Death & Funerals

We are rarely, if ever, truly prepared for the death of someone close to us, even in the case of a long illness.

Download our Guide for Mourners
mourners

It can be a time of distress and bewilderment, when our feelings are often confused, we are unsure of what to do, how to behave, and what arrangements need to be made.

We hope the information here will provide a guide through this time and introduce you to Jewish customs and traditions you may choose to follow.

We will also try and answer the most commonly asked questions but please also know that we are also available anytime, to assist in any way we can.

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Planning

There are categories of people who within Jewish law are considered mourners and upon whom the rituals of mourning lie. The mourners are those who have suffered the loss of a parent, spouse, child or sibling (including a half-brother or half-sister). 

In Judaism, burial is traditional but some of our clergy will also officiate at cremations. The service is the same as for a burial.

There are a number of cemeteries in the Sydney area which have ground consecrated for Jewish burials: Rookwood Cemetery, Macquarie Park Cemetery and Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park.

There is also consecrated Jewish ground in Waranora Cemetery and Noraville in the Central Coast. 

All Jewish burials are conducted under the auspices of the Sydney Chevra Kadisha. They will prepare your loved ones according to Jewish traditions, perform tahara, a physical cleansing and will co-ordinate the arrangements for the funeral with the rabbi, the family and the cemetery. 

For burials outside the Jewish sections of the cemetery and cremation services, a different funeral home will be needed. We recommend Walter Carter as they are familiar with and will honour the Jewish customs and traditions. Should you choose a different funeral home, we will work together with them.

There are a number of locations possible for the service and you may choose the one most comfortable for you and your family. 

  1. The ohelim (buildings) of the Sydney Chevra Kadisha: one on Oxford Street in Woollahra, one in Macquarie Park Cemetery and one small space at Rookwood Cemetery. Note however, that our female rabbis are not permitted to officiate in any of these buildings. Also, only approved clergy are able to deliver the eulogy and speak in those spaces, so family members and friends are not able to do so
  2. Emanuel Synagogue. We have three spaces available for funeral services at the synagogue: the Neuweg Sanctuary which seats 80, the Millie Phillips Building which seats 200 and our Heritage Sanctuary which can seat up to 500 
  3. Graveside: the whole service can be conducted at the graveside 
  4. If the service is for a cremation, there are chapels at the various crematoria for use

The funeral home and the rabbi together with you, will set the date and time for the service. The tradition is to hold the service as soon as possible after death. But when children or other mourners live in another city or overseas for example, the funeral may be delayed to allow them time to arrive.

Funerals may not be held on Shabbat or Jewish festivals. Sunday services are possible at some cemeteries, but they attract an extra cost.

It is a Jewish custom not to have flowers at the funeral, in the hearse, at the graveside or in the house of mourning.

In keeping with Jewish tradition, if mourners are asked about flowers, it is customary to consider giving a charitable donation instead, in honour of the person who has died. 

The tradition of keriyah, tearing a garment (often a scarf or blouse for women and a shirt for a man) symbolises the tear in our lives and our hearts at the loss of the one we loved. This ritual is conducted before the service, in private for those who choose it. 

The funeral service consists of scriptural readings and a eulogy. The Chevra Kadisha has funeral booklets and our synagogue also has a service we have compiled, with a few extra readings and poems included. All the passages recited in Hebrew, are also read in English.

The service concludes with the chanting of the memorial prayer and recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish at the graveside if there is a burial, at the conclusion of the service for a cremation. 

One of the central moments in the funeral service is the giving of a eulogy, remembering the person we loved and the gifts they brought to the world with their presence.

The eulogy may be written by the family or the rabbi after a meeting with the family to learn about the deceased’s life. If the service is held in one of the Chevra Kadisha chapels, the family are not permitted to deliver the eulogy, but in any of the other locations, they are welcome to do so. Speak with the rabbi officiating at the service to determine how best to eulogise and remember your loved one. 

Pall bearers, usually a minimum of 6, carry the coffin from the chapel service to the hearse and in the case of a burial, from the hearse to the graveside. One tradition says that mourners should not be pall bearers because they will be too upset, another tradition says the mourners should be pall bearers, unless they will be too upset.

So, it is up to you and your family to decide what is best for you. Pall bearers can be any gender and do not have to be Jewish. 

Jewish tradition understands that with burial, the body and soul begin their separate journeys. Thus, before the burial, a prayer is recited concerning the realms of heaven and earth and some moments are given for forgiveness and connecting in loving memory.

After the coffin is lowered into the earth, beginning with the mourners, as a sign of love and respect, each person takes three shovels of soil to help fill the grave. 

As we leave the graveside after the burial, two rows are formed for the mourners to walk through; friends and family support and comfort them, as they return to the world. 

