Can Jewish People be Buried with Tattoos?

Old myths die hard. For ages, almost every Jewish individual has heard the following from the start of their journey in the religion, “Jewish people cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they have tattoos.” 

A report done by the Pew Research Center of 1,500 people discovered that 36 percent of 18 to 25 year olds and 40 percent of 26 to 40 year olds have at least one tattoo. The increased prevalence of body art in society has put this old wives tale into question. Is it true that Jewish people cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries if they make the decision to get a tattoo? 

Rabbinical scholars from various religious and educational institutions, interviewed by the New York Times, generalized that it is simply a legend. It is possible that this myth was rooted in tales told about a handful of cemeteries who had policies in place that put a ban on tattoos. Jewish community and family members that shared in the distaste for tattoos, may have continued to spread this myth in an attempt to stop younger individuals from choosing to get a permanent mark. 

Although some people tattoo themselves in order to rebel or prove a point, many use ink to connect with their cultural identity and religious ideals. Jewish themed tattoos range from the Star of David, to Hebrew words of wisdom and Holocaust memorials, to represent religious pride and experiences of the Jewish people throughout history.  It is a visible and tangible way for individuals to feel a part of something greater than themselves. 

The actual Jewish law pertaining to tattoos is unclear, as the Torah states that you should not desecrate the body, but committing one sin does not exclude someone from Judaism. Getting a tattoo is like any other violation to the Torah. The only difference, however, is that tattoos are permanent. Drinking alcohol, smoking, and overeating are all violations of Jewish law because they negatively affect the body, but mostly temporarily.

While this myth has no real legitimacy, individual cemeteries and other organizations are entitled to make their own rules and standards for burial. So, while untrue that all Jewish cemeteries prohibit burial on the basis of tattoos, there is a possibility that you could come across one that upholds this common misconception.

Each and every individual has the authority to decide how they choose to best represent their heritage and identity. If this is through tattoos, rest assured that this old myth has died.

Although it is rare that you will encounter a funeral home or cemetery that will refuse to carry out a traditional Jewish funeral and burial, respectively, this is a topic that can be discussed when pre-planning or making funeral arrangements, if you have concerns. At Star of David Memorial Chapels in Long Island, New York, our funeral directors are here to help to provide guidance with questions such as this. Please contact us at 631-454-9600.

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Although we may lose the physical presence of our loved ones, the memory of them will remain in our hearts and minds forever. Before tucking these memories away, we must say an official goodbye to their physical being and that is typically carried out by holding a funeral.

In order to preserve the bodies and honor the individuals that we lost, we engage in funeral planning which includes preparing the body for burial, the funeral service, and burial. While all of this is difficult to do when we experience the death of someone close to us, funerals actually fulfill many of our emotional needs during these moments.

Funerals allow us to say goodbye to those who have passed on.  Holding funeral services helps with acceptance of death and reminds us that there is hope and healing on the horizon. While our lives have been changed, that does not mean the person is gone. They are rather, with us in spirit, which inevitably takes time to adjust to. 

One of the most important aspects of funerals is that they provide us with a support system while we are grieving. Friends, family, and the community will provide their support, love, and condolences by attending the funeral and shiva. Their presence helps mourners appreciate the impact that the deceased had on others while living.

Memorial services allow us to pay tribute to the accomplishments of our friends and family that have passed on.  They allow us to recall the memories we have shared with our loved one. And ultimately, they mark the significance of the life that was lived. These services force us to face reality and begin mourning, which is necessary in order to heal. During the mourning period, we are reminded of the blessing of life, and we can recognize that it is okay to acknowledge death.

Reflecting on the meaning of life and death can also help with the healing process. Considering this, funerals also offer continuity and hope for the living. Although a loved one is no longer with us physically, we, the living are still here and have a wonderful life to live. Funerals can help us appreciate the memories we have made and the future ahead of us.

We must honor those who have passed in an atmosphere of love, support, and mutual grief. At Star of David Memorial Chapels, our funeral directors will help you to make funeral arrangements that will honor your loved ones in the proper way. Contact us today at 631-454-9600 to find out about all the services that we offer.

Will Organ Donation Affect My Jewish Burial?

Many people have heard that if you are an organ donor, you cannot be buried according to Jewish law. Historically, this may have been true, but in modern times, this is no longer the case. Judaism considers saving a life as the highest of ethical obligations, which is why organ donation has universal support across the spectrum of observance from Reformed to Orthodox. So, if you have been an organ donor or plan to be, have no worries, you can still be buried in a Jewish cemetery, according to Jewish tradition. 

