Why Do Jews Place Stones or Pebbles On A Grave?

Leaving stones or pebbles on a grave is an ancient Jewish tradition, but its origins are unclear. It is not a commandment, rather a custom or tradition. Over time, many different interpretations have been offered for this practice.

Common explanations include:

A warning to Jewish priests known as Kohanim

During the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jews began marking graves with piles of rocks as a way of warning passing kohanim that they should stay back. The Jewish priests (kohanim) became ritually impure if they came within four feet of a corpse.

To keep the souls in this world

The Talmud, also referred to as the Shas, mentions that after a person dies, his or her soul continues to dwell in the grave where he or she was buried. Jews believed that placing the stones on a grave would keep the soul down in this world. Some people find comfort in this. Another interpretation suggests that the stones will keep demons and golems from getting into the graves.

Stones last longer than flowers

Flowers, though beautiful, will eventually die. A stone can symbolize the permanence of memory and will not die.

A Hebrew Pun

Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, rabbinic director of the New York Jewish Healing Center once said: “The Hebrew word for ‘pebble’ is tz’ror – and it happens that this Hebrew word also means ‘bond.’ When we pray, the memorial El Maleh Rahamim prayer (and at other times), we ask that the deceased be ‘bound up in the bond of life’ – tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that the individual’s memory continues to live on in and through us.”

Special care is usually taken when selecting a stone to put on a loved one’s grave. It may be from a place of meaning to the deceased, or simply an interesting or attractive rock. Because there is no commandment behind placing a stone, this action serves as an opportunity for you to create your own, meaningful ritual.

Sorting Out a Life

Family Finances: Heirs – Creditors – IRS

How to handle them all if it’s up to you to settle an estate This information has been provided courtesy of the Tribute Foundation of the NY State Funeral Directors Association

In a 30-year career as a bank trust-department officer- and as an executor of scores of estates, Sherry Greene has seen enough disappearing assets that she frequently changes the locks on clients’ houses when they die. In one case, she came across a woman’s sons in a fistfight on the front lawn. “One of the wives had a crowbar trying to get in the front door, and the other was upon a ladder trying to get in a window,” says Greene, who is executive vice president of Frost National Bank in Austin, TX. Her job was to tell the snarling heirs that their mother had already carefully divided her possessions, marking each item with a sticker on which she had written the name of one son or the other.

Unseemly as it may seem, it is a good idea to secure, or at the least inventory a deceased loved one’s possessions early on to avoid a free-for-all. “I had to stop them from carting off furniture,” says one of Greene clients, of the “vulturous relatives” who showed up after her father’s death in 2000. And even if your family isn’t the type to go to war over Grandma’s silver, a death in the family sets off a long chain of sometimes delicate financial tasks that someone has to master, despite his or her grief. Where’s the will? What bills have to be paid? What’s the best way to distribute household possessions or sell stuff no one in the family wants? If you’re the one who has to sort it all out, this guide is for you.

Where’s The Will

You could be in for a hunt if it isn’t tucked away in an obvious place, such as a desk drawer, file cabinet, or home safe. A trust-and-estates lawyer from Boca Raton, Florida says some people even their will in the freezer, wrapped in foil to protect it from fire. If the will doesn’t turn up at home, check the person’s place of business or look for the name of a lawyer who might have a copy. To get into a deceased person’s safe-deposit box, at a bank, you generally need a key plus a copy of the death certificate. Often, a will doesn’t turn up at all. After Joanne Sammer’s 72- year old father died unexpectedly last year, she searched his desk in his house in Lakewood, NJ. She found “tons of old bills, canceled checks, check stubs and other financial flotsam” but no will. A funeral director steered her to a county website that spelled out how to handle the estate of someone who dies intestate (without a will). “None of us ever had ever dealt with anything like this before. We were cowed by it all,” says Sammer. But even though she had to deal with the extra hassles of appearing in probate court and posting a bond, as a guarantee that she would faithfully handle the estate- a requirement that can be waived in a will-“once we got into it, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.”

