LIFE CYCLE EVENTS
At Congregation Albert we know that life is always moving and changing in the lives of our family and our community. We encourage our members to contact us when a “land-mark” events takes place. You may wish to utilize the Congregation’s facilities or simply have a notification placed in the monthly bulletin. Whatever your lifecycle event is, we want you to know that we are here to help you as a community.
Lifecycle events that we are prepared to help you with include:
Bar / Bat Mitzvah
Anshei Mitzvah (Adult Bar / Bat Mitzvah)
Conversion / Mikvah
COVENANTAL NAMING CEREMONIES IN
The Midrash tells us that, when a child is conceived, there are three partners: man, woman, and God. Indeed, there is nothing more compelling than this as evidence of God’s existence. We express our covenant with God through procreation. As God created the world, so we add to that creation.
Giving birth is a wonderful miracle. Adopting a child is equally as significant, in terms of the responsibilities of parenthood. In fact, in Judaism, adopting a child is considered one of the most important mitzvot that one can perform.
In either case, the raising of a child as a Jew is an awesome responsibility, one that requires a great deal of sensitivity, knowledge, and awareness.
A Jewish child is born into a 4000 year old heritage. That child is a link in the chain of our people and our faith. Judaism is not merely the child’s religion; to be a Jew is that child’s destiny. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to raise their children as Jews and enrich their lives by beginning with a meaningful ceremony.
Judaism has a particular purpose; to bring perfection to this imperfect world. Being Jewish gives us a unique way of looking at life and the world, reflecting our partnership with God. Raising children in that partnership adds a unique dimension to our lives.
BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY
The very first mitzvah in the Bible is “P’ru u’rvu - Be fruitful and multiply.” Of the 613 mitzvot, it comes first in the book of Genesis. The Talmud, in discussing our obligation to replenish the world, comes to the conclusion that we should be parents to at least two children, one male and one female, to replace ourselves in the world. That is an affirmation of life and an expression of gratitude, not only to our parents, but also to God, to the Jewish people and to all of humanity. Those who cannot conceive or choose not to have children, have a parallel obligation to help the community support the education and training of children.
While Reform Judaism has been sensitive to the concept of zero population growth, we have also been painfully aware of the fact that we are a continually shrinking minority. Therefore, we Jews have a responsibility to bring children into our families or help support those who do have children in their efforts to raise and educate them..
On the other hand, while taking this responsibility seriously, we should remain aware and sensitive to the fact that there are other considerations. Reform Judaism should not perpetuate the attitude that the primary role of women should be baby producers. We know it is possible to successfully combine parenthood, education and career. Nor can we assume that parenthood is appropriate for all families. These are serious questions and a real dilemma for liberal Jews.
As Jews, we believe that, along with the obvious reason to rejoice in the very birth of a child, there are many deeply spiritual concepts evident in creation. We learn about our partnership with God in a most concrete way. We think about our parental responsibilities as God’s representatives in the life of our child, and we stand in awe of the marvel, the miracle and the wonder of life itself.
WE ARE ALL EQUAL
The birth of a child is an occasion for great joy. Although our ceremonies for celebrating the birth of girls and the birth of boys may be different, both are equally joyous. When a boy is born, a Brit Milah (Covenant of Circumcision) is planned. When a girl enters the world, a naming ceremony (Brit Chayim - Covenant of life) should also be planned.
THE VALUE OF CEREMONY
The ceremonies we observe as Jews are in no way intended to be magical, but are important symbols and vehicles for eternal values. What takes place in the years that follow a birth is much more significant. Nevertheless, ceremonies are critical in our celebration as Jews. Ceremonies can help set the mood for what follows in life.
When the ceremony takes place in the home, it creates a family occasion. It is a perfect way to make a simcha - a joyous celebration. The years pass quickly, people scatter in all directions, and all that remains is the sparkling memory of such occasions.
PLEASE LET US KNOW
When a child is born and the family has been notified, contact the Temple office so that we can share your joy. The clergy will be pleased to visit you (if you’re feeling up to it) and help you plan an appropriate ceremony to welcome this child into your family and into our community.
CHOOSING A NAME
As prospective parents, beginning to think about names, you will find that our library has many resources to help you with your choice. Jews of Ashkenazic background have observed the custom of naming their children after deceased relatives who have played an important role in the life of their family. Sephardic Jews name their children after living relatives, particularly grandparents, as a sign of honor to those still alive. Girls do not have to be named after other females, nor boys after other males. Many people honor multiple relatives by using different Hebrew and English names.
The giving of a name expresses the hope that our children will grow with the same kind of qualities and values of the people for whom they were named. It is a way of honoring those whose lives and values gave shape to our own. It is not superstitious but realistic. When we keep people alive in our memories, it is an affirmation that life and family values endure. The naming ceremony can be performed in your home, at the hospital or in the synagogue.
THE EIGHTH DAY
The eighth day is a very significant day for Jews as it marks the beginning of human responsibility in the partnership with have with God. Since the seven days are days of God’s creation, our responsibility begins on the eighth day. We take up where God has left off. It is, therefore, appropriate to have the Brit Milah or naming ceremony on the 8th day of your child’s life.
A Brit Milah is more than just a surgical procedure. It is a sanctified means of Jewish identity. Just as a wedding ceremony marks the covenantal relationship of husband and wife, so the Brit Milah or naming ceremony is an expression of the relationship between parents and God. It marks the emotional promise that parents make with regard to their child. God has given them a gift and they are to shape that gift, not only physically, but spiritually into a mensch, a Jew with values, hopes and dreams. In a religion of rationality and reason, it is comforting and inspiring to have some spiritual mystery still present.