Why should this even matter? The Torah commands us to be buried whole which is why there is debate on this topic. Anything taken from the body, meant that the entire body was not buried. However, modern beliefs say that technically, “wholeness” is satisfied when considering that the transplanted tissue or organs will eventually be buried when the recipient dies.  

The question of whether to appoint oneself as an organ donor often comes up when it is time to check the box during application for or renewal of a driver’s license. There is a certain degree of pre-planning that should occur before choosing this designation. The individual’s choice may affect them at end of life, which could occur at any time. So, the preference should be made when that person is fully informed and aware of their options. It is possible that the choice to donate organs or tissue may come up while living, but in most cases, organs are transplanted to another when death occurs.  

Moving forward with donation to another while living, enables the gift of life to both parties, conforming to the Jewish belief that life is sacred. Donation upon death is fraught with more concerns. Removing organs from the deceased brings up a lot of ethical questions. This pertains specifically to the state of death. Due to the “gift of life” consideration, the intended usage of the organs could potentially affect the donor’s burial according to Jewish traditions. Are the organs being distributed to recipients to save their lives? Are they being given to science, for research? However, the donor’s state is more controversial, as it involves intervention from doctors and the optimal timing for removal to ensure the health of the organs. 

Organ donorship can be confusing to many and there is an annual Donor Sabbath, for this very reason. Religious leaders across all religions, donor families, and medical professionals promote awareness and education to the public. Like with funeral planning, education in advance is imperative to relieve pressure when an eternal decision needs to be made. For those considering this mitzvah, speaking with a rabbi and family members may be called for to make this extremely significant choice. 

At Star of David Memorial Chapels on Long Island, our funeral directors understand that there are many emotional choices related to death. Please contact us at 631-454-9600 for guidance and help related to making Jewish funeral arrangements. 

 

Remembering Your Loved Ones During the High Holidays

jewish funeral faqCelebrating the holidays without a loved one is understandably, painful. Year after year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prescribed times to reflect on life and remember loved ones, are spent with family, it’s a Jewish tradition. While this tradition continues amongst the living, the absence of those that have passed, is noticeable. After losing a beloved family member or dear friend, it is compelling to revive memories and honor that individual during the holidays, so it feels like they are still a part of these special times. On Yom Kippur, reciting Yiskor and the lighting of Yahrzeit candles are dedicated practices to remember the deceased, but there are also additional ways to incorporate their lives into the new year activities. 
 
Many Jewish people visit the cemetery prior to the High Holidays, on the day before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Visiting the family’s cemetery plots, connects us with the holiday themes such as renewal and reflection. Also, some congregations will hold Kever Avot (which translates to ancestors’ graves), communal memorial services at this time of the year. At synagogue on Yom Kippur, attending the Yiskor (the Hebrew word for “remembrance”) service to recite prayers that strengthen the connection between ourselves and those that we have lost, or putting a name in the program or Book of Remembrance produced by the synagogue, are conventional ways to memorialize those that we have lost. 
 
Around Yiskor, some people will also give tzedakah (charitable donations) to honor and perpetuate the values of their loved ones. Donations to synagogues, hospitals, or charities are a meaningful and long-lasting way to commemorate family members. Purchasing a Yarzheit plaque offered by one’s synagogue is a permanent way to preserve a loved one’s memory. Depending on the type of plaque, it may be lit around the time of the individual’s Yarzheit and during the four Yizkor services that are held throughout the year.  
 
Each of the prior events happen outside of the home, but memorializing takes place within the home as well. It is customary to light memorial candles, but you can embellish by placing pictures of loved ones nearby. If there is an area where guests congregate during holiday meals, place family albums out and spend time sifting through them and retelling stories. Generally, most family members are gathered around simultaneously, making it the perfect time to link generations by recalling memories about those no longer here and sharing them with children. 
 
It is also possible to celebrate the life of those no longer physically present by continuing the traditions that they created or by using their holiday paraphernalia. Setting the table with their linens, china, or silverware adds a special touch to holiday dinners. Preparing dishes with their recipes or serving their favorite foods can resonate strongly with all that will get to enjoy. Additionally, the continuation of special holiday rituals like singing, provides comfort and enhances the connection to those individuals.  
 
Don’t be afraid to both maintain and create new traditions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the perfect times to introduce new ways to preserve memories and create connections that future generations will observe in your memory one day.  
 
