DEATH | FUNERALS | BURIALS
When A Loved One Dies
Jewish tradition provides a variety of rituals and practices to honor the dead and to allow mourners to adjust to the loss of a loved one. An important role of the Temple Beth Sholom community is to assist members during difficult life transitions, providing spiritual and emotional support. This brief article offers a variety of traditional and contemporary Jewish ritual practices and explains the type of support provided by the Rabbi, Chevra Kadisha (holy burial society), and TBS community. It also includes specific information for someone making burial arrangements after the death of a loved one.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Temple Office and the Rabbi at (702) 804-1333, ext. 104. We are available to answer your questions and to explain more about the traditions and options available.
Coping with the death of a loved one can be eased if decisions are based on your loved one’s desires, made in advance, and communicated to those who will carry them out. Below are some considerations to discuss with family members.
Funeral Home Arrangements
While there is no need to contact a funeral home before the death of a loved one, it is important to know that there are choices here in Las Vegas. Please call the Temple office regarding what best fits your family and the wishes of your loved one.
In addition, Las Vegas has seven consecrated Jewish cemetery spaces -- King David, Palm Northwest, Palm Eastern, Bunker's Memory Gardens, Bunker Edenvale, Woodlawn and Davis Memorial Park. Each of the funeral homes is able to work with any of the cemeteries.
Temple Beth Sholom has designated plots in the Jewish area at Woodlawn Cemetery which are available for purchase by both Temple and non-Temple members.
Living Wills and Powers of Attorney
Many individuals describe wishes concerning terminal illness through living wills and medical powers of attorney. It is extremely important that an individual’s wishes are captured in legally-binding documents and discussed with those expected to carry them out, to be certain they accept, are comfortable with, and understand the role(s) assigned to them.
One important decision is whether to offer to be an organ donor. Organ donation is among the truest ways we can live on after our own passing. In Conservative Judaism, organ donation has been elevated to the category of a mitzvah. We encourage organ donation as an ultimate example of saving a life – pikuach nefesh.
If you are present at the time of death. It is traditional to close the eyes and mouth of the deceased and to draw a covering, such as a sheet, over the body, including the face. If you are able and it is safe, you may place a candle or light by the head of the deceased. This represents the eternal nature of the soul even as we recognize the finite nature of life. You may also follow the tradition of placing the body with the feet facing the door. We need to also understand that in modernity there is a whole set of circumstances that surrounds death. For example, the majority of people leave this world while at a hospital, rehabilitation facility and hospice. In those settings it would be very complicated to light a candle or move the body around. We have to be fully aware of our surroundings so that in trying to honor our loved one we don’t end up in a difficult situation at the place and with the people that cared for them during their last minutes in this world.
Immediately Contact the Rabbi
Call the TBS office (702) 804-1333, ext. 104 to let the Rabbi know and to discuss the funeral. It is important to talk with the Rabbi about wishes regarding traditional Jewish burial ritual; agreement on the time and place of funeral and burial; a decision on the number, time, and location of shiva minyanim; and the designation of any charity for donations in honor of the deceased. When these decisions have been made, Temple Beth Sholom will communicate them to the congregation via email. The Rabbi can also discuss traditional Jewish burial rituals, answer questions about autopsy, and provide any other information as requested.
In Conservative Judaism we follow the traditional rituals involved in death and mourning. The Rabbi will communicate your wishes to the Kehillah’s Chevra Kadisha, who perform sh’mira and tahara in preparation for burial. When requested, the Chevra Kaddisha endeavors also to provide tahara for non-member burials.
Tahara is the respectful washing of the body and recitation of prayers to honor the body as the vessel that held the spirit in life. After tahara, the body is dressed in tachrichim (shrouds) and placed in the coffin, also called the aron.
The traditional aron (coffin) is simple pine wood without nails or decoration, reflecting the Jewish value that all are equal in death. It also re-enforces Judaism's this-worldly emphasis by not lavishing great resources on the deceased. The human body (adam) is closely related to the earth (adamah); we were taken from it, and this tradition ensures completion of the natural cycle "from dust to dust.”
Note: It is not in keeping with Jewish tradition for the body to be embalmed, displayed publicly, or cremated.
CHEVRA KADISHA - "A SACRED SOCIETY"
Chevra Kadisha origins, at least in part, stem from the Talmudic passage: “Rabbi Simlai lectured: Torah begins and ends with acts of loving kindness…It concludes with an act of kindness, as is written (Deut.): ‘And He buried him (Moses) in the valley.’” (Sotah 14A).
The work of the Chevra Kadisha is most beautiful and full of meaning. Judaism is predicated on the belief in an after-life where men and women will receive their ultimate eternal reward after appearing before Him for their final judgment – their final Yom Kippur. A second accepted belief is that while the soul (neshama) departs from the body upon death, it nevertheless remains nearby, fully aware of what transpires to the body and around it.
The task of the Chevra Kadisha, is to, with prayers and deep spiritual respect, care for the body, in its final washing and dressing process (tahara). It matters not whether the deceased had been a practicing Jew, whether he or she was Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, with or without affiliation. A Jew deserves a physical burial process echoing the magnificence and splendor of our culture and traditions.
We are most fortunate to have a dedicated group of men and women, unselfishly sharing their spirituality and loving kindness with those who, in time of great need and distress, require their thoughts, words and actions.
If you need more information, please call the Rabbi's office at Temple Beth Sholom (702) 804-1333 ext. 100.