The eighth day is so important that, even on a Shabbat or Yom Kippur, a Brit Milah or naming ceremony is performed. The only one reason one should postpone it is for the health of the child.
THE MIXED MARRIED HOUSEHOLD
Although tradition has held that a child is Jewish only if the mother is Jewish Reform Judaism recognizes the equal validity of patrilineal descent as a requisite of Jewish identity and accepts as Jewish the child of a Jewish father as well as of a Jewish mother. A child’s Judaism is only presumed at birth. It becomes affirmed through public acts that link that child to Judaism and the Jewish people. Such acts are, enrollment in religious school, Bar/Bat Mitzvah etc.
Therefore no distinction is made at a Brit Milah or naming for a child born of one Jewish parent or the child of two Jewish parents as long as the intention is to raise that child as a Jew. That child is fully Jewish and is welcomed in the same manner. However, because of the difference with Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, it is imperative that Reform Jewish families understand the impact of the historic definition and our different definition. This is especially important if you desire to use a Mohel for the Brit Milah ceremony. The clergy will be pleased to explain this situation in detail in each case.
In our society today, it is not uncommon for single adults, homosexual couples and other non-traditional households to bring children into their families. Following the principles of our Reform Jewish practice, we are fully committed to helping these people welcome their children into their homes and into the covenant of the Jewish people.
ADOPTION OF NON-JEWISH CHILDREN
Our tradition teaches that one who adopts a child is regarded as that child’s parent in all matters. Our sages stress that we have a communal obligation to take in and care for any child who is orphaned or abandoned. We therefore celebrate with those who choose to bring these children into their homes and lives.
Our naming and covenantal rituals serve, not only to welcome a child born of non-Jewish parents into their new family, but also as a conversion ceremony making the child Jewish in the eyes of our community. Please consult the clergy for more details about these issues.
The traditional ceremony of Pidyon Haben (the redemption of the first born son) is generally not observed in Reform Judaism. It is only performed for first born sons and not daughters and therefore is in opposition to our Reform Jewish principle of egalitarianism. In addition, it perpetuates the class distinctions of Kohen, Levi and Yisrael, which are not acknowledged as relevant to Reform Judaism since the ancient Temple-based hierarchy is no longer valid.
However, there are many families which still have an emotional connection to performing Pidyon Haben. A non-sexist modern rendition of the ceremony can be arranged with the clergy, if that is the desire of the family.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why should there be a ceremony for a girl?
The birth of a child is a blessing. Not to honor the arrival of our new daughters with the same fervor and joy as we do our new sons, is to demean our daughters.
Part of our responsibility as liberal Jews is to approach our tradition, examine the attitudes of our tradition, and seek to mold and shape them and ourselves by what we have discovered to be true and right. If we feel that sexism is wrong, then it is our responsibility to change that attitude and those aspects of our tradition that perpetuate it. Changing attitudes must begin at the beginning. At birth we must already strive to emphasize the egalitarian nature of the sexes. Only through years of ceremony and public display of equality will the attitudes of generations to come be molded and shaped in this manner.
How ancient is the ceremony of Brit Milah (commonly referred to as “Bris”)?
Brit Milah is the very first ritual in Jewish history. It links us more than any other ceremony to our ancestors and our descendants. In Genesis, Abraham used a flint to circumcise himself, his sons and all the male members of his household. Today we have more refined instruments for the ceremony, but like Abraham, we take the covenant of Milah very seriously. Today we follow Abraham’s example with Isaac, circumcising our male children on the eighth day.
How do we count the eighth day?
The day of the child’s birth is the first day. Thus, the eighth day comes on the same day of the week on which the child was born, the next week. Naturally, in Jewish counting, if the child is born after sundown, it is reckoned as the next day.
Why does the Brit include circumcision for males?
Judaism has always recognized the intertwining of body and soul. We therefore have a healthy attitude toward our bodies and their functions. They are seen within the context of holiness. Part of our responsibility in being God’s partner is to replenish the world. The Brit is performed precisely where it is performed to remind us that it is through procreation that we participate in a most mysterious way with God in creation. As the Talmud reminds us, when a child is born, there are three partners: man, woman and God.
Is it true that medical findings prove that circumcision is a health advantage to the child?
No matter what the medical world discovers about the advantages or disadvantages of circumcision, their conclusions will be somewhat irrelevant as far as the value of Brit Milah as a religious ceremony. Jews have never observed Brit Milah for health reasons. We, among all people who circumcise their sons as infants, always did so for spiritual reasons, as a sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Isn’t a circumcision ceremony barbaric?
To the uninformed, this ceremony might be considered barbaric. However, when the background of Brit Milah, its importance as a sign of the covenant, and the pride of being Jewish is in the minds of those participating in the ceremony, it can become a very beautiful entry into life and the Jewish people. What is barbaric is the neglecting or rejecting of a rich and beautiful heritage which has been laid in our cradle as a birthright.
Should we use a Mohel or a doctor?
There is nothing wrong with a doctor doing the ceremony. Like anything else, there are both doctors and mohalim who are good, and some not as good. It is the responsibility of the parents to perform the circumcision. Most parents do not care to exercise this responsibility themselves and instead, delegate the Mohel or doctor as their agent. With no Mohel in Buffalo, most people opt to use one of our Jewish doctors. There are however Reform Mohalim in both Rochester and Toronto. If you want a Mohel, the clergy can help you make the arrangements.
Why shouldn’t we just let the child be circumcised in the hospital and get it over with?
