April 9, 2024
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Parshas Vayechi provides us with an annual opportunity to discuss death, and the halachos and rituals that surround it. These are uncomfortable conversations that are often avoided, but in my nearly 20 years of providing halachic funerals and burials, I’ve witnessed that ignoring them can lead to painful, long lasting consequences.

Let’s begin with what used to be a given: Jews are traditionally buried upon death. A generation ago, this wouldn’t have been a question. However, as cremation rates rise in the general population, they are also increasing in the Jewish world. Several years ago, I had a passing conversation with a religious single mother. As an afterthought, I mentioned the cremation crisis, and her face turned pale. “Jews don’t cremate? That’s my plan,” she told me. “As a single mother, I don’t want to burden my children.” She simply did not know that Jews don’t cremate. I provided her with advice, followed up with her rav, and a sad outcome will be avoided.

What constitutes a halachic funeral and burial? The deceased receives a Tahara, is dressed in Tachrichim, and is placed in a simple wooden aron. The Tahara is the physical and spiritual cleansing of the body, both of which are crucial. The Tachrichim, burial shrouds, are plain, simple white garments. Similar to Yom Kippur when we wear white, these shrouds signify purity and represent simplicity and the absence of material focus. I often explain that the shrouds don’t have pockets, serving as the ultimate reminder that “you can’t take things with you.” A plain aron, or coffin, again underscores the simplicity required in death.

In a post-Covid world, graveside services have become much more common. They can be arranged more swiftly than chapel services and generally cost less than renting a chapel. Zooming a funeral from the graveside has become commonplace today.

For those planning to be buried in Israel, having necessary documentation in place beforehand can expedite the arrangements. It is entirely possible that someone can pass away at 5 p.m. and still be on a flight to Israel that same night. However, having everything prepared and knowing where the documents are is essential.

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov Avinu teaches us, his children, about chesed shel emes. Yaakov specifically told Yosef where he wished to be buried; he didn’t leave it to chance. We should learn this lesson from Yaakov Avinu, having a plan in place, ensuring our children know the plan, and doing so should be a merit for long life.


Andrew Parver resides in New Milford and is a licensed funeral director in New York and New Jersey. Feel free to contact him at 516-672-2922 with any questions you may have.

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