Before you visit a synagogue for the first time it is wisest to make contact by telephone or E-Mail. The security situation may mean that you may be turned away, if you do not. You could be fortunate enough to be given the name of a person who will guide you through the service as English switches to Hebrew and back.
First a true story. You may have already heard about the phone call that was received by someone in the office of the Reform synagogue that Rabbi Daniel Alexander served in as rabbinic student. This was in Meridian, Mississippi in 1977. The caller was a parishioner at a local Methodist church with a request. A group from the church wanted to attend the synagogue one Shabbat to watch the Jews perform their sacrifices.
The aim of this article is an attempt to educate and inform to so such a thing does not happen again.
The word synagogue means a meeting place: a place to study, a place
to pray and a place to socialise.
Beit Haknesset is the Hebrew word which means literally house of assembly.
The synagogue is also known by various names.
the House of Prayer (Beit Tefillah) A place of worship, as Jews
regard praying with a congregation as very
House of Study (Beit Hamidrash) Learning has always been important to Jews. All aspects of the Jewish religion, language and culture are of equal importance as is attending services.
House of the People (Beit Ha'Am) Because it is a community of ordinary people. Hierarchy is not necessary, you do not need a rabbi, ordinary people can and do conduct services and organise activities in the front room of their own home.
America tends to use the word temple instead of synagogue. The Yiddish word Shul is also used, the word having its origins in the German word for school.
Since the fall of the second temple in Jerusalem, the Jews have scattered
throughout the world into many countries in which they established their
The Jews very ancient people tracing their ancestry back to the birth of Abraham in 1812 BCE.
Barred from taking governmental office and subjected to many persecutions, the Jews became great travellers and traders setting up communities in most countries of the world.
There are two main groups of Jews, the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim.
The word Sephard has its origins as the Hebrew word for Spain in the one
chapter book of Obadiah referring to Sardis in distant Asia Minor and subsequently
used for the faraway western land of Spain. Jews of that land and their
decendents constitute Sephardic Jewry. The name Ashkenaz from Genesis 10:3
has since the tenth century been identified with Germany. It represents
a throbbing vibrant and variegated Jewish life that flourished in Poland,
Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, the Ukraine and Russia.
On November 1st, 1290, King Edward I expelled the Jews from England. Jews fled to France, Belgium, and Germany.
In 1655, the Sephardi Rabbi of Amsterdam, Menasseh Ben Israel came to London in hopes of persuading Oliver Cromwell to re-admit the Jews. No formal decision was rendered at the time, but Jews were able to acquire a house for a synagogue and burial grounds, free of religious disturbance.
In 1656 Jewish families began to return to Britain, mainly from Holland. In later centuries too many Jews came to Britain, escaping from persecution in Eastern Europe.
In Britain, the major communities of Jewish people live in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Tyneside and Glasgow.
Manchester's Jewish community is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world and dates back to the 1780s when Jewish people were amongst the immigrants who created Britain's first industrial city. It was founded
in the 1780s by two brothers from Liverpool.
Bill Williams in "The making of Manchester Jewry", published in 1976
by Manchester University Press,
suggest the beginnings of this flow. He quotes the account books of the Old Hebrew Congregation in
Manchester as showing that between 1848 and 1851, 2,000 paupers, more than twice the resident Jewish
population of Manchester at the time, were supplied with relief by the Jewish Congregation. Many of these
impoverished Jews seem to have been passing through Manchester on their way across England from Hull,
their port of disembarkation, to Liverpool where they hoped to continue their journey to the United States.
By 1865 there were less than 5,000 Jews in Manchester. The Jewish population of Manchester surged between 1883 and 1905 as a consequence of of the intensified persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe. These settlers were joined by a new immigrant class of merchants and cotton traders from Central Europe and North Africa. The Jewish population presently numbers 30,000, the second largest in the UK. In addition, Manchester is the only community in the UK besides London which enjoys its own active and successful religious and cultural community.