The hospital procedure is icily clinical. It has none of the warmth of a family gathering to celebrate the simcha. The sacred mood, cannot be captured in such an environment. The Brit Milah is not a clinical procedure, but a spiritual family ritual. When the Brit Milah does take place in the hospital, it is important to strive to create the mood and environment conducive to such a religious occasion.
How is Elijah the prophet a part of the naming ceremony?
At the ceremony, there is an extra chair set aside called the Kisei Eliyahu - the chair of Elijah. Just as on Shabbat and Passover, Elijah plays an important role by pointing to the Messianic age, so too, at a naming ceremony, Elijah testifies to the coming of that time. The birth of a child is an affirmation of life and a belief that the world is a good place in which to live. The birth of a child helps to add to that goodness and, in fact, brings closer to the fulfillment of the Messianic dream.
What should we do about godparents?
It is a Jewish custom to appoint godparents, people to whom you are especially close and who would in an emergency take over the responsibilities of raising your child. These godparents should be chosen with the understanding that their obligation would also include raising the child in consonance with Judaism. Godparents should be selected because of the values they espouse and by which they themselves live. Parents should make clear to godparents the extent of the trust which is being asked, to enter the child into religious school, to witness Bar or Bat Mitzvah etc.
Why should we have a ceremony at all?
Having a child is as significant as marriage, Bar/Bat Mitzvah or any other life-cycle occasion. In the case of a wedding, it is the union of two people. In the case of a child it is the union of humanity with God. A ceremony marks a promise to God and the child that the parents, family and godparents will do all they can to raise the child as a Jew. To do otherwise is to deprive the child of that which is rightfully his or hers. A ceremony helps us to become more conscious of the meaning of life. It also helps us to create simcha - happiness. Through these simchas, we create memories that will be cherished for years and generations to come.
What other ways can we celebrate the birth?
Besides the Brit Milah or naming on the eighth day, it is especially appropriate to sponsor an oneg Shabbat at the synagogue on a Shabbat evening when family and friends can attend services together. A public naming ceremony can take place during the service itself. Even if you have already had a private Brit Milah or naming ceremony, the public ceremony allows our synagogue community to celebrate with you.
How do I arrange the ceremony?
First call the clergy at the temple and the rest will be easy.
THE DEDICATION OF
A JEWISH HOME
The word mezuzah literally means “doorpost”. The practice of affixing a mezuzah to the doorposts of Jewish homes is an ancient custom. It is observed by Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jews alike. The mezuzah has become such a popular custom that a mezuzah can be found at the entrance of homes of people you never even knew were Jewish.
The idea of a mezuzah may have been adapted from another culture to have meaning for our people. Scholars claim that the ancient Egyptians, among whom we lived when we were slaves, used to place a sacred document at the entrance to their houses. Chances are that our ancestors began doing the same with their abodes. Perhaps the marking of our doorposts with blood at the time of the ten plagues was a precedent for later development of the custom of affixing a mezuzah.
It is generally believed that originally an abbreviated version of the Shema was carved upon the doorpost itself. Mezuzah of today contain parchment upon which can be found fifteen verses from the Book of Deuteronomy: The Shema and the V’ahavta (6:4-9) and a paragraph which speaks of the observance of God’s commandments (11:13-21). Both sections contain the command “you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates...” which gives the contents of the mezuzah an even greater practical, as well as philosophical, importance.
The progress from the carving of the Shema upon the doorpost to the affixing of our modern day Mezuzah was a natural development. At some point, the Biblical verses that we include in the mezuzah were written on parchment, which was fastened to the doorpost in lieu of carving. Later, reeds were hollowed out and attached to the house to protect the parchment from the elements. Finally, containers such as we find today were designed specifically for the purpose of being used with the Mezuzah parchments. Such diverse materials as stone, wood, metal, clay, ceramics, glass and paper are used today.
By the time the Book of Deuteronomy appeared there was already a great importance attached to the actual dedication of our dwelling places. In Deuteronomy 20:5, we read: “Then the officials shall address the troops, as follows: ‘Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it.’”
The significance of this passage is appreciated even more when we consider that the only other person who could leave the battlefield was the newlywed who had not yet consummated his marriage. The exact Biblical procedure for the dedication of a house is unknown. But it is only natural that, when a formal ceremony was developed, the affixing of a mezuzah was included as the central part.
Rules and Suggestions for the mezuzah
The mezuzah has traditionally been:
affixed to the right-hand side of the doorpost as you enter;
affixed at a 45 degree angle leaning into the house;
affixed no more than 1/3 of the distance from the top of the doorpost, but no less than one handbreadth from the top;
affixed with nails;
affixed to all doorposts in the home, except for those leading to bathrooms;
inspected twice every seven years to be sure that the parchment is still legible. The parchment should be rolled with the word Shema at the top facing in, and it should be the first word revealed as the parchment is unrolled
affixed immediately upon moving into the house in the land of Israel; while in the Diaspora, affixed usually within a month of moving in.
the mezuzah should be removed from the doorposts when you move.
Rationale for the Customs
It has been popularly understood that the right-hand side of the doorway is selected because most people are right-handed and can therefore reach up to touch the mezuzah upon entering the house. Since the custom is also to reach to it and kiss one’s hand upon leaving the house, the rationale loses its legitimacy.
There is an historical disagreement over the way in which the mezuzah should be fastened to the doorpost. Rashi, a famous medieval Jewish scholar, claimed that the mezuzah should be affixed vertically, while Rabbeinu Tam, his grandson, insisted on a horizontal mounting for the mezuzah. Therefore, the custom of placing it at an angle is seen as a compromise.