Where’s the Money?

If you’re lucky, your loved one has left behind a tidy record of every mutual fund account, life insurance policy and retirement asset, not to mention an inventory of household valuables. But more often “you’re going through that person’s file drawers, checkbooks, account statements, anything you can” to track down assets. The best guide is the past three or four years’ tax returns, which will show interest and dividends have been paid or capital gains taken. But as you clean out drawers and boxes, also keep an eye out for canceled checks, deeds, stock and bond certificates, insurance policies, annuities, and evidence of employee benefits, such as a 401(k) or pension plan. Think of yourself as a detective out to deconstruct a financial life. If there’s no sign of a life insurance policy, for instance, look for a canceled check that might represent a premium payment. Additional clues can be the name of an accountant or financial adviser in a Rolodex, PDA or old fashioned address book. You might also seek out emails with financial statements attached, a spreadsheet or other computer files that might list assets. In extreme cases, you may need to search public records. If you know someone had three acres of land in Kentucky, for instance, you can search deed records at the county clerk’s office. Personal effects are usually easy to find, but not always. There is the story which a woman’s jewelry went missing for two years. “We couldn’t find any of the rings she wore every day,” or her diamond earrings. “It was a total mystery,” the trust officer recalls until the woman’s daughter changed a roll of toilet paper one day. The jewelry was wrapped in tissue and stuffed inside the spindle of the toilet paper holder. Apparently, that’s where her mother hid the gems every night.

What’s it worth?

It’s not hard to place a dollar value on stocks, mutual funds and other financial assets, though you’ll need to research share prices as of the date of death. You don’t have to worry about what the deceased paid for the investments because the tax basis is stepped up to date-of-death value. But what’s an antique breakfront worth? Or a baseball card collection? For IRS purposes, you’re supposed to determine the property’s fair-market value (the price a buyer would be willing to pay), which may bear no relationship to what an item originally cost.. A dining room table purchased for $15000, for instance, might net $800 at auction, says Roger Hall of Hall Hanley, a Pittsburgh company that specializes in liquidating assets. It’s smart to seek appraisals for valuable jewelry, furs, antiques, not just for Uncle Sam but to ensure that such items are distributed equitably, or that the estate gets fair value for them if they’re sold. For the IRS, personal items that are not particularly valuable can be grouped under the general heading ” Furniture, furnishings and personal effects” and given a lump-sum value.

Debts of the Deceased

Many are under the mistaken impression that you could walk away from the decedent’s debts. You can’t. Before any money can be distributed to heirs, creditors get first crack at the estate. (Assets that pass directly to a named beneficiary, such as life insurance, an IRA or a pay-on-a-death account, for instance, are notable exceptions.) If necessary, hard assets should be sold to raise the cash needed to pay off debts. Finding debts usually isn’t difficult; creditors are not shy about finding you. Nonetheless, state laws generally require you to notify creditors of the death and even to post a notice in a local newspaper. What happens then can be unpredictable. When her daughter died unexpectedly in 2002 with substantial debt, Marilyn Willenbrink of South Carolina, sent letters to each creditor. Several never bothered to make claims against the estate including one credit card issuer that was owed $16000. A utility company, however, made a claim for $63. Family members are not expected to foot the bill for debts that exceed estate assets, but one credit card company nonetheless asked Willenbrink to pay up. “Anyone could be quite intimidated by that,” she says. Fortunately, I knew I was not responsible for the bill.” If there’s not enough money to pay all the debts,, certain creditors get priority, depending upon state law. The funeral home, the IRS and health-care providers all get paid before credit card issuers, for instance. If the estate is insolvent, you’ll need the help of a probate lawyer to sort out who should get how much.

Unfinished Business

What if a family member dies before completing a real estate transaction or before fulfilling the terms of some other financial contract. Generally, the executor is obliged to follow through on contractual obligations. Sometimes you can appeal to reason.