The first Jewish place of worship was built in 1804 though the original cemetery in St Thomas' Church is ten years older. The first spiritual leader was a rabbi from Hungary, Joseph Crool. As the community grew, many began to work in the textile industry, whilst others were tailors.
Over the years it the community has included famous people, notably
Dr Chaim Weitzmann, the first president of the State of Israel.
From Picturing Faith: Religious America
The largest group of British Jews belong to Orthodox synagogues and are known as Ashkenazim.
In the Christian lands where Ashkenazi Judaism flourished, there was great tension between Christians and the and Jews tended to be isolated from their non-Jewish neighbours, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The Yiddish language, thought of by many as the international language of Judaism, is really the language of Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardic Jews have their own international language: Ladino, which was based on Spanish and Hebrew in the same way that Yiddish was based on German and Hebrew.
A smaller group of Orthodox Jews are known as Sephardim The beliefs
of Sephardic Judaism are basically in accord with those of Orthodox Judaism,
though Sephardic interpretations of halakhah (Jewish Law) are
somewhat different than Ashkenazi ones. Although some individual Sephardic Jews are less observant than others, there is no formal, organised differentiation into movements as there is in Ashkenazi Judaism.
Historically, Sephardic Jews have been more integrated into the local non-Jewish culture than Ashkenazi Jews. In the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed, no such segregation existed. Sephardic Jewish thought and culture was strongly influenced by Arabic and Greek philosophy and science.
Sephardic Jews have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels
and one Hebrew consonant, though most Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic
pronunciation now because it is the pronunciation used in Israel.
Sephardic Jews also have different holiday customs and different traditional foods.
There are some Jews who do not fit into this Ashkenazi/Sephardi distinction. Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews (also known as Beta Israel or Falashas), and Oriental Jews also have some distinct customs and traditions.
Jackson's Row is a non Orthodox synagogue, and uses the word Reform as part of its title.
Reform Judaism maintains that the truths found in Jewish scriptures and other Jewish writings
come from G-d, but were transmitted by humans and contain a human component. Reform Judaism generally accepts the binding nature of halakhah (Jewish Law), but believes that the Law should change and adapt, to modern culture while remaining true to Judaism's values. Examples include driving and switching on electrical items on the Sabbath
There are Liberal or Progressive groups which are affiliated to the Reform Synagogues of Great britain and there is also a small but active Conservative movement called the Masoreti, which uses the same prayer book as the Conservative movement in the United States.
Non Jewish visitors to Jackson's Row may find that whilst there are many differences, in some ways the service is very similar to the service in a Christian church. Both have congregational prayers, recitation of psalms, and a sermon. Most non Jews will not be familiar with the Hebrew prayers, nor understand them But there are two words which which most people will know. The first is Amen, which roughly translated means so may it be. It is a very ancient word and can be found in many parts of the Bible, such as Numbers 5: 22. The second word, used in the synagogue but again known by many non Jews, is Hallelujah, meaning praise the Lord!
In Orthodox, women and men are seated separately; in Reform and Liberal, all sit together and there is no reserved seating.
In Orthodox everything is in Hebrew. In Reform, most is done in Hebrew. English making up 40%.
In Orthodox, the person leading the service has his back to the congregation,
and prays facing the same direction as the congregation and the prayers
In Reform, the person leading the service faces the congregation and is usually a Rabbi; though it may be another male of female. Prayers are read and singing may be accompanied by an organ or other musical instrument.
Reform is more rigidly structured and everybody arrives at the same time and leaves at the same time. Services start at a set time, usually one to two hours later than the Orthodox. All act as one and everybody does the same thing at the same time.
Orthodox services seem somewhat chaotic, lasting up to twice as long
as the Reform service. People show up when they show up, catch up to everybody
else at their own pace, often doing things differently to everybody else.
This is terrifying if you don't know what you're doing.