Pure practicality seems to have motivated the custom of where on the doorpost and with what should the mezuzah be affixed. It should convenient to see and to touch. Using nails gives an assurance that the mezuzah will not fall from its place.
The difference in the time requirement between Israel and the Diaspora could possibly reflect the historical mindset of the Jew in times of persecution and exile. While a Jew living in the Promised Land would probably feel secure that once the roots were planted, there would be no great reason for moving to another location, our ancestors in the Diaspora probably could not be sure that, once settled in a new dwelling, they would not be exiled from that place too. Waiting a month in their new location gave them some feeling that this could be called a somewhat more permanent home and would thus require a dedication.
The mezuzah’s Symbolism - (Philosophical Views)
Many people today, as in centuries past, regard the mezuzah as an amulet, a good luck charm, which in some way, mysterious and miraculous, keeps evil away. Unfortunately, to do this is to lose sight of the much more significant religious meaning that we find in this age-old Jewish custom.
The great Jewish medieval philosopher, Maimonides, saw this danger and cautioned against such superstitious belief. The mezuzah is actually a reminder of God’s omnipresence and the obligations we have to our faith and people.
Upon or within each mezuzah can be seen the Hebrew word שדי - Shadai, one of the Biblical names for God, the Almighty. Jewish mystical tradition took those three Hebrew letters to spell out the entire sentence: שומר דלתות ישראל - Shomeir D’latot Yisrael - The Guardian of the doorways of Israel. Apparently, this is conceived by some to mean that the mezuzah has certain magical powers that frighten away messengers or spirits of evil.
In today’s world, of course, the mezuzah can have a multitude of meanings for us. As we leave our homes in the morning to go out into the world, we are reminded to take our Jewishness with us, to live and relate to others in conformity with our Jewish principles and the teachings of ethics and moral conduct stressed within our tradition. Upon returning to our homes, as we sight the mezuzah greeting us once again, we recognize the shelter that we seek from the rat race of the outside world. We think again of the value of family life, so ennobled in our heritage.
The mezuzah at the entrance to your home is also a signal to others who come to visit that they are entering a Jewish home. It can come to reflect the type of hospitality that visitors will find within. Certainly to other Jews, it will be an indication that there is already a significant bond between you before they even enter your home. Notice the next time you visit a friend’s home whose entrance is marked with a mezuzah. That mezuzah should arouse your own feelings and thoughts about Judaism.
The dedication of a home implies making “roots”, but our character must be one which allows us to make roots. We value living the “good life”, for through such endeavors, we help create a better world and in the end are justified for our efforts.
A Ceremony For The Dedication Of A Home
This ceremony requires a mezuzah, a Bible, wine or grape juice, challah and salt.
We gather with _______________, in their home, to dedicate it as a Jewish home. It has become the custom among our people to enhance this occasion of affixing the mezuzah with prayers and appropriate readings. In this spirit, we look to the Bible for the importance of dedicating the home:
Then the officials shall address the troops, as follows: “Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it.”
In keeping with this tradition, and with Jewish faith, we consecrate this house with prayers of thanksgiving and invoke upon it God’s blessing.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!
Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One!
Baruch Shem K’vod, Malchuto, l’olam va’ed!
Blessed is God’s rule for ever and ever!
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha'olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu likbo’a m’zuza.
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha'olam, shehechiyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you Adonai our God, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this momentous occasion!
(Affix the mezuzah to the doorpost.)
Our homes have always been the dwelling place of the Jewish spirit. Our tables have been altars of faith and love. It is written: “When words of Torah pass between us, the Divine Presence is in our midst.” Our doors have been open to the stranger and the needy. May this home we now consecrate keep alive the beauty of our heritage.
(Challah Is Dipped In Salt And Distributed)
Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.
We praise You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
(Wine Or Grape Juice Is Given To Each Guest)
Baruch ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha'olam, borei p'ri hagafen.
We praise You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
(The Open Bible Is Raised)
The Torah has been our life; it has taught us how to live. May this home be a place for learning and doing. May the hearts of all who dwell here be filled with a love of Torah and its teachings.
Baruch ata, Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu la'asok b’divrei Torah.
Praised are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctifies us with Your mitzvot and commands us to engage in the study of Torah.
(The Residents Say)
Im Adonai lo yivne bayit, shav amlu bonav bo.
Unless Adonai builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
In this awareness we pray that our home be blessed by the sense of God’s presence.
We offer thanksgiving for the promise of security and contentment this home represents, and express our resolve to make it a temple dedicated to godliness. Let this home be filled with the beauty of holiness and the warmth of love. May guest and stranger find within it welcome and friendship. So will it ever merit the praise: “Mah tovu o’halecha Ya’akov, mishk’notecha Yisrael Ð How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!”
For all those who are assembled here, and for all who will enter these doors, we invoke God’s blessing:
Adonai yishmor tzeit’cha u’vo’echa mei’ata v’ad olam.
May God guard your going out and your coming in, now and always. Amen
TO AFFIX A NEW mezuzah IN AN ALREADY CONSECRATED HOUSE
This ancient symbol speaks to us of our need to live by the words of God. We affix the mezuzah to the doorposts of this house with the hope that it will always remind us of our duties to one another as members of the Household of Israel. May God’s spirit fill this house - the spirit of love and kindness and consideration for all people.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha'olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu likbo’a m’zuza
Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to affix a mezuzah.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha'olam, shehechiyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you Adonai our God, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this momentous occasion!
