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Jewish funeral traditions - please explain

AnyMom99AnyMom99 Registered User Posts: 99 New Member
edited July 2006 in Parent Cafe
A Jewish friend of ours died, and we are not familiar with the Jewish traditions. The paper says that there will be a Shiva at the home, and a minyan. Can someone familiar with the Jewish traditions please let me know what to expect? Will we feel out of place attending this?

Thank you in advance.
Post edited by AnyMom99 on

Replies to: Jewish funeral traditions - please explain

  • mattmommattmom Registered User Posts: 1,763 Senior Member
    Shiva is when the family is at home reeiving condolence calls. This is when you should go to pay your respects and you should not feel out of place out all. (Minyan is a religious service, usually in synagogue so not the one to go to.) There is usually food at the house when the family sits shiva, and can be quite a lot of people. (It is something of a social function though obviously a very somber one.) It is specifically designed for people to come to and so if you pay what is called a shiva call it would be much appreciated I am sure.
  • holymommaholymomma Registered User Posts: 148 Junior Member
    I'll add to mattmom's reply that it is traditional to bring food to the family when making a shiva call. If the family is kosher, you can just bring whole fruit (uncut) unless there is a nearby kosher bakery or deli.
  • AnyMom99AnyMom99 Registered User Posts: 99 New Member
    Thank you Mattmom. The paper says Shiva at the home in the evening, with minyan at 7:30 PM. (It doesn't mention anything about the synagogue.) Does this mean that minyan will be at the home, so we should plan on leaving before it starts? So maybe show up around 6:00 PM and stay for 1/2 hour?
  • odysseyodyssey Registered User Posts: 936 Member
    That means that there will be a short service at the home, led by a rabbi or friend. It typically lasts no more than 30 minutes. People wouldn't normally arrive more than 15 minutes or so before the minyan. At the ones that I have attended, people come when they can. People arriving during the service just wait silently in the back of the group. It is usually after the service that people are able to mingle and pay their respects to the family members.
  • gaagaa Registered User Posts: 28 New Member
    In my experience only men are at the minyan. They stand in a circle and all of the prayers are in Hebrew. You should feel free to come and go before the minyan, so your plan of coming at 6:00 (6:30 may be better) and staying for 1/2 hour is fine, since they will have lots of people comforting them after the minyan is over. Believe me, they will appreciate your visit at any time, and you do not need to stay for the service in order to show your respect.
  • jmmomjmmom Registered User Posts: 9,084 Senior Member
    I have arrived (unwittingly) in the middle of minyan myself. It is perfectly fine. At this home, there were a large number of people participating as well as observing/milling around. It was not just the men (although that is the traditional meaning of a minyan).

    You can search online for shiva traditions. However, much of what you will find could describe how it "used to be" or the more strict observance. Today, things are often more relaxed. But following the suggestions you will see online will never hurt and it may make you more comfortable to know them.
  • ChedvaChedva Super Moderator Posts: 28,605 Super Moderator
    >>In my experience only men are at the minyan.<<

    This is only true in Orthodox services. If the family is Conservative or Reform, men and women count in and pray during the minyan. ("Minyan" is the Hebrew term for the "quorum" needed for public prayer - 10 adult Jews - or in Orthodoxy, 10 men.) You might be able to tell if the family is Orthodox or not. Do they drive on Friday night or Saturday? Do they go out on Friday nights, or do activities such as sports or dance on Saturdays? If so, they're not Orthodox. And of course if you know which synagogue they belong to, you can call the synagogue and ask the affiliation.

    Shiva is most simply a "wake" held on the days after the funeral. (Jewish law requires that a person be buried within 24 hours of death, so there's no wake or viewings before the funeral.) If you conduct yourself the same way you would at any funeral call, you shouldn't feel out of place at all. If you do find yourself there during the service, simply sit or stand respectfully when the rest of the minyan does and you'll be fine.
  • binxbinx Registered User Posts: 4,318 Senior Member
    We live next door to a Jewish cemetery, and see occasional funerals. There was one last Sunday morning, in fact. The Rabbi usually arrives first, and then others come and help him dress in his ceremonial robes in the parking lot outside our kitchen window.

