In general, Jews treat funerals with respect and solemnity, as they would any other religious service. When someone dies in the Jewish community, rules lay out the procedure for preparing the body, conducting the funeral and burial, and even the mourning period. Russian Jewish funeral customs are similar to other Jewish communities, especially those that take a more conservative approach to their religion.
Preparing for the Funeral
The Heritage Russian Jewish Congregation offers the term "anninus" to describe the period between death and burial, and the term "onen" to denote a person who was close to the deceased. The University of Washington Medical Center states that Russian Jewish funerals are completed within 24 hours of death, whenever possible. The only exceptions are "when the death occurs on Friday after sundown, on Saturday, on a Jewish holiday, or when waiting for family members to arrive." Additionally, Chabad.org discusses the taharah -- sometimes spelled tahara -- a cleansing and purification ritual that must be performed before the body can be buried.
Location and Proceedings
Generally, funerals take place at funeral homes, synagogues, or even at the gravesite, according to the Heritage Russian Jewish Congregation. Many people read a eulogy and selections from Psalms. "Kel Maleh Rachamim" and "Tziduk HaDin" are two texts recited by those gathered to express "faith in the immortality of the soul" and "acceptance of God's decisions," respectively, as explained by the HRJC. Those closest to the deceased will shovel dirt onto the casket after it has been lowered into the grave, and then they will walk away in single file, with the other attendees standing on either side.
Flowers and Gifts
Traditionally, Jews do not bring flowers to funerals or send bouquets to the family of the deceased. However, there is no law against giving or accepting tokens of support. During Shiva, the seven-day mourning period following the funeral, food is often brought by visitors to the mourners -- immediate family -- according to the "Penguin Dictionary of Judaism" by Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Cambridge. Other types of gifts are not normally provided.
For the funeral, the body is enclosed in an unadorned coffin. De Lange explains that people say prayers in their houses before they leave for the funeral and then more prayers throughout the proceedings. Many Jews invite a rabbi to take care of the ceremony, but others prefer to conduct it without one. The coffin is carried to the grave, making seven stops along the way. Typically, the coffin is then buried, after which the immediate family of the deceased say a mourner's prayer known as the great Kaddish. As the family departs, the other people say, "May God comfort you together with all those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem."
- Heritage Russian Jewish Congregation: Jewish Funeral Customs
- Penguin Dictionary of Judaism; Nicholas de Lange
- The Jewish Federations of North America: Jewish Funeral Customs: Saying Goodbye to a Loved One: Lisa Alcalay Klug
- Chabad.org: The Taharah - Preparing the Body for Burial
- University of Washington Medical Center: End-of-Life Care - The Russian Culture
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