JEWISH FUNERAL AND
Judaism has always considered death a part of life. Beginning with the Bible and amplified voluminously in the Talmud and other post-Biblical literature, Jewish customs and practices surrounding death and mourning have served to help the living deal with the loss of our loved ones. At the same time, our customs and practices place a primary priority on reverence, honor and respect for the deceased. Throughout many of our practices and traditions, we are pointed in the direction of God as our hope and strength, for healing and comfort, in entering and shaping our future.
Congregation Albert was founded to provide its members with a spiritual home where people are involved in the traditions and customs of Judaism and connected to and supportive of our fellow congregants. This spirit extends to our friends and neighbors in times of joy and times of mourning.
Some members of Congregation Albert have historic family ties to Albuquerque but many do not. So, for some of our members, there is the additional difficulty of being separated from loved ones and family when a death occurs. In order to continue to meet our goal of being a family of friends, our congregation wants to do all we can to be supportive and helpful at the time a death occurs.
Celebrating and observing the legacy of our inheritance as Jews is meant to guide us through life, in bad times as well as good. When someone dies, we want to do “the right thing”. However, in this day and age, there is limited knowledge of the mourning customs of Judaism, but it is never too late to expand our Jewish knowledge and to live our lives more Jewishly.
With this in mind, we have prepared this guide. The purposes and goals of this booklet are to provide background information and to suggest new ways of looking at life, as well as death, and to offer practical advice as to what to do, even now, before death occurs.
Naturally, when death occurs, there are so many important questions and matters to be resolved. This book also contains checklists of what to do when death occurs. Again and again you will see the recommendation to consult with the clergy , who bring to these unfortunate situations the wisdom of Jewish tradition, combined with the wealth of practical experience.
In addition to this booklet, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), of which Temple Beth Zion is a member, has produced booklets entitled: “A Time To Prepare”, and “Jewish Mourning”, both of which are available through our office. This booklet of ours is an introduction and commentary to those works as well as a practical guide for those here in our community.
Putting Your House In Order (Preparing Important Information Prior to Death)
A death in the family is a sorrowful experience. While having information regarding the deceased’s funeral and burial wishes readily accessible will not lessen the pain of the mourners, it can eliminate much of their anxiety. We suggest that our members and their loved ones discuss these matters on an ongoing basis, when it is possible for all to engage in meaningful reflection and careful analysis. Please be sure to take into account the needs of the survivors as well as the
The first items to prepare are a health care proxy, an organ donor card and perhaps a limited power of attorney. Consult with your health care provider, your legal and financial advisors about the best way to proceed with these matters. Also, if you know what kind of funeral arrangements you prefer, you should discuss these matters with your family and commit them to writing.
You may also choose to prearrange your funeral and cemetery plots through your funeral home. This helps ensure your family knows your wishes and makes the arrangements following your death easier for them.
If you would like, we can keep copies of these documents in your confidential membership file where only the clergy will have access to them. You may also call our office to procure a copy of the UAHC guide: A Time To Prepare which may help you in your discussions and decision making process.
It is always to your advantage to have a will, in which you decide how your possessions will be distributed. The time of bereavement is not the best time to make many of the decisions the survivors must face. Having made a will in advance will reduce the number of difficult choices. However, since a will may be read some time after the funeral, we are including the following list of other potential problem areas that may generate discussions within the family in advance at a time more conducive to reflection and careful analysis. Without a will, one’s estate is distributed according to state law.
There are many ideas of a personal nature which one might consider. There may be bequests to family, to friends or to a charity or institution including Congregation Albert. In this connection, it should be pointed out that if a married person dies without a will, leaving a spouse and children (and the children need not be minors), the children will share in the estate. If the parent wishes to leave most or all of the estate to the surviving spouse, or has specific desires as to the division of the estate, this can be accomplished only by a will.
Please take the time to sit with your family and make sure they know where these important documents are kept as well as the name of your attorney and who the executor of your estate will be.
There is a long standing Jewish tradition of writing an ethical will. Too often, we are preoccupied with the material possessions we wish to pass on to our children and family. If we stop to think about it, there are many more important things that we can leave as a legacy Ð our values, ethics, dreams -- the things of which life’s substance is really constructed. It is never too soon to write an ethical will. In fact, it would be a good idea to rewrite it each year during the High Holy Days. It might also become a nice family custom to sit down and read that will, so as to continue to grow as a family, guided by this significant Jewish custom.
The items in your material will and ethical will are certainly good topics for family discussions, and we recommend strongly that you discuss with your family your desires for what is to be done after your death.
See below for some sample ethical wills.
The attitude of the Jewish religion toward illness is one of hope and knowledge. Prayer can often help people in pain and suffering. It can bring comfort and hope and some solace. The family can grow much closer during the illness of a loved one.
Our congregation provides a booklet, Meditations For Healing, which the clergy and our Caring Committee can bring to homes and hospitals. This prayerbook contains beautiful selections from Psalms and creative personal prayers that are an important source of hope, inspiration, and comfort during difficult times. We also include a prayer for healing in our worship services.
Judaism also believes strongly that while prayer is to be encouraged, all forms of medical help should be employed. The skills and knowledge of doctors and nurses represent a significant gift from God, and we are to use all of those gifts that God has given to us. The attitude toward a person who is sick is both positive and realistic. We are in no way to hasten or quicken death. Active euthanasia is absolutely forbidden in our faith.
On the other hand, we recognize that death may come as a welcome end to suffering, and passive euthanasia, that is, not engaging in extraordinary measures to keep a person alive, is permissible. These difficult ethical questions should be discussed within the family, with the guidance of your doctor, a hospital ethics committee member and the clergy. Once these decisions are made, each person should have a health care proxy, and if one chooses a “DNR or do not resuscitate order filled out and on file with one’s doctor, lawyer and a member of the family.