Star of David Memorial Chapels, Inc. is located in Long Island, New York. In addition to providing resources to help you navigate topics related to death and Judaism, we are here to provide guidance with any of your Jewish funeral planning needs. Contact us at (631-454-9600).  

What Happens if Death Occurred Just Prior to, or During a Jewish Holiday?

With the high holidays just a few weeks away, it’s likely that you have already started your planning. Any impending holiday leaves you with questions such as what to serve and which family members or friends to invite over. When approaching each holiday, those of the Jewish faith also typically focus on connecting with their heritage and spending time with family. Many people are familiar with the prayers, the customs, and the traditional fare, but there may come a holiday that one finds themselves asking, “what happens if there is a death at this time?” 

According to Jewish tradition, a funeral takes place as soon as possible after the death, usually no later than 24-hours. However, this changes if death occurs on or during a holiday. Funerals are generally not held on the festival days of Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, the first/second/last days of other festivals, or on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. They would have to take place afterwards. 

Besides funerals, the presence of a holiday will affect shiva as well. Shiva, the seven-day period of Jewish mourning, begins immediately following the burial and concludes on the seventh day. This remains true if a death occurs just prior to a holiday, but any observance is completed once the holiday begins, regardless of how much time was dedicated to shiva. If a death/burial occurs during a festival (when permitted), the shiva will begin the evening after the conclusion of the holiday.  

If death occurred on or just before a holiday, without the mourner’s knowledge, shiva will still not begin until after the holiday concludes. While this material serves to provide you with general information, the funeral directors or rabbi will be able to offer you guidance about funeral arrangements and shiva, should you find yourself in a situation where you lose a loved one around a holiday.  

We’re Here to Help! 

We are located near Jewish cemeteries on Long Island (Wellwood, Beth Moses, Mt. Ararat, New Montefiore). If you are in the area, please feel free to stop by or contact us (631-454-9600) regarding any of your questions pertaining to Jewish funerals.

End of Life Decisions: How the Coronavirus has Expedited Estate and Funeral Planning 

The pandemic has altered most people’s plans for many things. Whether short-term or long-term, minuscule to grand, it was inevitable that plans would have to be adjusted or cancelled to coincide with what is currently going on in the world. Being cooped up in apartments for months made many New York families fast forward their plans to become homeowners, employees with stable careers found themselves seeking new employment, and business owners have been faced with the difficult decision to close up shop permanently. Each of these changes relate to life planning, but at the same time, the coronavirus has accelerated motivation for end-of-life planning.  

Typically, the majority of adults shy away from discussing end-of-life care or dwelling on their eventual death. Dealing with Covid-19 has prompted people to talk about death. Individuals of all ages may be scared, especially knowing that the virus has unfortunately, affected members of every generation. Those with children, especially frontline workers or immunocompromised, have begun to hire attorneys to draw up wills as precaution or ensure that their asset beneficiaries are in order. Children with aging parents or people with underlying conditions have initiated conversations regarding who can speak on their behalf, life support or palliative care direction, and funeral planning 

After the media reports of patients in hospitals alone, intubated or in comatose states, succumbing to illness without any last communication with their families, the public became aware of the stress endured by their surviving family members. People that were on the fence about pre-planning were driven to move forward, putting advance directives and other orders in place, in the event that they became sick. 

Planning for what is inevitable should not invoke fear. Talking about end-of-life care, desire for burial vs cremation, or memorial services, should be handled in the same manner as financial or retirement planning. We obtain life insurance or secure investments to protect our loved ones. Pre-planning also protects them. Having your affairs in place now, will reduce the burden of everything from making ventilation support decisions to searching for a funeral home and making funeral arrangements. 

It is never too early to plan for the future. If you are looking for funeral directors on Long Island, please contact us (631-454-9600) for information about pre-planning funeral arrangements. We can assist you with everything from funeral and cremation services, to selecting caskets, and pointing you in the direction of local Jewish cemeteries.  

Choosing a Cemetery: A Grave Decision

Throughout life, we allocate time to make choices about where we will live, work, and vacation. The emphasis that we put on the selection of our final resting place should mimic how we make choices for locales while living. For many, the decision may already be made for them by way of family plots. For others, funeral planning may just not be on the forefront of their minds. But, when the time comes for the latter group, the decision of where to be buried may be a confusing one. Typically, religious preferences limit the options to a select few and make the process less daunting. So, if you decide on a burial within a Jewish cemetery, which of them is the right one for you? 