    Our last house was next door to a Catholic cemetery - where people came and went all the time, with lots of candles, flowers, grave-tending. Noisy grave side services (with brass players and such). This cemetery is much less decorated or visited. Funerals are quieter. Cemetery is tended, but not effusive. It is also walled and gated, and locked.

    It's hard for us (Protestants) to know what is Catholic or Jewish custom, and what is simply German.

    Edit: Anymom - also wanted to offer condolences on the loss of your friend. It is really nice of you to care enough to go, and to make sure you don't offend anyone in the process.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member
    I went to the service, the funeral and the shiva of a long time colleague. It was lovely to get to know his children about whom I had heard much through the years and to be able to share my memories of him with them.
    Since you were friends, perhaps your friend's relatives will feel the same way.
  • northeastmomnortheastmom Registered User Posts: 12,379 Senior Member
    Often the minyan takes place in another room while one is paying a Shiva call. You can just sit with others who are not taking part in the minyan (often women and other non-Jewish people). Those not participating have not felt uncomfortable, and just continue to converse while the service is conducted in another room (usually it is the living room). The Minyan is a short service anyway. As others have said, it is customary to bring some Kosher food. I have found companies that make and deliver Kosher fruit baskets-I had to send one of these to an orthodox family not too long ago. I also made sure that it would not be delivered on the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday. It isn't necessary to that, as someone else said, one can just carry along some uncut fresh fruit, or if not orthodox, pastry (cake/ cookies) is fine.
  • cathymeecathymee Registered User Posts: 2,384 Senior Member
    The only thing I can add is you may see some things that will appear strange to you.The mirrors in the house may be covered with black cloth,or other cloth.The family may be sitting on wooden benches,or boxes .There may be a bowl of water outside the front door with which you are supposed to wash your hands.
    If the family is not kosher, its customary to bring some sort of cake/bakery item. Often,at least here in NY,people send "deli" platters to the family from a kosher deli,who can also make you a fruit platter.
    I come from a Jewish background and married into an Irish/Italian catholic family. I was used to shivas but my first wake was an eye opener.
    Binx..the reason the Jewish cemetary may seem unadorned to you is because of the custom of placing small pebbles or rocks on the grave to mark a visit,rather than bringing flowers.
  • dadofsamdadofsam Registered User Posts: 1,635 Senior Member
    One last piece of information. A shiva is part of the mourning process during which friends, family and neighbors conme to offer condolences and comfort (which is not always easy to do). Following Jewish customs, the mourners do not greet visitors; you need to go over to them. They are likely to be sitting on low benches or boxes - lower than others will be, and not wearing shoes.
  • zpmqxonwzpmqxonw Registered User Posts: 1,052 Senior Member
    I recently completed an informal research paper on Orthodox Jewish funeral rituals and customs for one of my English classes (the theme of the class focused on the Holocaust and modern day oppression). Would you like me to PM it to you anymom99?
  • searchingavalonsearchingavalon Registered User Posts: 509 Member
    Actually, plenty of Conservative Jews also don't go out partying on Friday nights or to the movies on Saturday afternoon. Some of us drive to synagogue Friday night and/or Saturday morning, but only to synagogue, and others are what we call "walkers" and don't drive on the Sabbath at all. So I'm not sure whether that would work as a touchstone of religious denomination in all circumstances.
  • ChedvaChedva Super Moderator Posts: 28,605 Super Moderator
    serchingavalon, you are correct - I didn't mean the questions to be exhaustive, just "hints". However, one cannot be an orthodox Jew and drive on the Sabbath or go to the movies on Saturday - you are correct that refraining from such activities does not mean one is Orthodox.
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