Reconstructionist Judaism Funeral Service Rituals

Like Reform Judaism, the Reconstructionist movement doesn’t believe in physical resurrection of the body. Instead, Reconstructionists believe that the soul returns to join the universe. Traditional Jewish burial laws forbid cremation.

Flowers should never be sent to Jewish funerals or to the home of the deceased’s family. Instead, those who wish to express their sympathy to the family should make a financial contribution to a charity in memory of their loved one. Many times a favorite charity will be designated, but your gift can go to the organization or program of your choice. If you are not sure where to give, there are many options. One choice is to give to the Jewish Nation Fund, an organization that plants trees in Israel. Mourners will be sent a note letting them know that a tree has been planted in the deceased’s memory.

Jewish funerals are never open casket and the services are not ostentatious. The rabbi officiates the service, and the cantor sings. Family members and close friends may give a short memorial or a eulogy. There are no books used, as the service is led entirely by the officiating rabbi. Very simple graveside services include a recitation of prayers by the rabbi, and the family will be led in a prayer for the deceased, called a kaddish.

Traditionally, after the mourners arrive at the cemetery there will be a procession to the grave. This procession is slow, and there may be several pauses along the path to the grave. After kaddish has been recited, everyone present at the grave participates in filling it with dirt. The mourners, those closest to the deceased, will pass through two rows of friends and relatives as they exit the gravesite.

Following the funeral the family returns home to mourn for a period of seven days. This is called sitting shivah. It is common for mirrors to be covered at the home during this time so that the family remains focused on mourning and does not become distracted with vanity. A special candle may also be lit for seven days to memorialize the loved one’s passing. Many times family members sit on small, uncomfortable chairs or boxes during shivah. Men don’t shave during this time, and shoes are not worn. The mourners also wear a black ribbon that has been cut. All of these rituals are symbolic of the mourners’ lack of concern for their own interests and personal appearance.

Because Jewish laws require that a body be returned to the earth as quickly as possible, remains are interred within 24 hours whenever possible. The body is never embalmed, and a simple all-wood casket is used to hasten the body’s decomposition.

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