Now, who gets what?

Sometimes a will is very specific, leaving the jewelry to one heir and the oriental rugs to another. But often, the will leaves property to heirs in “equal shares” requiring family members to find a way to choose for themselves.
In one estate, a woman’s will instructed that each of the four surviving daughters be given Monopoly money and then conduct an “auction” to determine who inherited which items. But families often do fine with a simple get-together in which each heir chooses an item in turn, either pulling a name from a hat to determine who goes first or choosing by birth order. If the heirs choose items that aren’t equal in value, sometimes there’s a cash distribution to even things out. It can be a delicate process as most families are dysfunctional to some degree and they have emotional baggage they’re bringing along.

What to do with what’s left?

If the remainder is modest, you may want to hold a tag sale or simply give household items and clothes to charity. If there are numerous valuable items, such as artwork or collectibles, it may simplify your life to hire an estate liquidation company to do the work for you. These companies can help inventory assets, arrange for appraisals, ship goods to family members, and sell or auction items no one in the family wants to keep. The cost can run several thousand dollars but is worth it if you’d otherwise have to coordinate those efforts from out-of-town. You can even auction the house.

As for automobiles, if they aren’t left to anyone in particular, they can be included in the property that is distributed among heirs, or they can be sold, with the proceeds going to the estate. (Either way, you will have to change the title with the local department of motor vehicles. You may also choose to donate you car to a charitable Jewish foundation such as Chabadcars.com.

Hiring Help

There are intangible rewards to doing the job yourself. It’s as if you’re doing the last service for your dead relative. It can take your mind off the grief a little. But if you need help, you can hire a probate attorney to handle most of the paperwork required to settle an estate. Or, you can hire a bank trust department to serve as your agent and handle all of the details. The cost will vary based upon the size and complexity of the estate.

In Case of Death

A TO-DO LIST for those left behind In the initial weeks after a family member dies-long before you distribute assets or pay off creditors someone needs to tackle the following tasks. Most usually fall to the estate’s Executor.

Get Death Certificates

Estimate how many you need and ask for a few extras beyond that number. You’ll need certified copies to claim insurance proceeds and to transfer money out of bank, brokerage and mutual fund accounts, among other things. Twenty is not an unreasonable number. It is better to have a few too many than be short and require more in a hurry. Ask your funeral director for advise.

Have the Mail Fowarded to You

The bills and financial statements that come in the mail are often the most reliable way to find all the deceased person’s assets and debts. The mail will also be your trigger to cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions, cable-TV service and other recurring expenses, and to request refunds where appropriate.

Hold the Bill

Before you pay even the phone bill, the executor needs to determine if there are enough assets to cover all bills and expenses. If not, creditors have to line up- with state law determining which have priority. (An exception: If a survivor continues to live in a home, you should continue to pay the mortgage and utility bills.)

Open a Bank Account

You’ll need a place to deposit interest and life-insurance proceeds, and from which to pay bills for the estate.

Apply for a Tax ID Number

The IRS considers the deceased person and his or her estate to be separate taxpaying entities. So you’ll need a separate tax-identification number to file tax returns for the estate, which account for dividends, interest and capital gains on the deceased person’s assets during the administration of the estate. (You can skip this if the income is less than $600.) You’ll also need to file final federal and state income tax returns, accounting for your family member’s earnings until the date of death. A federal estate-tax return is due if assets in the estate exceed $2 million in 2007.)

Notify Social Security

If the person was receiving Social Security benefits, You’ll have to return the check for the month he or she died, even if the death occurred at the end of the month.

Buy a Notebook

Immediately start writing everything down such as who you talked to the insurance company and the bank. There’s a great deal to keep track of. A Parting Gift:

Organizations

State treasuries hold some $23 billion in unclaimed assets, much of it stocks, bonds bank accounts, and real estate and insurance proceeds that are abandoned because the owner died without leaving a paper trail. If your own family would have trouble locating all of your assets, do them a favor of recording what you own and where it resides. Yes, pen and paper or a simple spreadsheet will do. But if you need a nudge, and perhaps a fill-in-the-blank workbook or software program can get you organized.

