Sunday, May 01, 2016

Jewish Mourning: Got Up From Shiva Before My Father was Buried

my father and I
All in all, there's nothing more humane, suitable for us humans than the Jewish Laws of Mourning. Sometimes things may seem a bit peculiar, such as the fact that I ended up not only sitting shiva (observing the traditional week-long mourning period) before my father was actually buried, but I ended it before his actual funeral.

my mother and I
What was this based on? You may be wondering. Everything I did was as per the instructions of our local rabbi, Rabbi Elchanan Ben-Nun. What I will write here is all layman style; I do not know on which halachot and tshuvot etc. anything was based on. But I must say that none of this was actually surprising or new to me. Sitting shiva before the funeral takes place is common when family members are separated by great distances or can't travel for other reasons.

After my sister called, the Tuesday morning before Passover, 11 Nissan, that our father had passed away, immediately after notifying my husband and kids I contacted Rav Elchanan. In that very first message to him I made it clear that I would not be traveling to New York for the funeral, nor was I involved with the logistics of the funeral and transporting my father from Arizona to NY. He responded that I should be prepared to sit shiva "immediately." "Immediately" did not mean that very minute, but when he'd make it over to my house in a couple of hours. In the meantime I should arrange to have someone available to do "kri'ah," make the first cut in my ritual ripping of shirt I was wearing, and while waiting I could continue with pre-Passover cleaning etc.

By the time the Rav came over, a few friends knew including the one I had chosen for the "first cut." I had done that for her a number a years ago when her own father had died. She, too, had sat shiva at home with her children in attendance, while the funeral was abroad.

At the same time I was making preparations to sit shiva, nobody was even sure when my father's funeral would be. It was in the middle of the night Arizona time, and American funerals, even Jewish ones, are not all that soon after death. Jewish Law requires that the body should be returned to the ground and soon as possible, generally the same day. Waiting to be buried is considered as making the dead person "suffer."

In Israel our guess was that my father's funeral would be either late Thursday or on Friday. Please don't forget that Friday night began Passover, and the Pesach Seder would be then.

According to Jewish Law, the major holidays, such as Passover, stop shiva, so I knew that I'd be finished Friday early afternoon, and I also knew that even if my father was buried Friday afternoon, the shiva would be very short, possibly counted in minutes only. That is what happened when my mother's mother had died sixty-four 64 years ago.

When Rav Elchanan came over, he supervised the kri'ah and told me that the actual shiva would only begin when I got notice that my father was in the hands of the chevra kadish,  the Jewish Mortuary workers. So I asked my sister to notify me. In the meantime I could continue getting ready for Pesach, as if I could concentrate on anything. I asked about the traditional "after the funeral meal" of round food, like eggs and bagels, or pita, and the rabbi said that I did need it. I asked if I could prepare for that, and he said:
"No, that is the job of the neighbors."
So I let them know, and food arrived when needed. My children came during this crazy time and helped get the house ready for shiva. Once I got notice from my sister, the shiva began for me. And due to the difference in time between New York and Israel, I was already "up" and ready for Passover before my father's New York funeral began.

I am grateful that in this modern world with cellphones and internet I knew immediately that he had passed away, because not all that long ago communication took longer, much longer. If notice of a death is over a month after the fact, then there is only a short symbolic shiva, which happened to a friend of ours. But that's another story...

At my mother's "unveiling." They have a double stone, which has been "waiting" for my father to rejoin her.

I hope that this clarifies things for those who haven't heard how Jewish Mourning can work when not all live in the same area. Please consult with an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi when confronted with such situations.

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