As Death Approaches
The attitude toward a person who is dying is one of compassion and understanding. Close family are encouraged to visit and spend as much time with their loved one as possible.
The “Viddui” - Confession
The Shema, “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One”, is one of our most well-known prayers and is the traditional prayer said by the dying person. The Viddui may be said by the dying person or on his/her behalf by the family or the clergy. (See below)
When Death Occurs
After calling your family, a telephone call to a funeral home and to our office will alert us to your needs when there is a death within your family. The clergy and funeral home will offer assistance in making the arrangements. The Senior Rabbi, in consultation with the family, will arrange for the officiation of Congregation Albert clergy at the funeral.
We suggest that a member of your family or a close friend be immediately notified to stay with you to aid you at this time to help you get answers to your questions and make some of the arrangements. If you need additional assistance, a member of our Caring Community Committee or our Shiva Committee can be contacted by the clergy.
What Services Does the Funeral Home Provide
The funeral home can make all necessary arrangements in connection with the burial. The funeral home will have the body brought to its facility where it will be cleansed and prepared for burial. It is up to the family to express preference in regard to carrying out particular Jewish traditions. This preparation is called Tohorat HaMet, the purification of the body of the deceased.
The funeral home will assist you in the selection of a casket. A wood casket, with no metal nails, or one as plain and unadorned as possible is in keeping with tradition. This is to emphasize the common fate of all life. We recommend that primary mourners be accompanied by a relative or a friend when selecting a casket and making funeral arrangements. We are blessed to have a Chevrah Kadishah in Albuquerque to do the Taharah. The funeral home, the Rabbi or the Cantor can put you in touch with them.
Should you desire, the funeral home will assist in placing the obituary notice in the newspaper.
Embalming and open casket viewing are generally considered to be contrary to tradition. The human being is thought to be created in the divine image, so any unnatural alteration of the body is viewed as disrespectful. As Reform Jews, each of us may decide how to use tradition as a guide. Our clergy is available as resource guides for any questions regarding the preparation of the dead for burial.
Historically, the custom of shomrim, people watching the body until burial, accomplished several important goals. First of all, it gave great respect to the body. While we human beings are a combination of body and soul, our bodies are the houses in which our souls dwell, and they should be treated with dignity, even after our death. It is considered a great mitzvah for a Jew to help prepare the body for the funeral. In addition, in ancient times the body was thus protected from animals. Today, the funeral director performs this practice.
In traditional practice, attire for deceased men and women consisted of only a simple shroud. The principle that all are equal in death was thus reinforced by preventing families from ostentatiously and competitively dressing their deceased in fine clothing. This served to preserve the dignity of the poor and reminded all that a funeral was an inappropriate time for showing off one’s wealth. Today most people can afford a simple suit or dress. Therefore, it is appropriate to be dressed in more than a shroud, but the same principles embodied in traditional Jewish practice should be preserved. If you would like your loved one buried in a traditional shroud, you can make those arrangements through the funeral home or Chevrah Kadishah. Valuables should not be buried with the body.
Tradition describes from the moment of death to the time of burial as the time of Aninut, “Tenderness”. Judaism recognizes Aninut as a period of deep distress. One who is in this stage of mourning is an Onen, one who is emotionally sensitive. Although today we recognize that many members of the deceased family will feel the pain of the death, according to tradition, only the direct blood relatives (parent, child, sibling) or spouse may be considered an Onen. The Onen is apt to be disoriented and overwhelmed by the immediacy of the death, yet must make detailed arrangements with the funeral home, rabbi and family members. Recognizing this fundamental conflict between practical and psychological needs, the aim of our traditions is to facilitate making appropriate arrangements as well as making the psychological transition to actual mourning which begins with the funeral.
During Aninut, there is no formal visiting of the family. Close friends may offer their comfort, support, and help. Some time prior to departure for the funeral service, friends and neighbors should make arrangement for a S’udat Havarah, a meal of healing, for the mourners upon their return from the funeral. This meal symbolizes support and the concept that life must go on even though grief may temporarily remove one’s appetite for living. It is traditional to serve a dairy meal that includes hard-boiled eggs, a symbol of life.
The Rabbi or Cantor are on call to any Congregation Albert household which is stricken with the death of a loved one. If notified, our clergy will try to be with the family during the last hours prior to death (in the case of an ongoing illness) offering support and assistance. During Aninut, the Rabbi and Cantor are there to provide guidance to the family about the traditions of Judaism and to help you make the appropriate decisions, officiate at the funeral and, whenever possible, be there in the evening for services at the Shiva home following the burial. The Rabbi or Cantor will acquaint the family with the nature of the funeral and answer any questions pertaining to Jewish law and custom surrounding death and mourning. Some months later, they can work with the family on the unveiling ceremony of a tombstone or memorial tablet.
The Rabbi and Cantor are experienced pastoral counselors who will be there to help during Aninut, and at your request, afterward as well.
A Jewish funeral is a simple ceremony consisting of some appropriate Psalms and readings as well as a eulogy. You may begin the service with K’riah, the tearing and wearing of a black ribbon representing the tear you feel in your lives when you experience the loss of a dear one. It also serves as a signal to others that you are in mourning and that an adjustment of greeting is in order. The K’riah ribbon is worn for up to one month after the funeral except on Shabbat.