References

Depression in the Face of a Terminal Illness and Death

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/terminal-illness

How to Create a Peaceful At-Home Hospice for Your Loved One

https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/create-peaceful-at-home-hospice/

Anticipatory Grief: Information for Patients and Families

http://www.hospiceyukon.net/D_D_Anticipatory.html

Coping with the Loss of a Pet

https://www.funeralwise.com/pet-loss/

Helping a Child Cope with Grief and Loss

https://www.frazerconsultants.com/blog/2015/07/helping-child-cope-grief-loss

7 Ways to Help a Child with Autism Deal with Death

https://blog.theautismsite.greatergood.com/coping-death/

What To Do After the Funeral

Many people do not realize that when a loved one passes away there is much more to be taken care of after the funeral has ended. As if the stress of the loss weren’t enough, there are still issues pending regarding debts, properties, health care and the estate.

As the person responsible for the deceased’s paperwork, you will want to make sure that you get certified copies of the death certificate just in case you need it later. After that, you will need to check and see if the person who passed left a will. To do this, you might need to contact the departed’s attorney and or the state will registry. To state the obvious, this is one of the most important things you will need to take care of because it stipulates how this person’s estate will be divided after they pass.

In some cases, a family member or lawyer may have been designated to assume the responsibility of executor. This person will oversee the sale of any property, division of estate and carry out the wishes of the deceased.

You will also need to do things like get that person’s mail redirected and cancel his or her health insurance coverage to make sure any related expenses stop immediately. You’ll have to determine which need to be paid and pay them, talk to his or her employer (if they had one at the time of their passing) and figure out which benefits get paid out upon their death and much more.

Completing all these things can seem daunting, especially with a loved one’s death still very clear on your mind. However, you can rely on other family members and friends to help you lighten this load. You shouldn’t have to complete all these tiresome tasks on your own.

For more details regarding a will and estate planning, check out our additional information on estate planning here.

Prayers On Unveiling Monuments

Read one or both of the following passages:
Psalm 23 or Psalm 121, then continue

PSALM 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

PSALM 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains; From whence shall my help come?
My help cometh from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, He that keepeth Israel Doth neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper; The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall keep thee from all evil; He shall keep thy soul.
The Lord shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, From this time forth and forever.

After the psalm(s) have been read, recite the following:

The body has died; the spirit it housed will never die.
On earth our dear ones do live on through those of us to whom they were so very precious.

(THE COVERING IS REMOVED)
We now fondly dedicate this monument (plaque) to the blessed memory of (name) realizing that his (her) remains lie not only in this plot of ground but in every heart his (her) life did touch.

O God, we are grateful for the years we were privileged to share with him (her) – years when he (she) brought us so many pleasures and taught us so very much by example.

And even though he (she) has left our midst, we know he (she) will never leave our hearts where his (her) memory will endure as a blessing forever. – See more at: https://www.heidis106.sg-host.com/jewish-unveiling-prayers.html#sthash.7ndXTPh9.dpuf

Planning For Your Estate

(The following information was reprinted from an article prepared by Ronald Fatoullah, an attorney admitted to practice in NY State and Massachusetts. Mr Fatoullah is in the general practice of law concentrating on elder law, estrate planning and health care issues)

Everyone who is interested in preserving their assets for the benefit of others, reducing estate taxes, protecting personal autonomy and maintaining financial independence should consider establishing plans to do so as soon as possible. There are several primary estate planning tools that are applicable to almost every individual.

Last Will and Testament

WHO NEEDS A WILL?

Everyone should have a Will to ensure that upon their death their assets will pass to whom they intend. These intended recipients are called beneficiaries and may include family members, friends, or even charities.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A WILL?