The rule of wearing threads on the corners of one's clothing is a commandment
found in the Bible itself: The Lord said to Moses:
"Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments for all time; have them attach a thread of blue to the fringe at each corner. And it shall be a fringe for you to see and remember all God's good deeds and do them and stray not after your heart and after your eyes to sin. Remember and do all My commandments and become holy to Your God. I am the Lord Your God who took you out of the land of Egypt to be Your God. I am the Lord Your God." (Numbers 15:37-41)
As a reminder of the blue thread which was once required in each corner of the prayer shawl, we traditionally include either blue or black stripes in the prayer shawl itself.
The blue stripes in the Israeli flag was put there as a reminder of the blue stripe that was traditionally put in the prayer shawl.
According to Jewish tradition, the act of putting on a prayer shawl has religious merit only if it is put on in the light of day.
A prayer shawl found in the Bar Kochva caves (132 of the common era)
has threads which are of indigo dye, which is indistinguishable from the
required blue dye, but not the correct dye prescribed for the making of
the blue threads. In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, in the building which
houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, there
is a small Bar Kochva exhibit. In it, one can see the remains of that prayer shawl.
There are several times during the service when it is customary to kiss
the corner threads symbolically:
Prior to the reciting of "Hear Israel" the corners of the prayer shawl are gathered together in one hand. At this time the corner threads should be checked to see that they haven't become unravelled or untied. If you have checked that the four sets of corner threads have five knots on each corner, you have done what is necessary.
Usually if there is a problem, it is that the last knot and some twists have come undone. The fourth and last section of the corner threads of each corner has thirteen twists and then a double knot. Correct what has come unravelled.
During the recitation of the third paragraph of "Hear Israel" (Numbers 15:37-41) which mentions the threads three times, each time the word "threads" is read, it is customary to kiss the corner threads.
When the Torah is removed from the Ark and carried around the synagogue in procession, those within reach may touch the Torah mantle with the corner threads of their prayer shawl or with a closed prayer book, if they are not wearing a prayer shawl. It is then customary to kiss the corner threads or prayer book binding which touched the Torah scroll as an expression of love for the gift of Torah.
A prayer shawl is worn when making an Aliyah (a blessing in front of the congregation before reading a section of the Torah portion).
The blessing on putting on the prayer shawl for the service is:
adonai, elohenoo, melek ha-olam asher kidshanoo be-mistzvotav ve-tzevanu
"Blessed are you, the Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with His
commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in the fringes."
A prayer shawl is not worn in the toilet.
If you take the prayer shawl off for a short time, you don't need to repeat the blessing when putting it on again.
The prayer shawl is worn for morning prayer during the week, on Saturday
morning, and on other holy days. It is not worn for afternoon and evening
prayers because of the commandment that one must see the corner threads
The three exceptions to these general rules are that a prayer shawl is worn at the following evening services:
Evening Kol Nidre service of Yom Kippur
Evening service of Simchat Torah
Special Friday evening services that include a Torah reading.
Rabbis and cantors wear a prayer shawl when conducting services except funeral services.
The leader of the prayer service (shaliach tzibur) wears a prayer shawl
in the afternoon and evening as well.
On entering the Sanctuary there are two isles dividing the seating into
three sections, one central and two side sections. The seating is
made up of bench seating, with arm rests separating each seat. If
this is your first visit you would be wisest to sit from the middle towards
the rear. This will enable you to follow others as they rise and stand
at appropriate points of the service. At one time a family would occupy
one seating position for many generations, This is not the case today,
though many regulars prefer to sit in the same seat each week.
THE ARK OR ARON
As you look to the front of the Sanctuary you see the most important feature of any synagogue. This is the Aron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark. The Ark is the enclosure in which the Scrolls of the Torah are kept.
It is like a very large cabinet and is placed on a platform against the eastern end of the synagogue, in the direction of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Worshippers throughout the world always face towards Jerusalem .It is the Ark that makes the synagogue and is regarded as taking the place of the Ark of the Covenant described in Exodus 25: 10-22.
