After a death

LJOC: Advice and Support

Please accept our sympathy with you at this time of loss. We wish you that the Almighty will guide you through these difficult hours and days in the most painless way possible. At this time of grief, it may feel especially difficult to deal with the inevitable arrangements. We hope that you will find the brief information written here, helpful.

“The dust shall return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”(Eccl. 12:7), is a fundamental principle in Judaism. Therefore, as much as it may seem difficult, an immediate burial is the greatest act of respect and kindness that we can do for the deceased. Only in very special circumstances postponing of the funeral to the next day is allowed; such a dispensation will require a consultation with a Rabbi, and the Rabbi may feel that he has to consult with his colleagues, as it is a very serious matter.

The necessary arrangements

The first action to be taken after the death is to cover the body; in Judaism this is considered to be an expression of respect to the deceased. Immediately, inform either Burton & Burton Funeral Directors Tel: 0113 269 5552 or Etz Chaim office Tel: 0113 266 2214, depending on synagogue affiliation, who will make the arrangements for the funeral. If you have feelings of loneliness or need at this moment spiritual assistance of a member of the clergy, please don’t hesitate to ask for it.

One must, obtain a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (Med. Cert.) from the doctor who last saw the deceased within the previous fourteen days of life. Next, telephone the Registrar’s Office for an appointment to register the death. Take the Med. Cert. to the registrar to obtain the Green Form (legal permission to bury) and the Death Certificate. The Registrar’s Office is in Merrion House Merrion Way LS2 8BB, Tel: 0113 2224408. Inform the Registrar’s Office that this is a Jewish death and you require the Green Form. If you cannot get an immediate appointment, please ask if there are any other registrars offices that might be open e.g. at Moor Allerton Library. Once the Green form has been issued take it to the Funeral Director who is arranging the funeral (along with the Tallit prayer shawl, if the deceased is male). The Funeral Director will arrange for the deceased to be removed to the Tahara House where a Tahara will be performed with the greatest respect and dignity, by Leeds Joint Chevra Kadisha.

Leeds has Deputy Registrars who can issue a Green Form – Linda Schulman Tel: 07590 876 416 or Brian Selby Tel: 07803 730 288 who are appointed Deputy Registrars by the City. They are officially permitted to issue Green Forms to the families on bank holidays, Sundays and any other days that the registrars’ offices may be closed. If a Green Form is issued at the weekend or bank holiday, the death has also to be registered as well. You have 5 days after the Green Form has been issued to go to the register the death at the registry office you will then receive the Death Certificate. Also, out of hours certificates can only be issued if the death is in the Leeds Metropolitan District.

In normal hours, the families should go to the registry office and register the death, a Green Form and death certificate will be issued. If there are no appointments available, then the family should tell the registry office it is a Jewish funeral. They can ask to have a Green Form and then they will have 5 days to go back to register the death.

If the deceased had not been seen by the doctor last in attendance within the previous 14 days, the case may well be referred to the coroner. If this occurs, the coroner or the coroner’s officers will advise you of the next steps.

The Funeral Director will require the Hebrew Name of the deceased.

Once you have completed these actions, arrangements will be taken off your hands, the Funeral Director will continue to deal with all the aspects of the funeral.

On Shabbat or Yom Tov, if the death has occurred at home or in a care home, the deceased should be covered and a family member or friend should stay with the deceased. The Funeral Director’s answer machine has a telephone number which will provide assistance. If the death has occurred in a hospital, the deceased will be removed by the nursing staff to the hospital mortuary. Following the end of Shabbat or Yom Tov, Funeral Directors will be available.

Before burial

Following a death, Jewish law prescribes mourning for any one of seven close relatives of the deceased – father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister and spouse.

The period from the moment one learns about the death of a loved one until burial is called aninut. One is not yet a mourner, but most of the traditions related to mourning are observed during this period of time. In addition, one is exempt from most mitzvot -commandments so as to be free to arrange the funeral and burial. Obviously, the bereaved should not work or engage in business.  Eating is kept to a minimum, meat or wine shouldn’t be consumed. Where Shabbat or a festival occurs between the death and the funeral, the status of aninut is suspended.