If a person dies without a Will, the assets that remain at the time of his or her death will pass according to state intestacy law. The is means that the state will determine to whom and in what proportion the assets will be distributed. Sometimes this leads to unintended consequences.

Example #1: Mr. S dies without a Will. He leaves behind a wife and three independent adult children. Under New York’s intestacy laws, the first $50,000 of the estate plus ½ of whatever remains in the estate will pass to his wife. Whatever amount remains will be divided equally among Mr. S’s adult children
Example#2: Belle, an 89 year old single woman, disliked her only sister and wanted to leave her estate to her cousin who had cared for her throughout the years. However, Belle never got around to preparing a Will, and upon her death Belle’s entire estate passed to her sister pursuant to New York’s intestacy laws.
Example#3: Mr. X is a widower without children or family, but with many beloved friends and various charitable interests. However, if Mr. X dies without a Will, none of his assets will go to friends or charity. Instead, New York intestacy laws will be applied and result in his estate “escheating,” or passing to the state.

WHAT IF I ALREADY HAVE A WILL?

Every Will should be reviewed at least every five years to make certain that it continues to accurately reflect the testator’s wishes. A change in circumstances often creates undesirable results when an old Will is probated on behalf of a testator.

WHAT IS PROBATE?

Probate is the process of proving the validity of the will in Surrogate’s Court. The appropriate Surrogate’s Court is determined by the county in which the decedent resided at the time of his or her death.

There is often discussion regarding avoiding the expense of probate. However, depending upon personal circumstances, probate is not necessarily a costly undertaking, and need not be avoided in many cases. If you are concerned about the potential detriment of probate in your situation, consult an elder law attorney so that your circumstances may be assessed in light of your concerns.

HOW ELSE CAN A WILL HELP ME?

Wills can accomplish numerous goals in addition to effectuating your general wishes for property distribution. One of the most important reasons for making a will is to nominate an executor instead of leaving the estate’s management to a court appointed administrator.

For parents of a disabled child, special Will provisions may be included to ensure that the child’s supplemental needs are met without jeopardizing the child’s right to various governmental benefits.

Where a parent or grandparent would like to provide for a beneficiary who may not be sufficiently responsible to manage such a windfall, a Will may be drafted which distributes the asset in increments or at the discretion of a trustee. Charitable distributions may be provided for within a Will. A Will may also be used to expressly disinherit someone who you do not wish to receive any portion of your estate (except a spouse).

HOW DO I PREPARE A WILL?

It is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in the estate planning field to draft your Will. An attorney will assist you in recognizing all likely contingencies, and will help to ensure that your true intent is reflected in your Will.

POWER OF ATTORNEY

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows an agent to act on behalf of another individual (called a principal) with regard to financial and personal matters. It is an essential document during times in which the principal may be incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle his or her affairs. It is also useful to have this document if the principal is planning to be away from home for an extended period of time. Generally, a Power of Attorney is a method of ensuring that someone whom the principal trusts is able to protect the principal’s inte3rest in the event that he or she is unable to do so for himself or herself.

Who should have a Power of Attorney?

Everyone should have a Power of Attorney. Accidents and illnesses may occur at any time and a Power of Attorney will help minimize some of the potential inconveniences during such difficult times.

What is a “Durable” Power of Attorney?

A Durable Power of Attorney is a Power of Attorney that is executed when the principal has capacity and remains in effect in the event the principal becomes incapacitated. Generally, this is the most useful type of Power of Attorney for individuals who are concerned about someone acting on their behalf when they are unable to act for themselves.

Are there other types of Powers of Attorney?