Jackson's Row has a most beautiful ark. It is known as a hiddur mitzvah to add embellishment and to apply beautification to an object used in connection with a command from Torah. There are a number embellishments in the form of Jewish symbols added to the doors of the Ark. They include the ram's horn or shofar, the Menorah or seven branched candlestick; the oldest symbol of Judaism, and the mezuzah, a small case which contains a piece of parchment on which Hebrew extracts from the Torah are written. Jewish families put a mezuzah on the door posts of most rooms in their home. Although the Ark doors are heavy, they slide open easily. Covering the opening are curtains which must be drawn to the sides before the contents can be seen. When these are opened, by pulling a cord to the left, a whole line of Torah scrolls come into view, each scroll dressed in beautiful blue mantles and various silver embellishments.
Above this there is a single line of Hebrew writing. This is from Psalm
69 verse 13.
This translates as 'As for me, may my prayer come before You, 0 Lord in an acceptable time.'
Hanging before the Ark is a lamp. In Hebrew, the lamp is called Ner Tamid. It is never switched off and is a reminder that this is God's House, and His presence remains here, even when there are no worshippers in the synagogue.
Exodus 27:20 - 30:10 starts with a description of the ner tamid, usually translated as the "perpetual light" or the "eternal lamp." This was a light made using the purest olive oil that was to burn in the Tent of Meeting and later in the Temple. It is not clear whether this light actually burned continuously, or was rekindled every evening, but from the text it appears that it was re-lit daily.
Unfortunately, when we switch from olive oil to electricity, most of
the original symbolism becomes difficult to retain. But some compare the
light to Israel, the light to all nations; some talk about the olive being
beaten to produce the purified oil, just as the people of Israel have to
suffer in order to be purified. Others compare the light to the mitzvah
of tzedakah (commonly incompletely translated as charity): just as one
wick can light many lights without diminishing its own light, so tzedakah
does not diminish the giver. There is a future, and we won't be in it.
It is eternal, but we are not.
Both the Ark and Desk stand on a raised platform known as the Bimah.
In most Orthodox synagogues, the Ark and the Reading Desk are separate. The Reading Desk is usually in the centre of the synagogue, where the officiant faces the Ark. At Jackson's Row, and most other Progressive synagogues, the person leading the service faces the congregation with his back to the Ark for most of the service.
The number of Torah Scrolls in the Aron will vary from synagogue to synagogue. There are eight Torah Scrolls in the Ark at Jacksons Row. They all contain the same text, namely the first five books of the Bible, often called the Five Books of Moses. They are Genisis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. As a minimum a synagogue should have three Scrolls as, during the Day of Atonement service, there are three separate readings. It is impractical to search a scroll for the next passage as there are no titles or page numbers. A family will often donate a Scroll, as a memorial to the death of a loved one, so the synagogue will gain extra Scrolls. Some of the Torah Scrolls at Jackson's Row are one hundred years old.
Every few years the Scrolls have to be checked, with constant use, the letters may become worn and unreadable and they can no longer be used. It is possible to correct some errors but the four letter name of G-d, the Tetragramaton, must never be erased. A new section may be written and re-stitched into the Scroll. Faulty sections or Scrolls must not be thrown away or in any way destroyed. They are still regarded as very precious as they contain God's holy words. Instead, they are stored and eventually buried in a Jewish cemetery.
For centuries, Torah Scrolls have been hand written by an expert scribe called a Sofer. The practice continues today and all the Scrolls in the Ark have been hand written. When a synagogue needs a new Scroll it will commission scribe to write one. A newly written Scroll today would cost in the order of £30,000. The parchment alone costs around £5,000 to buy. It takes a considerable amount of time to complete a Scroll. Working full- time it may take a Sofer one to three years to complete a Scroll.
|As a general rule, you say "amen" which looks like this in Hebrew||whenever someone|
Bear in mind that you only say "amen" when someone else says a blessing.