Cemetery Options 

Think about where relatives are buried. If the family plot is already full, is it possible that there are nearby sites within that cemetery for additional family members? Are your wishes to be buried where you were born or where you live now? If you have no specific preference, it would be ideal to be located close to where most of the family resides. For instance, if you and your family mainly live on Long Island, it wouldn’t make sense to arbitrarily choose a cemetery in other areas of New York or out of state.  

Are you a member of a synagogue? If so, it may be possible to purchase plots that they have already secured to be made available to congregants. Did you have prior dealings with a specific funeral director or Jewish funeral home? They may be able to point you in the right direction. If you are already working with one for pre-planning, ask for guidance pertaining to cemeteries that may be located nearby.   

There are many types of cemeteries including those owned by congregations, mixed religions which include a Jewish section, memorial parks, and VA which is operated by the Veteran Affairs Administration. Plan to visit any that are being considered. The cemeteries will provide a map of available grave sites or take you on a tour of the grounds. You will need to determine whether you want to reserve a lot for extended family. Purchasing several plots upfront can be less expensive and allow you to prohibit outsiders from purchasing ones that you may eventually need. 

Believe it or not, a pleasant atmosphere is strongly preferred by many.  Is there a plot surrounded by beautiful trees and cascading hills (they may add to the cost)? Is the cemetery in need of upkeep? Are there rules pertaining to monuments or markers? Some memorial parks or gardens may only allow stones that are flush with the ground, so if your plans are for a more elaborate headstone, it may not be congruent with their requirements.  

Don’t forget to ask about additional services or costs. Graveside services may require an additional cost and you may be required to purchase extras like a grave liner.  Additionally, charges may extend past the burial, such as perpetual care.  

Benefits of Funeral and Burial Pre-Planning  

Nobody is ever ready to start thinking about their funeral, nor is making preparations for death an easy process. Pre-planning a funeral can make a normally difficult and confusing situation easier. It is simple to set aside time to decide on everything from selecting a casket and designating a place to hold funeral services to identification of a specific plot. The ability to make comparisons often results in more affordable funeral costs.  

Choosing a cemetery in advance and funeral preparation is beneficial for many reasons, most importantly, reducing the burden on loved ones from having to make these choices at a very difficult time. There is a lot that goes into this, which most do not realize. When the time is right for you, we are here to answer any questions and to make this easier yourself and your loved ones. You can reach us at 631-454-9600. 

Funerals and Shivas as New York Reopens

Over the past few months, people have become accustomed to carrying out rituals using virtual sources. Funerals have been attended via video conferencing and mourners were consoled during online shivas. Although traditions are observed, anything carried out digitally lacks the long-established personal feel. Now that restrictions are being adjusted to ease back into normalcy, what will funerals and shivas start to look like?

State mandated guidelines will still be in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of mourners, staff, and the general public, but things will continue to change progressively. Gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted with indoor services resuming. Social distancing protocols like standing 6 feet apart from non-immediate family members and wearing masks if required to be less than 6 feett apart will still be in place, however, this is a major change for mourners who have had very limited attendees and outdoor services to protect against the spread.

It is suggested to continue taking precautions pertaining to attendance. Anyone outside of the numbers that are acceptable, feeling ill, believed to have been exposed to Covid-19, or medically fragile should stay home and participate using technology. Large gatherings at the burial should be avoided at this time. If desired or necessary, additional guests can attend and observe from inside their vehicles. Remember that for anyone who cannot come to the funeral, there is always the possibility of honoring the deceased at the unveiling next year. When traveling between memorial chapels and cemeteries, members of different families should be in separate cars or limousines. Distancing should continue at the burial site.

Limiting contact and hygiene measures like avoiding hugging and handshaking, rigorous hand washing and disinfecting is recommended when participating in or holding shiva. Shiva has a bit more flexibility now, since with 7 days, people can comfort the family in increments on different days and at staggered times. Social distancing and mask-wearing should still be carried out. It is up to the family hosting to decide if they feel comfortable with having guests in their home. Continue to use technology to stream and invite participants to share stories and memories of the decedent. Originally, minyans of 10 connected by zoom were permitted by some rabbis, but with gatherings expanded, it will be possible to meet an in-person quorum.

Surrounding yourself with family and friends is vital to healing and the grief process. While we all need to adhere to requirements set forth to protect us, eventually the social distancing rules that are keeping mourners apart will become more and more relaxed. In time, we will see less technology and more togetherness.