There are several other types of Powers of Attorney that an individual may choose to execute.
A “Springing” Power of Attorney is a Power of Attorney which takes effect only after the principal becomes incapacitated. It requires that the instrument provide the terms by which the principal will be deemed incapacitated, such as “findings by two certified physicians”. As such, a Springing Power of Attorney does not always ensure a smooth transition in the handling of the principal’s affairs, but it may prevent the agent from prematurely acting on the principal’s behalf.
A “Limited” Power of Attorney is a Power of Attorney which gives only one or a few powers and/or for a limited period of time. An example of this is granting a Power of Attorney for purposes of appearing on your behalf at a real estate closing because you will be out of town.

What if I change my mind after I execute a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Atorney is revocable at the will of the principal. TO do so, the principal need only to destroy the Power of Attorney instrument and notify any financial institutions at which the agent may have acted on behalf of the principal.

What if I don’t execute a Power of Attorney?

If a Power of Attorney has not been executed and a person becomes unable to handle his or her financial matters, it may become necessary for someone – a family member, a creditor or someone else – to go to court to have a guardian appointed. Guardianship proceedings are authorized pursuant to Article 81 of New York State’s Mental Hygiene Law and often become very costly and time consuming.

Living Will

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will is an advance health care directive that expresses the health care wishes of an individual. A Living Will is typically utilized when there is a medical diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

What do I do with a Living Will?

Once executed, copies of a Living Will should be given to the appointed health care agent as a direction of the individual’s wishes. The original document should be kept by the individual, but its whereabouts should be made known to the health care agent.

Health Care Proxy

What is a Health Care Proxy?

(Download New York State Health Care Proxy)
A health Care Proxy is a document whereby an individual (the ”Principal”), appoints an agent to make health care decisions on his or her behalf in the event the principal is unable to do so.

How is a Health Care Proxy different from a Living Will?

While a Living Will is an advance directive made directly by a person specifically indicating his or her wishes, A Health Care Proxy is the appointment of an agent to make substituted health care decisions on behalf of the principal.

What does a Health Care Proxy Cover?

Generally, a Health Care Proxy empowers an agent to make any and all health care decisions on behalf of the principal. These decisions may include issues relating to medications, therapy, the change of treating physicians, and any other issues that arise in the course of medical treatment. Under New York State law, unless your agent knows your wishes about artificial nutrition and hydration, the agent will not have the authority to make decisions about artificial nutrition and hydration.

Who do I appoint as my Health Care Proxy?

The person you appoint as your health Care Proxy should be someone who you know well and with whom you have discussed your health care wishes. More importantly, your Health Care Proxy should be someone who is capable of making difficult decisions under the most trying circumstances.

Other Tools for Estate Planning

What is a Revocable Living Trust?

A Revocable Living Trust is often considered a substitute for a Will. It is a trust set up by a person (the settlor) that goes into effect during the person’s lifetime and into which title and/or ownership of some or all of the settlor’s assets are transferred. The settlor may maintain control of the trust assets by naming himself or herself as trustee during his or her lifetime and/or capacity. Thereafter, a successor trustee (usually one of the settlor’s children) may be appointed to assume these responsibilities in relation to the trust.

If drafted properly, a Revocable Living Trust enables the passing of an individual’s assets without the need for probate. However, in addition to a Revocable Living trust, the settlor should also have a “pour-over” Will to account for any assets that may not have been placed into the trust prior to the settlor’s death.

What is a Qualified Personal Resident Trust?

A Qualified Personal Residence Trust enables a person to put his or her home into a trust that allows them to reside in their home for a term of years, at the end of which the house belongs to the trust beneficiaries. This results in a “gift” to the beneficiaries at a fraction of the home’s value, which reduces the estate tax burden substantially. However, there are significant income tax and practical considerations in drafting a Qualified Personal Residence Trust and it is advised that an experienced estate planning attorney be relied upon to draft such a trust.

Can I make Gifts to reduce the value of my estate?

Yes, gifting is one of the easiest and most effective methods for an individual to reduce the size of his or her estate. The most often utilized gifting strategy involves making annual exclusion gifts of up to $10,000 per donee every calendar year. (Spouses may make annual gifts of $20,000 per donee.). Gifts exceeding this amount will subject an individual to potential gift taxes, so such gifts should me made with the advice of an estate planning/elder law attorney and an accountant.