There are a few other places where "amen" is said. If the prayer leader says "ve-imru amen" (let's say
|"amen"), you join in on the word "amen," so watch for the word "ve-imru."||This comes up|
You should stand at the following times:
The service opens with the Hebrew words "Va-ani brov hasdeka avo bey-teka"... which translates as "Through the greatness of Your love I enter Your house" ...
the service continues with a Psalm or prayers appropriate to the theme.
"The breath of life in every creature shall bless You, Lord our G-d, and the spirit of all flesh ever recalls Your beauty and Your greatness."
It has been modified and expanded in the course of many centuries.
|throughout the world. The last letter of||
||are larger and together form|
|the word||which means witness. One who recites the Shema bears witness to the Oneness|
The main part of the Sabbath morning service is the reading from the Torah. The Ark is opened, a Torah Scroll is taken out and held by a warden or other member.
|L’cha Adonai hag’dulah v’hag’vurah
v’hatif’eret v’haneitzach v’hahod.
Ki kol bashmayim uva’aretz.
L’cha Adonai ha’mamlach’ah
v’hamitnasei l’chol lirosh.
|Yours, God, is the greatness, the strength, the splendour, the triumph
and the glory; even everything in heaven and earth;
Yours, God, is the kingdom, and the sovereignty over leader.
Some congregants bow before it as a sign that it is God's holy word.
Others will touch the Mantle of the scroll with the Sidur or the tassels
of their Tallit and then kiss the tassels or Sidur as a sign of respect.
As the scroll passes those who people who are to read the blessing over the Torah will join the procession.
As soon as the Torah scroll is at rest and the person carrying it is seated, you may sit also.
Each Sabbath a portion of the Torah is chanted or read. It takes a year to complete the reading of the whole Scroll. At Jackson's Row, the reading is about thirty verses long. In Orthodox synagogues, the reading is much longer. At Jackson's Row, at least three people are called up to the reading when they recite various blessings.
Many Progressive synagogues only call up one person, whereas Orthodox
synagogues usually call up seven, all of whom have to be males over the
age of thirteen. After the reading, there is an elevation. A person
lifts and opens the Torah Scroll so that all the congregation can see its
text. It is then dressed by another person, often assisted by young children.
After the Torah Scroll has been returned to the Ark the curtains to
the Aron are closed, the rabbi, if he has not already given a commentary
then he, will give his sermon. He may take as his theme a topic from one
of the Scriptural readings. He may, instead, speak about an event that
has happened during the week.
The curtain to the ark is opened.
The Kaddish is commonly known as a mourner's prayer, but in fact, variations of the prayer are routinely recited at many other times, to mark the conclusion of sections of the service and at the end of study readings and the prayer itself has nothing to do with death or mourning. The real mourner's prayer is El Molai Rachamim, which is recited at grave sites and during funerals.
The is Kaddish recited by mourners, since the study of Torah was always considered meritorious and a fitting remembrance of the dead, the idea arose that as the Kaddish was read at the conclusion of a Torah reading the Kaddish gradually became associated as the prayer for the departed.
A great loss like the death of a parent, you might cause a person to
lose faith in G-d, or to cry out against G-d's injustice. Instead, Judaism
requires a mourner to stand, publicly in front of a "minyan", (a
quorum of at least 10 adult men), every day and reaffirm faith in G-d despite
this loss. In the eyes of G-d, doing so adds to the merit of the
deceased , because the deceased must have been a very good parent to raise
a child who could express such faith in the face of personal loss. (see
The congregation then adjourn to the hall for Kiddush and refreshments,
to meet friends and catch up on events.
A glass of wine is held in the hand as the Kiddush is recited, and everyone drinks from their glass. This is followed by a blessing over the bread. Two loaves of Challot are blessed and broken up. A piece is given to every person.
