Funeral Service | Burial | Leaving The Cemetery
From our almost 100 years of experience serving the funeral needs of Toronto's Jewish community, the Benjamin family has developed a distinctive philosophy about funeral practices and mourning customs. Our philosophy can best be described as "tradition-based change," and it touches all aspects of our operation. For more information, click here.
The Chevra Kadisha, or Holy Society, prepares the body for burial. Men prepare male bodies; women, female ones. As it is written in Ecclesiastes, "As he came, so shall he go." The deceased is cleansed and made pure through the religious ritual called taharah, "purification." It is washed in a mikvah, a ceremonial bathtub built to exacting standards, while prayers are recited. Like the mikvahs used for other purposes in Judaism, the purpose of the funeral mikvah is not physical cleanliness, but rather, spiritual purity.
All Jews are accorded the same ritual care in death and are buried in the same simple white shrouds, consisting of seven garments of unbleached linen, hand-sewn and unchanged since Biblical times. In fact, the shroud is patterned after the garments worn by the priests at the time the Temple stood. Men are also buried in a prayer shawl, a tallit, without its tzitzit (fringes), because they are reminders of the commandments, which the body can no longer fulfil.
The three essential elements at a Jewish funeral are the body, the family and members of the community. Attending funerals is one of the 613 mitzvots, commandments, of Judaism.
The family has a primary obligation to provide traditional care to the body or to ensure that it is provided. Taking on this responsibility helps to establish a foundation on which the family's grieving process is built.
Jewish family law requires the presence of the body at the funeral both as a means of confronting reality and showing the dead honour and respect. Israel negotiates the exchange of live captives for its fallen soldiers because of the importance of have the body at a funeral. It is not an option for Jews to conduct memorial services without the body in lieu of a funeral with the body present.
The presence of a dead body is considered a source of ritual impurity. For this reason, Cohanim (descendents of Aaron, charged with performing specific rites in the Temple and today, with blessing the congregation at certain times of the year) may not be in the presence of a corpse. This is also why people who have been in the presence of a body wash their hands before entering a home. This is done to symbolically remove spiritual impurity, not physical uncleanness.
A Jewish funeral service is quite brief, between 15 to 20 minutes. The service is usually presided over by a rabbi, accompanied by a cantor. There are three parts to the service. An opening psalm is chanted by the cantor. The eulogy is delivered by the rabbi and/or family and friends. The service concludes with the memorial prayer chanted by the cantor. The focus of the service is honouring the life of the deceased.
After the funeral service, participants head directly to the cemetery. This is also a mitzvot, intended to show honour and respect for the person who lived, and support for the survivors. Earth burial dates back to the Bibilical reference, "For dust though art and to dust though shall return." (Bereisheet/Genesis 3:19). Jewish caskets and grave liners have holes drilled in the bottom, to facilitate the movement of the body back to the earth.
After the burial, the family walks between two lines formed by the community which offers a message of comfort originating in the time of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem: "May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." At that moment, there is a dramatic shift in attention from the body to the survivors.