What about Life Insurance?

Life insurance is said to be one of the last true tax shelters. If purchased by the correct entity, life insurance can create tremendous estate tax planning benefits. A key factor in evaluating the benefit of a Life Insurance policy depends on determining the owner and beneficiary of the policy. Such significant issues must be discussed with an attorney and an insurance agent prior to purchasing a policy for estate planning purposes.

Should I consider purchasing Long-Term Care Insurance?

Long-term care insurance may be purchased to cover nursing home and home care costs. However, long-term care insurance can be expensive and may be particularly cost-prohibitive for senior citizens who do not have adequate income and resources. However, for healthy individuals who are between the ages of 40 through 80 and who have adequate assets, long-term care insurance is a viable option.

Next Steps for Family Members

A Loved One Has Passed. What Should the Family Do Now?

According to the spiritual traditions of Judaism, when someone dies, the soul does not completely leave this world until after the burial. This transition period is considered very confusing for the soul so the presence of the living is very important through prayers and respect to show they care.

This is also the time when several important decisions will need to be made by the next-of-kin regarding the funeral arrangements. Immediately following the moment of death, a series of practical and religious issues take effect and certain laws and rituals are honored.

  • “The True Judge” blessing. Those present at the time of death recite the blessing: Baruch Dayan Ha’emet — “Blessed be the True Judge”
  • Covering the body. After death is definitely established, the eyes and mouth of the deceased should be closed and a sheet or other cover drawn over the person’s face; there is a tradition for a child or close relative to do this—if he or she can cope emotionally with it.
  • The body of the deceased should then be placed on the floor, and candles should be lit near the deceased’s head.
  • While lowering the body to the floor, forgiveness should be asked of the deceased.
  • Psalms.After lighting the candles, Psalms should be recited, including Psalms 23, verse 17 of Psalm 90, and Psalm 91.
  • Arrange for the “Taharah.” The family’s rabbi and the funeral home should be called at this point—if it has not already been done. The funeral home should be informed that a “taharah” will be needed.
  • Dignity of the deceased. The human body is sacred, and its integrity, privacy and dignity are vigilantly protected by Jewish law and tradition. Also after the person has passed away, the body which was the vessel and vehicle to the soul deserves our reverence and respect. Anyone in the presence of the deceased should act with the same respect and deference toward the deceased we would show for the person when alive.
  • Watching over the body. Where possible, there should always be someone with the body until the funeral. This is known as shemira (“honor guard”). According this honor to the deceased, they should recite prayers or psalms during their “shift,” as this brings comfort to the soul of the deceased.
  • No autopsy should be performed (except under special circumstances) and the body should not be embalmed, displayed or cremated — all of which are gross desecrations of the body’s sanctity according to Jewish law and tradition.
  • The burial should take place as soon as possible, preferably on the very day of the passing, and should be delayed only for truly important reasons, as sanctioned by Torah

Jewish Mourning

Jewish mourning includes several different stages of expressing grief.

The Mourning Schedule

Day 1:

Aninut – this is the period of time between the occurrence of the death and the burial during which all the mourners are exempt from positive commandments. Because the burial usually occurs on day two, that is when aninut typically concludes.

Day 2 – 8:

Mourning begins after the burial with a period of sitting Shiva at the home of the closest family member. The family member receives guests throughout the week who come to pay their respects. Shiva lasts for seven days.

Day 9 – 31:

Shloshim begins at the conclusion of Shiva and ends on the thirtieth day following burial. Mourner continue humble behavior shown during Shiva by avoiding shaving, cutting hair or enjoying music.

Day 32 – 365:

Avelut is a mourning period practiced when a parent passes. The mourners avoid all types of festivities during this eleven-month period. The deceased’s son will recite the Kaddish daily.