The service may take place at a graveside, in the synagogue or in the funeral home. If the funeral is held at the funeral home or at the synagogue it is followed by a short ceremony at the cemetery before burial. Many if not most funerals in Albuquerque are held only at the graveside.
Jewish custom urges that the burial occur as soon after death as possible. However, if close relatives must travel a great distance, the ceremony may be delayed. Funeral services are not held on Shabbat or Jewish holy days.
The goal of the eulogy is to evoke honest memories and feelings about the deceased and to bring comfort to the mourners. The Rabbi and Cantor are well trained to work with the family in order to create a eulogy that honors the deceased and begins to help the family cope with their loss.
Many people feel the need to share their memories of a deceased loved one or friend. The appropriate time for these personal eulogies is during shiva (see below).
At the funeral various prayers emphasizing the merciful and just qualities of the Divine Will are recited. Psalms, El Maleh Rachamim, and other prayers may be recited or chanted. The Kaddish is recited at the conclusion of the service at the cemetery.
Upon arrival at the cemetery, the family may escort the casket to the grave or wait while the casket is taken to the lot and then proceed to the graveside. In either case, you may request that the casket be placed on top of the grave or lowered into it prior to the beginning of the cemetery service.
Family and friends may choose to fulfill the greatest mitzvah at this time which is to fill the grave either by placing a symbolic handful of soil on the casket before it is lowered or placing a shovel or two of earth into grave itself.
Usually, the mourners file out between lines made by the other attendees. This allows the mourners to feel the support of the community.
It is customary to not have flowers at a Jewish funeral. Rather than flowers, friends should be encouraged to make a contribution to the synagogue or a favorite charity in memory of the deceased.
Shiva–The First Seven Days of Mourning
According to Jewish tradition, mourners wear torn clothing, sit on low stools or the floor instead of chairs, and refrain from greeting visitors. They are not permitted to leave the house - even to pray at synagogue except on Shabbat. This means a minyan - ten adult men needed for public prayer - is usually brought to the mourners' house. Bathing is prohibited during shiva. So is shaving. All mirrors are covered, usually with sheets taped to the wall. And of course, the official mourning period is intense for seven days, followed by thirty lesser days, followed by eleven months of reciting the mourner's Kaddish in a minyan. Shabbat and holidays interrupt Shiva and the family attends services at Temple.
Today, instead of tearing clothes people often substitute a black ribbon which is cut at the funeral. Some choose to sit for a full seven days, other families, just for three. Few members of our congregation cover mirrors, avoid personal grooming or sit on low stools. During Shiva friends will visit the house bring food for the family, and stay for the service. In our congregation a minyan consists of ten adult Jews, male or female.
During one’s visit to a Shiva house, one should focus on the mourners, sharing memories of the deceased with them or even just sitting with them in silence. During the service at the home, one should participate in the service or stand quietly in another room so as not to detract from the healing of the prayers.
Sheloshim–The Next 23 Days
Sheloshim (thirty) is the thirty day period, including the days of Shiva, following burial. Following Shiva, some of the normal routine elements of life are reentered. During Sheloshim, however, it is customary to refrain from attending social gatherings and events. One does not visit the cemetery during this period.
It is our custom that one attend Shabbat services during the period of Shiva and Sheloshim. The mentioning of the name of the deceased during the recitation of Kaddish at services maintains our tradition of honoring the deceased. Shabbat services at Temple Beth Zion also offer the bereaved a chance to seek solace in the greater warmth of our entire congregation.
Shanah–The Year Following Burial
The total mourning period is observed for eleven months, during which Kaddish may be recited daily, and at our Shabbat and holy day services.
Yahrtzeit is a Yiddish/German word meaning the anniversary of death. It is not a day of intense mourning but for remembrance. It may be calculated by either Hebrew or civil calendars. Yahrtzeit begins on the evening preceding the date of death and consists of lighting a 24 hour memorial candle and reciting of prayers (see below for a suggested service). One usually refrains from social activities throughout this day. It is customary to recite Kaddish at evening and morning services on the day of death or at the Thursday evening and Shabbat service during the week in which Yahrtzeit occurs. Please call the Temple office if you would like your loved one’s name read at services. It is also customary to contribute to Tzedakah (charity) in memory of your loved on the occasion of his/her Yahrtzeit.
How Can A Family Member Be Memorialized In Congregation Albert
There are various opportunities for the memorializing of a family member within the Temple. Our Administrator can familiarize you with ways in which you may create a lasting and fitting remembrance for your loved ones.
One way you may memorialize the name of a loved one is to have his or her name inscribed on the Memorial Plaque which is exhibited on the boards throughout the synagogue. This ensures that the family is informed every year of the date of the Yahrtzeit and that the name of their loved one will be read at services in perpetuity. For more information, please contact our Administrator.
The Funeral Home
We make no recommendation concerning one funeral home over another. While our clergy prefers to officiate at Jewish funeral homes, they will also officiate at funerals for our members at non-Jewish funeral homes.
Congregation Albert owns its own cemetery. It is located behind Fairview Cemetery on Yale Blvd just north of Avienda Cesar Chavez. To access our cemetery you have to drive through Fairview. Our office will connect you with our cemetery committee who will help you arrange the burial in conjunction with the funeral home. Any officiant other than Congregation Albert’s Rabbi or Cantor must be approved by the Rabbi or if he is out of town, the Cantor. In addition, the Rabbi and Cantor will officiate at other cemeteries with permission from the proper officials of that cemetery. The Rabbi and Cantor can also provide appropriate funeral, memorial and burial services for the non-Jewish partners of our interfaith families.