On returning from the cemetery, the mourners light the Ner Neshama (candle for the soul), which burns throughout the Shiva, and they partake of the Se’udah Havra’ah (meal of condolence), which is provided or prepared by friends but not by any of the mourners. 

It is traditional to recite mourner’s kaddish for our loved ones for a period after their death: 11 months for a parent and 30 days for all other relatives. Many people choose to hold a prayer service in their homes on one or up to seven days (shiva) following the funeral to allow them to gather the minyan (minimum number of people required) to recite the mourner’s kaddish.

We also have our daily minyan through the synagogue which allows the opportunity to recite kaddish. We will read the names of the deceased at our Shabbat services at the synagogue for one month following the funeral (Shloshim) which will provide an opportunity to gather with community and recite this prayer.

For more detailed information about kaddish and minyanim, please click here for the link to our “guide for mourners.”

SHIVA (SEVEN DAYS OF MOURNING) 

The first period of mourning, Shiva, commences immediately after the funeral and lasts for seven days including the day of the funeral, and ends after the morning service of the seventh day.

Mourners at this time focus attention on the life and death of a loved one and the usual pleasures and vanities are dispensed with during this concentrated mourning period of Shiva. There are several traditions during this time. For more detailed understanding of shiva, click here for our “guide for mourners” 

Sheloshim, meaning 30, is the first thirty days of mourning, from the time of the funeral which counts as the first day.

In the case of all relatives – spouse, sibling, child – other than a parent, the period of mourning ends at the end of Sheloshim.

For more information about sheloshim, please click here for our “Guide for Mourners 

One year. In the case of the death of a parent, a 12 month period of mourning is instituted. 

It is customary to erect a Matseva (headstone) in memory of the departed any time from the end of Sheloshim through the end of the twelfth Hebrew month after their death. This commemoration gives mourners a positive sense of the emotional distance they have travelled since their bereavement began. 

The Synagogue will assist with arrangements for consecrations, including referrals for a stonemason, confirmation of Hebrew names and inscriptions, and arranging a time and date for the commemoration service to take place. It is good to plan ahead for the service of consecration, in order to account for the availability of family that may be overseas and also of the rabbi and the time required to prepare the stone. 

On the anniversary of the death of a loved one, Yahrzeit (annual remembrance) is observed by their relatives. 

As a pluralistic community, Emanuel Synagogue is equipped for the observance of a yahrzeit on either the Hebrew date or the English date of death. As a default, we will record the Hebrew date.  Yahrzeit reminders are sent out to all members who are mourners.

Memorial Prayers for departed parents and relatives are read in the Synagogue on: 

  1. (i)  The last day of Pesach 
  2. (ii)  The second day of Shavuot 
  3. (iii)  Yom Kippur 
  4. (iv)  Shemini Atzeret 

In the synagogue at the first Yizkor service after the funeral we read the names of those from the congregation who have died. 

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FAQ

Only Jews are permitted to be buried in the Jewish consecrated ground at the cemeteries. If you and your non-Jewish spouse/partner wish to be buried together, you may choose unconsecrated ground in any of the cemeteries and our rabbis will officiate at a funeral service for you.

You will need to use a different funeral home than the Chevra Kadisha and we recommend Walter Carter as they are familiar with and will honour the Jewish customs and traditions. Should you choose a different funeral home, we will work together with them.

No. If you are choosing cremation you will need to call a different funeral home. We recommend Walter Carter as they are familiar with and will honour the Jewish customs and traditions. Should you choose a different funeral home, we will work together with them.

Jewish tradition says we should hold the service as soon as possible after a person dies. It is not necessary to do so within 24 hours and often funerals are delayed a little to allow for family and friends to travel, be notified and make arrangements to attend the service. 

We also count women in the minyan and so we need ten Jewish adults, not ten men. 

Jewish law does not permit post-mortem examination, except in a few exceptional cases and in a coroner’s case in which secular law supersedes. lf advice is received that such examination is necessary, contact the Chevra Kadisha and they may be able to intercede on your behalf to ensure that the autopsy is absolutely necessary. 

It is not a Jewish practice to view the body out of respect to the dignity of the deceased. 

According to the received tradition, Kohanim (descendants of Aaron) must
not be in the same room or hall or under the same roof as the deceased. The Sydney Chevra Kadisha has a special room for Kohanim at the Ohel in Woollahra, and at Macquarie Park Cemetery.

This ruling is set aside if the Kohein is a mourner. Mourners and those attending the funeral service and the cemetery should consult with the relevant clergy member on these matters.

Download our Guide for Mourners

Get in touch

Jacki Ninio

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio

Senior Associate Rabbi

jninio@emanuel.org.au (02) 9389 6444

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