Day 365:

One year from the date of death, the deceased is honored for a full day. This tradition is called Yahrzeit. This tradition is repeated yearly.

Until one year has passed, the grave is traditionally left unmarked with a tombstone. When the stone is placed at the grave, family member meet again to participate in the “unveiling.”

The Rituals

Upon learning of the deceased’s passing, the mourners rip their clothing or wear a piece of shredded black cloth, also known as a keriyah, to their chests. The prayer at this time acknowledges that G_d has taken the family member.

The expression of grief diminishes over time as the mourner progresses from one mourning period to the next. Following the one year period, close relatives may continue to recite the mourner’s prayer at synagogue on certain high holidays.

Coping with Loss Around the Holidays

Coping with the loss of loved ones around the holidays is especially difficult. In addition to the normal suffering experienced through constant reminders such as pictures, lack of contact, and friends and family sporadically offering their condolences, living without loved ones around the holidays inflicts some degree of guilt about experiencing joy without them. Whether it be Rosh Hashana, Chanukah or even secular holidays like Thanksgiving, not being able to celebrate and reflect with those you previously shared the holidays with can be devastating reminders of their absence.

Everyone experiences some level of grief after losing someone close to them. For most, the grief is manageable once the funeral and burial period comes to a close. However, many people struggle to deal with their emotional pain long after funeral services have ended.

Whether the pain is personal or someone you care about is suffering, there are plenty of resources available to help. Here are some resources to help you or someone you know cope a little easier with the pain:

-Psychologists can be extremely helpful when it comes to grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Psychologists are trained to support you as you learn to better deal with the fear, guilt or worry that can be related to the death of a loved one. They can also help people form their resilience and develop approaches to get them through their sorrow. The only downside is that they can tend to be quite costly.

-Support groups offer another effective way to get through your difficult time after someone close to you passes away. These groups are comprised of others experiencing loss, too. These are almost always free to participate in and take place all over locally. Just search online for “support groups near me” or visit these websites:

-Take time off and spend time with family and friends to reflect on the person you lost and all the memories you shared. You might think “I already did that,” however, when you are initially grieving it’s tough to fully collect yourself and spend time truly and effectively reflecting. Taking the proper time out from work, school or any other weighty responsibilities can really help you ease into this period of true healing.

Remember, there’s never any shame in needing help in your time of crisis.

Jewish Funeral FAQ

How is the Jewish death and mourning process different than that of other peoples?

The Jewish religion deals with death and mourning in two parts. First, there is a focus on Kavod Ha-Met, or honoring the dead, and rituals geared towards this are all about being respectful to the deceased. Then, equally important, is how Judaism emphasizes the importance of Nihum Avelim, or comforting the living.

What is Kavod Ha-Met?

Kavod Ha-Met is the act of honoring and respecting the dead. This is done through various rituals, such as not leaving the body alone, not allowing someone to eat or drink in front of the body to not risk insulting them, and not desecrating the body by autopsy or cremation.

Instead the bodies of the deceased should remain pure and preserved with simple garments and decor. It is also important to have a funeral and burial in a timely manner.

Are same day burials a requirement?

Though same day burials are customary according to the Torah as an aspect of Kavod Ha-Met, there are a few exceptions. It is equally important to show respect for the dead by making sure that the funeral is not rushed before one has the time to get a proper shroud or casket for the deceased, and that you leave enough time for close relatives’ arrival. Burials also do not take place on the Sabbath and Yom Tov holidays, and are even excused if in the case of any government regulations that require a delay.

How do you take care of the deceased?

A significant part of Jewish customs is in showing respect for the deceased. The body can never be left alone before the burial, so a shomerim sits on guard with the dead until then. To prepare for the burial, the deceased’s body is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a shroud. It is also important for the dead to be close to the earth when they are buried, so extra measures are taken to drill holes into the casket to guarantee that the body will come in contact with the earth.