming, as well as the reasoning for performing such a procedure, are contrary to Jewish law and custom.*

There are three main reasons people choose to embalm. Let’s discuss each:

  1. Sanitary: Evidence shows that unembalmed bodies don’t present any health hazards even if the deceased died from a communicable disease. Under normal conditions, the body will keep for 24 hours (unless it has been dissected). If it was kept refrigerated, as is standard practice, it will definitely remain intact until after the funeral service.
  2. Sentimental: The body is designed to eventually decompose. While embalming fluids retard the deterioration of the outer form, over time the remains will become unnatural and sickening to behold. Sentiment should be connected to the person as he lived his life, not to the entombed corpse. The deceased undoubtedly want their loved ones to remember them as they were during the peak of their lives. 
  3. Presentability- While viewing the body may seem desirable, deeper consideration shows it to be devoid of real meaning and detrimental to both religious and mental health. Religiously, it expresses disregard for the rights of the dead and a perversion of the religious significance of life and death. Psychologically, it may short-circuit the slow therapy of nature’s grief process that begins at the moment of death. Additionally, Jewish law requires the casket to remain shut as it’s disrespectful to view the body.

 

*In select cases, such as when it is a government requirement, embalming is permitted. A competent Rabbinic authority must be consulted.

Man was created in the image of G-d, and in death, his body still retains that image. One may not commit violence to the human form even after a person has passed away. Judaism commands respect for the total man, body and soul. The dissection of the body, for reasons that are not urgent and directly applicable to specific existing medical cases, is considered a matter of shame and gross dishonor.* As he was born, so does the deceased deserve to be laid to rest. 

*In select cases, with the approval of a competent Rabbinic authority, autopsies are permitted.

A shomer (guard) is someone whose sole job is to guard the body until it’s been buried. From the moment of death to the moment of burial, the body is never left alone. The soul does not depart from the body until it’s buried. As such, it would be insensitive to leave the body alone, as if it were being discarded because it was no longer useful. The shomer stays with the body day and night, reciting passages from the Book of Psalms. This lends great comfort to the soul while it waits for the body’s burial and its ascent to the Eternal World.  

Opening and closing fees can include up to and beyond 50 separate services provided by the cemetery. 

Typically, the opening and closing fee includes: 

  • Administrative duties and permanent record-keeping 
    • Determining ownership
    • Obtaining permission
    • Completion of other required documentation
    • Entering the interment particulars in the interment register
    • Maintaining all legal files 
  • Opening and closing the grave
    • Locating the grave
    • Laying out the boundaries
    • Excavating and filling the interment space
  • Installation and removal of the lowering device
  • Placement and removal of artificial grass dressing 
    • Coco-matting at the grave site
    • Leveling, tamping, re-grading, and sodding the grave site
    • Leveling and re-sodding the grave if the earth settles

Jewish funerals

While flowers are beautiful to the living, they have no meaning to the dead. When visiting the grave, it is a Jewish tradition to put a stone on the monument. The body, like a flower, blossoms and then fades away, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives on forever. All the materialistic things we have in this world, money, and vacations, are like flowers, they die with us. The good deeds, the love, and the light we bring into this world—that lasts forever. 

Another meaningful act is to give money to a charity in memory of the deceased. 

It is highly recommended to have an obituary notice that’s either placed in a local newspaper or placed online. An obituary lets the public know that a death has occurred, and it provides information about the service.  Obituaries generally include the deceased’s full name, age, city and date of birth, and the city they were living in when they died. It also includes the name of the deceased’s spouse, along with the names of anyone else significant in their lives, such as parents, children or grandchildren. Space may be limited in a newspaper obituary, but you may include a little blurb on the life and legacy of the deceased. Online obituaries and memorial websites offer the space for even more information about the deceased. 

Funerals are labor intensive and require a lot of manpower. Fees include the services of a funeral director as well as the general cost of operating a funeral home. 

Funeral directors oversee the logistics following a death. They complete the necessary paperwork, plan for the transportation of the body, and implement the family’s decision regarding the service and the final resting place of the body. Beyond the logistics, funeral directors provide moral support and guidance for those coping with the death of a loved one.

Yes, definitely. The word levayah (which refers to the funeral procession) literally means ‘to accompany.’ Mourners accompany the body to its resting place in a show of respect to the deceased. The Hebrew word levayah also indicates ‘joining’ and ‘bonding.’ Even as we mourn a soul’s departure, we understand our bond to that soul transcends death. By participating in the levayah, we provide comfort to the soul as it undergoes the difficult transition from one life to another.

There are 5 basic components to a Jewish funeral: 

  1. Rending of the garments (kriyah). 

First-degree relatives (children, siblings, spouse, and parents of the deceased) are obligated to express their pain by tearing their clothes over their hearts. This is usually done at the beginning of the funeral service. (Alternatively, some communities have the custom to perform the kriyah immediately following the death, or upon the interment in the grave.)