Everyone is enjoys the food and conversation. It is an opportunity
for people to chat to one another and to welcome any visitors who may be
present. Non Jews also welcome. They are interested in learning about Jewish
worship. At Jackson's Row congregants are very friendly, all visitors are
made to feel at home and are invited to ask questions about Jewish worship
in general, and worship at Jackson's Row in particular.
A lawful Jewish marriage requires an act of kinyan (that the bride be given – and that she accept – something of nominal value from the groom). In ancient times, coins were typically given. Since the 7th century C.E., rings replaced coins in most of Europe as the "gift of choice." It is suggested that the preference for rings is attributable to their circular form, symbolising endless love between a husband and wife.
The double ring ceremony popular today is a relatively recent custom, and one that raises some objections amongst traditional Jews. Reform rabbis find no legal objection to the double ring ceremony. A modern trend is to inscribe biblical or other significant Hebrew phrases on the ring. This may be ' Eshet Chayil Ateret Balalah' which means "'A Woman Of Valour Is Her Husband's Crown", or the gender neutral, 'Ani L'Dodi V'L' Dodi Li', which translates as "I Belong To My Beloved And My Beloved Belongs To Me".
According to Jewish law, the ring must belong to the groom, be of solid metal without of gems, so its value can be ascertained. The addition of precious stones could produce uncertainty to the rings values, which could cause a bride to reconsider.
The custom of wearing of the veil, has its origins in the Bible.
Rebecca on seeing Isaac, her husband to be, for the first time, "took
her veil and covered herself." (Gen. 25:65)
Another veiling custom, Badekin (the veiling of the bride by the groom just before the wedding), also has biblical roots. The story of Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachel, relates how Jacob's father in law, Laban, veiled Leah heavily before the wedding, tricking Jacob into marrying Leah instead of his beloved Rachel. By placing the veil over the bride's face himself, a Jewish groom makes sure he doesn't repeat Jacob's mistake.
The white bridal dress is common to assumed to be universal, which it is not. In fact, Oriental and Sephardic brides have traditionally worn brightly coloured dresses set off with veils made of streaming gold coins. The white bridal gown became customary amongst Ashkenazic Jews who followed the example of their Christian neighbours. The white gown has come to symbolise bridal virginity in Christian culture. The Jewish tradition the gown denotes something quite different –that no matter how sexually active a bride may have been before marriage, the wedding purifies her. White is worn to symbolise the purity conferred upon her by the wedding.
In many communities a bride gives a tallit to the groom, despite being a Bar Mitzvah for years. According to Jewish mysticism, the tallit is associated with sexual temptation. This is more of an issue after marriage than at the age 13 when he became a Bar Mitzvah. The biblical command to wear the fringes on the tallit states: "...you shall look at them and not be tempted to follow your heart and eyes." For a married man, the tallit now functions as a reminder to keep his mind off forbidden sexual relationships
Another ancient custom that has lately been transformed is the marriage
contract, or ketubah, the earliest was written at the end of the
first century C.E. by Shimon ben Shetach, head of the ancient rabbinical
court. The ketubah was a radical document in its day because it provided
women with legal status and rights in marriage, it spells out a husband's
obligations to his wife. The text for ketubot has remained
virtually unchanged until recently. Many couples that consider the traditional
ketubah is of touch with contemporary views on relationships and they are
creating new ones.
Whereas the original ketubot were about a man’s obligations to his wife, modern versions are typically egalitarian. Many ketubot now include joint declarations of commitment, made by both bride and groom, a joint declaration of faith in God and a connection to the Jewish people. The original ketubot were written in Aramaic but modern documents are usually drafted in both Hebrew and English. Having a custom made ketubah, generated by a professionally calligrapher, with customised decorations has also become popular.
