There is much for the family to do from the time they learn of the death until the funeral itself. Some of the preparations are made by the Chevra Kadisha, and others are done by the family. Many mourners enlist the help of friends and family.
Mourning customs practiced between death and burial are explained here.
Coordinating Time and Place
The Chevra Kadisha should be contacted in order to coordinate the time of the funeral and the cemetery in which the deceased will be buried, based on locations of residence and of the death. In certain circumstances, immigrants will be asked to prove the deceased’s Jewishness (by producing the birth certificate of the deceased or the deceased’s mother).
The Chevra Kadisha sets the time of the funeral based on its own schedule, but tries to take the family’s preferences into consideration. When setting the time of the funeral, take into account the time it will take to notify people of the funeral and leave time to allow close relatives to fly in from abroad.
It is customary to bury the deceased as soon as possible. Some Chevra Kadishas are very insistent on this custom and arrange burials late into the night. According to Jewish tradition, the primary consideration in making this decision is respect for the deceased: one must strike a balance between the need to show respect by burying quickly and the respect accorded by having more people attend the funeral.
Cemeteries in Israel operate throughout the week. They do not operate on Shabbat or on major holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, the first and last days of Pesach, and Shavuot).
Note: If the burial takes place even a few minutes before sunset, the burial date is considered the first day of shiva.
Obtaining a Burial Permit
For reasons of public health, Chevra Kadishas are not authorized to perform burials without a burial permit issued by the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry must issue the permit (free of charge), but in most places the Chevra Kadisha handles this for the family. Sometimes the hospital’s admissions office arranges for a permit by fax. If the body has been brought to the Center for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, they will make sure to arrange a permit.
In rare cases, such as when the death happened at home, the family or their representative must obtain the permit themselves. In such cases, it is necessary to go to the Health Ministry’s Department of Burial Permits in the deceased’s district, along with the following documents:
1. The original death report written by the doctor who determined the death.
2. The deceased’s ID card (te’udat zehut).
Three copies of the death report are issued – make sure that the family holds on to two of them. If the death took place in the home or outside, you need:
1. The death report from the ambulance service.
2. Police confirmation that there is no suspicion of foul play.
If the death took place after the department’s office hours, and the funeral is planned for that same day, the Chevra Kadisha or the hospital emergency room can assist the family, or one can call the emergency number posted on the door of the Health Ministry office.
Determining the Character of the Burial
The choice of a burial plot is impacted by considerations of location, density, and the social or communal affiliation of the deceased and his or her family. Some cemeteries designate different areas for communities and social organizations (such as veterans of the Haganah or Irgun), as well as other subgroups (some examples are infants or stillbirths, people whose Jewishness is in question, people with no religious affiliation, those who committed suicide). Soldiers are buried in special military sections.
As a space-saving measure, many cemeteries offer burial at no charge when using one of several “high density burial” methods. Occasionally, but not always, the Chevra Kadisha offers the family several options. If the family refuses to accept the options offered, the burial society may impose a charge for a regular plot.
Contemporary Burial Methods
Standard burial (kevurat sadeh) – the deceased is interred in an individual grave dug out from flat ground.
Layered burial (kevurat komot) – several distinct levels of graves are supported by beams. It looks the same as a regular burial in the ground, with a headstone atop each grave, but only the topmost level is exposed to sunlight.
Burial in niches (kevurat kukhin) – bodies are placed one on top of the other with a layer of dirt in between. Visitors cannot maneuver between graves, since their facades are connected, forming a sort of memorial wall of headstones. The advantage is that it is inexpensive and saves space. Such graves can generally be found near the entrance to the cemetery.
Double burial (kevurat makhpela) – a method of burial for couples. An especially deep grave is dug, in which two bodies can be interred, one on top of the other, separated by cinderblocks and dirt, and topped with a joint headstone. This method is gradually becoming more common, especially for couples who died together, or when the bereaved spouse wishes to buy an adjacent plot.
Purchasing a Plot Adjacent to the Deceased
The decision about whether to purchase the adjacent plot for a living relative need not be made immediately; the Chevra Kadisha reserves it for the family for at least 45 days. However, if available space is severely limited, it is likely that the family will have to decide before the burial whether to purchase an adjacent plot or wants an eventual layered burial.
Other Things to Coordinate
Minyan: If you suspect that a minyan (a quorum of ten men above the age of 13) will not attend the funeral and it is important to you to say Kaddish, ask whether the Chevra Kadisha can assemble a minyan for you (for a fee).
Kohanim: According to Jewish tradition, kohanim may not be defiled by a corpse that is not a close relative. For that reason, (male) Kohanim do not enter into the interior of cemeteries. Therefore, if the deceased was from a family of kohanim, it is important to notify the Chevra Kadisha so they can locate a plot adjacent to a path or at the edge of the cemetery.
Vehicle access: If the funeral procession will include elderly or handicapped individuals, they may need to be transported to the grave by car. The best way to drive should be coordinated in advance with the Chevra Kadisha.
Microphones: It is worthwhile to confirm that there is a system in place that will enable everyone to hear and participate in the service.