  1. Eulogies (hesped

Eulogies are generally given by the officiating Rrabbi and/or anyone who knew the deceased well. 

  1. Escorting the deceased (levayah

Traditionally, the coffin or bier was carried on the shoulders all the way to the cemetery. The family and community would follow in a procession to accord honor and comfort to the deceased. Nowadays, long distance to burial spots usually precludes this, but it is still important to walk behind the coffin some distance. One can do that either before the hearse leaves for the cemetery or at the cemetery when the coffin is carried from the hearse to the gravesite.

  1. Burial (kevurah)

Returning the body to its source, the earth, is the final act of kindness that we can do for the deceased. It is considered a great mitzvah to physically participate in the burial. Ideally, the whole grave should be filled with dirt, by hand, by fellow Jews. When this is not possible, the coffin should be completely covered with earth. At this point, Tzidduk Hadin is recited—a series of verses acknowledging G-d’s just ways even as we confront tragedy. We then recite kaddish and El malei rachamim, a memorial prayer.

  1. Comforting the mourners

We begin the mourning process and the extending of comfort to the mourners immediately after the burial, while still at the cemetery. Those attending the burial form two parallel lines, and the mourners, who are no longer wearing leather shoes, pass through this embracing community. Those standing in the lines speak the traditional words of comfort: “Hamakom yenacheim etchem betoch shaar avelei Tziyon v’Yerushalayim – May the Almighty comfort you among all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” The mourners then move to the location chosen for the seven-day shiva mourning period. 

Jewish burials

A kosher burial consists of 4 things. 

  1. The Tahara, a ritual act of purification
  2. Tachrichim, white linen shrouds the body is buried in.
  3. An all-natural, non-metal container (or no container at all) 
  4. In-ground burial. 

Everything else is for the benefit of the deceased and the bereaved, but it’s not required by Jewish law.

The Torah tells us, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). This is the guiding principle when choosing a casket. When a casket is used, it must be made from materials that will disintegrate, allowing the body to fully return to the earth. Therefore, metal caskets are not permitted. Jewish tradition requires the deceased to be buried in a coffin made 100% of wood with holes at the bottom to hasten the body’s return to the earth. When vaults are required, they too should be open at the bottom. It is customary to use a plain pine casket in keeping with the precept that expense is not a barometer in honoring the deceased. 

The natural decomposition of the body is of utmost importance in Jewish law. The soul’s return to Heaven is dependent upon the body’s return to the earth. That is what the Prophet means when he says, “The dust returns to the earth… and the spirit returns to G-d who gave it” (Koheles 12:7). Jewish law is concerned with the urgency of burial and the natural decomposition of the body. The only acceptable burial is directly in the ground, with family members and friends helping to fill the grave completely until a mound is formed. No attempt to inhibit the body’s return to the earth is permitted.

The burial should happen as quickly as possible. As the Torah commands, “His body shall not remain all night. Thou shall surely bury him the same day” (Deuteronomy 21:23). As the body awaits burial, the soul is in a state of limbo as it cannot ascend heavenward until the body has been buried. The underlying theme throughout the burial and mourning process is respect for the deceased. Man is made in the image of G-d and must be treated with honor and dignity even in death. 

There are times when it is appropriate to postpone the funeral, but only if the reason increases the honor of the deceased. For example, if there are family members coming from far whose presence would honor the deceased, or if the rabbi cannot make it at an earlier time. One may also postpone the burial for legal matters or for Shabbos and Jewish holidays. In every case, a competent rabbinic authority should be consulted.

According to the Talmud, being buried in the Land of Israel brings a certain measure of atonement for sins. In the Torah we find that both Jacob and Joseph made an extra effort to be buried in the Land of Israel. Placing some earth from Israel in the coffin helps the soul find some measure of forgiveness and is related to the resurrection of the dead.

Jewish mourning

There are 4 stages to the mourning process: 

  1. Aninut, the pre-burial mourning
  2. Shiva, the seven-day period following the burial (the first three days are characterized by a more intense degree of mourning) 
  3. Shloshim, the 30-day mourning period. 
  4. The first year (activities of mourning are observed only by the children of the deceased). 

One of the most sacred rituals observed by Jews throughout the generations is the practice of reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer. This prayer is said for the merit of the soul of one’s father or mother. It is said at the funeral, during the week of mourning (shiva), for the following 11 months, and then every year on the anniversary of passing.

Have more questions?

The Neshama Benefit Concert: Eitan Katz Live in Miami

NESHAMA FUNDRAISER – LIVE NOW
2024 SAVE A SOUL CAMPAIGN