More than ten marriages are performed at Jackson's Row each year. Most
Jewish weddings in Britain usually take place on a Sunday in the early
in the afternoon. Sabbath and festivals are considered joyful days and
weddings do not take place on them. It is better to spread the joy, rather
than have two joyful events on the same day. Likewise because of sad events
in Jewish history there are also other days and periods when weddings cannot
For the wedding ceremony, a chuppah or canopy is erected in the synagogue near the Ark. It consists of a large piece of silk cloth supported by four poles, one at each corner. The bride, bride-groom, parents, and often grandparents, will all stand under it, together with the rabbi.
The bride and groom will drink wine from the same cup to show that in
their future life together they will share all things. The groom will place
a wedding ring on the bride's forefinger on the right hand and will recite
a verse in Hebrew which says that she is now his wife according to the
laws of the Jewish religion. The bride is then free to move the ring to
the usual finger. At a Jackson's Row wedding, the bride will also make
a similar declaration, sometimes giving her future husband a ring. The
rabbi will give a short talk to the newly married couple, and then read
to them their ketubah. He will ask God to bless the couple in the years
Stacey and Larry
The final act may seem rather strange to a first time visitor. A small
glass is placed on the floor, just in front of the groom, who raises his
foot and stamps on the glass. No one knows for certain why this is done.
Some say it is to remind those present that the Temple is in ruins and
we mourn this and other sad events in Jewish history. Others say that marriage
will not solve all problems, and there will be times when there is a little
strain in a marriage which may bring some unhappiness. Life itself, like
a glass, cannot last forever, and we should always remember this.
Death is a natural process, death is not a tragedy, even when it occurs early in life or through unfortunate circumstances. . In Judaism, our deaths, like our lives, have meaning and are all part of G-d's plan. Jews have a firm belief in an afterlife, a world to come, where those who have lived a worthy life will be rewarded.
Mourning practices are extensive, but they are not an expression of
fear or distaste for death. The practices relating to death and mourning
have two purposes: to show respect for the dead (kavod ha-met), and to
comfort those who will miss the deceased (nihum avelim).
Respect for the dead body is a matter of paramount importance. After a person dies, the eyes are closed, the body is laid on the floor and covered, and candles are lit next to the body. The body is never left alone until after burial, as a sign of respect. The person accompanying the body, the shomerim may not eat, drink, or perform a commandment in the presence of the dead. To do so would be considered mocking the dead.
There is an organisation to care for the dead, manned by volunteers.
Because they are performing a service for someone who can never repay them,
their work is considered extremely meritorious
Autopsies in general are discouraged as desecration of the body. They are permitted, however, where it may save a life or where the law requires it.
People who have been in the presence of a body wash their hands before entering a home. This is symbolic, removing spiritual impurity, not physical uncleanness. This is done regardless of whether you have physically touched the body.
In preparation for the burial, the body is thoroughly cleaned and wrapped in a simple, plain linen shroud. The dressing of the body and the coffin should be simple, so that a no distinction is made between a poor person and a rich person, neither receiving more honour in death than the other. The body is wrapped in a tallit with its tzitzit rendered invalid. The body is not embalmed, and no organs or fluids may be removed.
Generally the body should not be cremate, it must be buried in the earth, but in many Reform congregations it has become acceptable. . Coffins are not required, but if they are used, they must have holes drilled in them so the body comes in contact with the earth.
The body is never displayed at funerals; ceremonies at which the coffin
is open are forbidden
by Jewish law. Exposing a body is considered disrespectful, because it allows not only friends, but also enemies to view the dead, mocking their helpless state.
So that the deceased will not be forgotten and the grave will not be desecrated, Jewish law requires that a tombstone be prepared, . It is customary to keep the tombstone veiled, or to delay in putting it up, until the end of the 12 month mourning period. The idea underlying this custom is that the dead will not be forgotten when he is being mourned every day. There is generally a formal unveiling ceremony when the tombstone is revealed.