Tearing of a garment (Kria)

The funerals usually leave from the Synagogue the deceased was a member of, but it can also leave from Donisthorpe Hall if the deceased was a resident there.  The tear is on the left-hand side (over the heart) after the death of a parent and on the right-hand side for other relatives. The torn garment – a jacket, cardigan, sweater or a waistcoat is worn until the end of Shiva but not on Shabbat.

The funeral

A quorum of 10 Jewish men (a minyan) is required for the mourners to recite Kaddish.

At the cemetery, the coffin and mourners gather inside the ohel-the chapel for the Burial Service. Cohanim should consult the Rabbi. A central part of the service is called tziduk hadin -the Justification of Judgment, which represents the willingness of the mourner to accept what has happened and not to challenge God’s justice. However, on festive or semi-festive days of Jewish calendar this prayer is replaced by other scriptural readings.

After the service, all present make their way to the burial place.  After the coffin is placed in the ground, mourners (not just male) and friends should add at least three shovelfuls of earth to the grave.  When passing the shovel to the next person, it is placed on the earth and not handed to the next person’s hand.

After Kaddish is recited by the mourner(s), if there is a male mourner present the friends form two parallel lines allowing the  mourner and any other mourners to walk in between and accept their condolences. Some mourners have the tradition of wearing their slippers immediately after the Kaddish recital.

Thus, the period of aninut ends and the bereaved is no longer an onein. The period of avelut -mourning begins; it lasts 12 months for the death of a parent, and 30 days for the other relatives.

One then proceeds to wash their hands at the wash stations before leaving the grounds.

Seven days of mourning (Shivah)

In the house of mourning, mirrors, pictures or sculptures of the deceased should be either covered or removed.

Shivah begins straight after the funeral. Once the mourner(s) returns to the house, a meal of consolation – seudat havra’a  prepared by a friend or a family member (who is not a mourner) is offered to the mourners; customary, it consists of a hard boiled egg and bagels. Like the world, these foods are round indicating that death will eventually come round and affect us all. This is eaten sitting in a low chair, on which the mourner(s) will sit till the end of the Shivah. The chairs are supplied and delivered to the house by the Funeral Director before the burial service. This requirement is intended to reinforce the mourners’ inner emotions. In English we speak of “feeling low,” as a synonym for depression; in Jewish law, the depression is acted out literally.

Candles should be kindled in the house of mourning in memory of the deceased, symbolizing the idea “The soul of man is God’s candle” (Proverbs 20:27). The candle is kindled before going to the cemetery and one says before lightning, the name of the deceased and is kept burning for the entire period of Shiva. 24-hour yahrzeit candles or a week-long candle are useful for this purpose.

For the entire week of the Shivah, the mourners remain in the house of mourning, and their relatives and friends come to fulfil the mitzvah of nichum aveilim- (consoling the mourner) and participate in prayers. If no minyan – (prayer quorum of ten men) can be assembled, (as it is usually the case for the morning service), the mourners should leave the house of mourning to attend services in the Synagogue and recite the Kaddish. Before the prayers start, two candles are lit (there is not a specific blessing to recite when lighting these candles, but you may say or reflect that you light the candle in honour of the deceased).

During the Shivah, mourners shouldn’t bathe, shave, trim hair, wear leather shoes, work, launder, iron, or engage in marital relationships. One of the most fundamental laws of Jewish mourning is the prohibition of working and doing business during Shivah. Even if due to special circumstances the mourners don’t want to have visitors and prayers for the entire Shivah, it is essential that they will observe the mourning rituals of the Shivah for the entire seven-day period.

The Shivah is a grieving process which has been tested and proved effective for millions of mourners. On many occasions, people who tried to cut the Shivah short, have later reported relapses into mourning and depression and feelings of absence of a proper closure.

The following days of mourning

As the Shivah is completed, haircuts, shaving, listening to music, dancing and attending Simchas should be avoided for 30 days. For those mourning a parent, the bereavement lasts 12 months.

If those bereaved want more halachic guidance or just help and support, please don’t hesitate to call members of clergy at your synagogue.

Etz Chaim Shul office:  0113 266 2214
Burton & Burton (For UHC and BHH): 0113 269 5552 or 07796 267 697
Linda Schulman, General Manager Leeds Joint Chevra Kadisha, Deputy Registrar for Leeds Jewish community: 078590 876 416


We are grateful to Leeds Joint Chevra Kadisha, Etz Chaim Synagogue and Burton & Burton Funeral Directors for supplying this information.