Choosing a Marker and Planning The Unveiling
The setting of a stone over the grave may be done at any time between the end of Sheloshim and the first anniversary of the death. A service of dedication may be held at the discretion of the family. This is not a second funeral, but a time for expressing one’s love, affection and respect for the deceased. While our clergy would be honored to help plan and officiate at the service, many families choose to conduct the service themselves.
Care should be taken in selecting the firm that will make the stone or marker. It is important to check the wording and the spelling of the inscription. Our clergy will assist in checking the Hebrew spelling upon request.
Yizkor, meaning “remembrance”, is recited four times during the Jewish year: Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, Pesach and Shavuot. At these times, special prayers are added to the liturgy which are dedicated to the memory of family members who have died. It is also customary to light a yahrtzeit candle at home on these occasions. A mourner begins to observe Yizkor at the first of these holidays to occur after death.
When May We Visit The Cemetery
Cemetery visits may begin after Sheloshim. It is customary to visit the graves of loved ones on Yahrtzeits and in the month of Elul, but not on Shabbat, Festivals or Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS AND ISSUES
Death is a crisis which affects all members of the family. Children also need to share the grief. Your openness in talking about death, in an age-appropriate way, will enable them to accept this ultimate reality. Your silence can heighten their sense of isolation.
It is important that your children be informed about a death immediately and, if possible, by someone close to them in familiar surroundings. There is no “right” way. Approach your child gently and with love. The tone of your voice will communicate feelings more completely than any specific words. Listen to what your children say. They too need to verbalize their own reactions.
Attendance at the funeral aids children in understanding the finality of death. Being present during the burial at the cemetery is usually not traumatic for children. However, no matter how therapeutic the funeral may be, children should not be forced to attend. Allow them to make their own decision by explaining what will occur and asking them about their wishes and needs. Children deserve to have the privilege to express their love and to say good-bye to a significant person in their lives.
Non-Jewish Family Members
We are very sensitive to the needs of our interfaith families. Rabbi and Cantor will officiate at services for non-Jewish spouses and children if requested. We will work with the family to create a ceremony which is appropriate for the deceased and the family. If the deceased is Jewish, we will work with the non-Jewish family members to help them with their grief and to understand Jewish funeral and mourning practices. Please call the Rabbi or Cantor if you have any questions concerning these issues.
Some cemeteries have special rules as to who may be buried in them, what clergy can officiate in the cemetery and what symbols can be on the head and foot stones. This may be an issue for interfaith couples who wish to be buried in adjacent plots. Please consult with the clergy, funeral home and cemetery for more details and advice.
What To Do If A Death Occurs And You Cannot Be There
When this happens, there are two main areas to consider. What can you do to assist while being so far away? A call to the Rabbi or Cantor will provide you with the names and phone numbers of synagogues and rabbis in the area where the death occurred. You may want to send something to the family, and these contacts will help make that a little easier to do.
If the death occurs elsewhere, upon your return to Albuquerque, you may want to have a memorial service in your home to provide an opportunity for your local family and friends to comfort you and be with you at this important time.
Burial Outside of Albuquerque
Some people have made arrangements to be buried elsewhere. The local funeral homes will help you make arrangements for these burials. There are special Jewish laws and customs which apply in these cases. Please consult with the Rabbi or Cantor for guidance on how to best keep within the guidelines of Jewish practice.
Cremation historically was contrary to traditional Jewish practice. Today for a variety of reasons more Jews are choosing cremation. The Rabbi and Cantor will perform a memorial service and officiate at the burial of the cremains. It is preferable that the ashes be placed in a Jewish cemetery and not kept at home.
While strict Jewish law forbids “usual mourning” for suicide, it is believed that this was intended as a deterrent for people considering suicide. Indeed, King Saul, the first king of Israel, committed suicide and received full mourning and grieving.
Jewish tradition believes that life is good, and that any reasonable human being would come to that conclusion. Therefore, when a suicide occurs, traditional Judaism points out that the person was under considerable stress and therefore not responsible for this prohibited act.
The reason for our mourning customs is to help the grief-stricken, it is especially important for the survivors that mourning occur. We need to help them and focus on their ongoing needs.
Since at least the second century B.C.E. Jews have believed in an afterlife. Throughout the centuries, Jewish belief has changed, varying from “concrete” to “ethereal” views of what happens after we die. At no time however, did traditional Jewish belief embrace the concepts of heaven and hell as presented in Christian tradition. In the modern period, Reform Judaism has de-emphasized what happens after we die and focused on how we live in this world. Yet, contrary to popular thought, Reform Judaism accepts the existence of, and most Reform Jews do believe in an afterlife.
A wonderful resource is What Happens When I Die, edited by Soncino and Syme.
Reform practice departs from tradition in accepting an autopsy. Relatives may choose to permit an autopsy, since it may further the discovery of the cause of death and in the case of illness, may provide information to help find a cure to the disease. Thus, permitting an autopsy may save or prolong the lives of others who may suffer from similar infirmity.
While Judaism believes that the dignity of the body is very important and we should treat that body with respect, our faith also recommends that we do things that will help contribute to the saving of lives. Therefore, it is permissible and even encouraged to donate organs and/or tissue for transplant.
The legal and final decision for organ donation is made by the donor in his/her lifetime or the donor’s next of kin. Due to the critical time factor for the meaningful use of organs, directives stated in a will may not be effective. Your wishes should be made known to family members, legal guardian or representative.
The resource center in Albuquerque for organ, tissue and eye transplants is:
New Mexico Donor Services
1609 University Blvd NE
Albuquerque NM 87102
Organ donation should be discussed thoroughly with the family before death occurs.