It is also custom, well known from the movie Schindler's List, to place
small stones on a grave when visiting it. The origin of the practice is
unclear, two options are that it is a little like leaving a calling card
for the dead person, to let them know you were there, or that it was originally
done because we are required to erect a tombstone, and they tended to be
Jewish mourning practices cover several periods of decreasing intensity. These mourning periods allow the full expression of grief, while discouraging excesses of grief and allowing the gradually return to a normal life.
When a parent, sibling, spouse or child first hears of the death of a relative, it is traditional to express the initial grief by tearing one's clothing. The tear is made over the heart if the deceased is a parent, or over the right side of the chest for other relatives. This tearing of the clothing is referred to as keriyah (literally "tearing"). The mourner recites the blessing ending "dayan ha-emet" describing G-d as "the true Judge," an acceptance of G-d's taking of the life of a relative.
From the time of death to the burial, the mourner's sole responsibility is caring for the deceased and preparing for the burial. This period is known as "aninut", during which time, the mourners are exempt from all positive commandments because the preparations take first priority. This period usually lasts a day or two; Judaism requires prompt burial.
During aninut the family should be left alone and allowed the full expression of grief. Condolence calls or visits should not be made during this time.
After the burial, a near neighbour, close relative, or friend prepares the first meal for the mourners, the "se'udat havra'ah" meaning a meal of condolence. This meal traditionally consists of eggs and bread, eggs being a symbol of life. The meal is for the family only, not for visitors. After this time, condolence calls are permitted.
The next period of mourning lasts seven days and is known as "shiva" , meaning seven. Shiva is observed by parents, siblings, children siblings spouses of the deceased. Shiva lasts from the day of burial until the morning of the seventh day after burial. Mourners sit on the floor or low stools instead of chairs, they do not, shave or cut their hair, wear leather shoes, wear cosmetics, do any work, do things for comfort or pleasure, or study Torah. Mourners wear the clothes that they tore at the time of learning of the death or at the funeral. Mirrors in the house are covered. Prayer services are held in the same place as where the shiva is held, with relatives, friends and neighbours making up the "minyan".
The Sabbath that occurs during the shiva period is not observed as a day of mourning but counts toward the seven days of shiva. The mourning is terminated if a festival occurs during the mourning period. If the burial were to occur during a festival, the mourning is delayed until after the festival.
The next period of mourning is known as "shloshim" meaning thirty, because it lasts until the 30th day after burial. During shloshim the mourners do not attend parties or celebrations, shave or cut their hair, or listen to music.
The final period of formal mourning, which is only applicable when the deceased is a parent, is called "avelut". This period lasts for twelve months after the burial. During avelut mourners avoid parties, and joyous events. For eleven months of that period, starting at the time of burial, the son of the deceased recites the mourner's Kaddish every day.
When the avelut period is complete, the family of the deceased must cease formal mourning. On the anniversary of the death, family members observe the deceased's "Yahrzeit" meaning anniversary in Yiddish. On the Yahrzeit, Kaddish is recited and an aliyah is undertaken if possible. Mourners light a candle, that burns for 24 hours, in honour of the relative.
A visitor to a family in mourning the guest should allow the mourner to initiate conversations. Do not divert the conversation away from talking about the deceased. The purpose of the mourning period is to fully express grief. Diverting the conversation would limit this ability. On the contrary, the caller should encourage conversation about the deceased.
It is tradition when leaving a house of mourning for the visitor to to say, "May the Lord comfort you with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
Kaddish is only recited for only 11 months of the 12 month mourning period. According to Jewish tradition, the soul must spend some time purifying itself before it can enter the World to Come. The maximum time required for purification is 12 months, for the most evil person. To recite Kaddish for 12 months would imply that the parent was the type who needed 12 months of purification! To avoid this implication, the Sages decreed that a son should recite Kaddish for only eleven months.
A person is permitted to recite Kaddish for other close relatives as
well as parents, but only if his parents are dead.
Visit our Guestbook