Preserving Memories and Planning to Celebrate Loved Ones That Recently Passed Away 

The past few weeks have been difficult for everyone; however, you may have experienced added stress, pain, or sadness from other life-altering factors like saying an unexpected goodbye to a family member or friend.  Even though a standard burial and ritual process was likely carried out, there were most definitely alterations to the manner that the service was conducted in, the make-up of the mourners present, and an adjustment to the grieving process that typically helps us to heal.  

Maybe it was the shortage of people officially saying goodbye or a traditional meal to celebrate the decedent’s life was missed. There was an obvious lack of opportunities to embrace others while simultaneously sharing what a wonderful soul your loved one was. Traditionally, solace that you and your family members receive from others would help to alleviate the loss and settle emotional and spiritual needs to get through this.  

Once the initial grieving period has passed, it is normal to think about what you can do to feel that you properly and fully honored the person that you lost. First, keep in mind that there is no rule that a life cannot be celebrated on a future date. While the unveiling held in one year generally marks that occasion, following is a list of ideas that can be done now to have ready for when normalcy in our lives returns. 

Make plans to celebrate their life with others in the future: 

  1. Invite family and friends over to your home, have a meal together, display pictures of your loved one around the house and share your fondest memories of that person. 
  2. Hold a “more public” memorial service when gatherings are permitted.
  3. Host a luncheon at the individual’s favorite restaurant, invite those close to you and share stories about that individual while enjoying their favorite dishes.

Preserve Memories: 

  1. Create a photo or memory book by going through old pictures. In addition to photographs, you can include mementos, or quotes that capture your loved one’s spirit. This book can then be shared at any of the gatherings previously listed.
  2. Compile a video or picture montage which includes their favorite music or songs that embody their spirit. 
  3. Write a poem or tribute which can be shared with others.
  4. If their birthday comes, celebrate their birthday. Have other family members celebrate their birthday. Take some time to talk about their life and the ways that they impacted Share memories. 

Take time for reflection and completing memorial projects. Remember that their physical presence may have been lost, but they will stay in your heart forever.  

Dealing With a Death at This Difficult Time

We are currently facing unprecedented circumstances leading us to alter our daily lives. The modification to spiritual and momentous experiences have had significant impact on the Jewish community. Synagogues have canceled services and other weekly gatherings, Bar Mitzvahs are being rescheduled, and weddings postponed. While many of these ritual and joyous milestone events are being avoided during this challenging time, the one occasion that continues to carry on is funerals.  

When a death occurs amid this period of distancing or isolation, the requisite steps for Kavod Ha-met should be carried out as usual, beginning with the necessary communications in order to plan for the funeral and burial. Once preparations have been initiated, continue sharing the news to relatives and friends so they are aware of the situation. Typically, details for the funeral and shiva would be shared, but now there will be alterations to what people will do to remember the deceased and provide solace to grieving family members. 

Due to gathering restrictions, funeral services taking place now should be composed of a small group of immediate family members. It is advised that elderly or sick individuals do not attend. If preferred, the family can have someone live stream the service for those who could not be there in person (check to be sure that this is permissible). For those who attend, contact should be limited and the distance between mourners should be a minimum of 6 feet. Although this will be difficult, refrain from physical contact like handshakes, hugs and kisses. Hand sanitizer should be used upon entrance and exit. If anyone outside the immediate family will be showing their respect, recommend that they join the burial only to lessen contact. Outdoor guests should be limited and practice social distancing as well.  

Of course it is upsetting that many will not have the opportunity to pay their final respects to the decedent or extend their sympathy to the family in person due to travel restrictions and gathering limitations, but according to Jewish law, the preservation of life is more important than anything else.  Despite all the changes, the deceased will still have a dignified, compassionate, and meaningful funeral. 

A traditional shiva amongst the immediate family is fine, but elder, immunocompromised, or those with underlying conditions should be discouraged from attending and outsider visits should be replaced by phone or video calls. Additionally, throughout this time of crisis, it may be possible to do a virtual minyan if all participants can see and interact with each other.  

If your concern is about extending sympathy to a friend dealing with a death at this time, call the family to express condolences. The most important thing is to be there in some way to provide emotional comfort and support. A greeting card can be sent, but if unable to physically obtain one due to restrictions, a sentimental email is sufficient. In the absence of a formal shiva, delivery of sympathy meals is also appropriate. Making a donation to a charity of the family’s choosing or planting a tree in memory of an individual remains a heartfelt and significant way to preserve their loved one’s memory or show that you care.  

We are here to make this confusing and difficult time easier on you. Please contact us with any funeral questions or guidance.