Illness and Death

Illness and Death

Editor’s note: This article on illness and death, which was written several years ago, appeared on our original website and has been updated on this site. The main change is the elimination of links to specific web sites, because the links no longer work. Instead, we provide general links; for example, if you need information from the council about death, funeral, bereavement or a related topic, go to and use their search box to find the right information for specific words or topics. Follow a similar procedure with and similar sites.

If someone is ill

If you or a relative or friend is ill and a phone call or a visit is needed then let either the rabbi or Rachel Leventhall know. They run our Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) service. They will keep in touch for as long as support is needed. It is very important if someone is in hospital and needs a visit that you let us know as the hospital authorities are not allowed to tell us about Jewish patients.

If you feel that the person may be close to death and it is practical to let the rabbi know, then please do so.

Rachel Leventhall will also arrange for visits and phone calls to members of the community who may not be able to get out and about and would enjoy the opportunity to chat and have company.

If someone dies

If death is anticipated within a few days then you may wish to contact the rabbi to talk about what to do.

After the person has died, as soon as you can, let the rabbi know what has happened. If you are unable to contact him then please contact one of the Wardens. If you don’t know who to contact you can also contact the Synagogue Secretary on 020 8339 2689.

Mount of Olives cemetery Jerusalem

Mount of Olives cemetery Jerusalem

Jewish Law requires a burial as soon as possible. You must first obtain a death certificate from the doctor at the hospital where the person died or from a GP if the person died at home. You should then contact the Burial Society Office as soon as possible: 020 8950 7767.

If the Burial Offices are closed and you would like to speak to someone, ring 07957 119 119 (this service is not available on Shabbat or Yomtov).

The most important thing is to remember to tell the society, If they are shut then leave a message and a contact number. There is a helpline number on the answering machine if the office is closed.

The Burial Society will collect the person as soon as is practically possible; but not at night, on Shabbat or on Yomtov. At such times, if the person died in hospital then your loved one may be moved to the hospital mortuary or, if the hospital does not have a mortuary, private arrangements will have to, be made. You may be able to pay for extra time in the room in a private hospital. If at home make sure the room being used is kept cool and, if possible, the eyes are closed and the arms and legs are straightened by the sides, with hands open. Ideally the body should not be left unattended. Sitting with or “guarding” the body is regarded as a special mitzvah as the deceased cannot thank you. The rabbi may be able to arrange assistance with this and can advise about the positioning of the body.

After the Death Certificate has been issued, it must be taken to the Registrar for Deaths in the borough in which the person died. The Registrar will then issue a green certificate giving permission for burial to take place.

For more details about arranging this in Kingston upon Thames:

In Kingston special arrangements have been made so that the green certificate can be obtained on a Sunday morning when someone has died between Friday evening and Sunday morning. Contact the rabbi or the wardens about this.

Preparing the Shiva house prior to the funeral

A candle should burn throughout the shiva period. These can be bought at Jewish delicatessens and bookshops. Some burn for one day, some for three or seven days; there is no rule as to which should be used.

Two candles in candlesticks should burn during every prayer service. These may be extinguished at the conclusion of prayers and used more than once.

It is the custom to cover the mirrors in the home of the mourner, in the rooms that he/she will use (there is no need to cover television screens), The coverings can be removed for Shabbat.

Mourners are the parents, brothers/sisters, spouse or children of the deceased. These are the only people for whom the laws of mourning apply. If other relatives, such as stepchildren or adopted children wish to be considered as mourners, they must consult the rabbi.

All mourners should have non-leather footwear ready to put on after the funeral, which should be worn throughout the shiva.

All mourners should sit on low chairs, which will be supplied by the synagogue. If mourners have problems sitting on low chairs they should consult the rabbi.

The synagogue will provide prayer books for the services and a book detailing the customs and laws of morning.

Preparing for the funeral

All mourners are expected to tear items of clothing, which symbolizes the permanent rent that has taken place in their lives. This is called ‘Kriah’. ‘Kriah’ is sometimes done as soon as the mourner hears of the death, but since there are specific rules as to the method of ‘Kriah’ it is normally done at the burial grounds prior to the funeral or, for mourners not attending the cemetery, at the shiva house. In the case of the latter, guidance should be sought from the rabbi who will be able to offer assistance with ‘Kriah’. These items are then worn throughout the shiva period, except for Shabbat. It is sensible not to wear good or new clothes for this purpose. Garments that are torn include: a suit jacket, cardigan or sweater and shirts or blouses but not a tie or scarf.

It is not our custom to require mourners to wear black at funerals or during the shiva. Likewise flowers are not sent to the funeral.

People should be dressed modestly (as they would when visiting a synagogue). Men and married women need to have suitable head covering.

It is our custom that only the minister speaks at the funeral. However, ministers will certainly be willing to make use of notes about your loved one, prepared by the family.

Other information about the funeral should be obtained from the Burial Office or the rabbi.

On returning from the funeral

It is the practice for neighbours or friends to prepare the first meal that the mourners eat. This is called the Meal of Condolence. It usually consists of bagels (or soft round rolls) and hard boiled eggs, accompanied by a drink.

It is not the custom for food or drink to be provided for friends and family on returning to the shiva house. However, those who have travelled a long way may be offered some light refreshment.

The Shiva

This is the seven day period of mourning, which begins on the day of the funeral (inclusive) and continues until the morning of the seventh day, eg. if the funeral were to take place on Monday daytime, the shiva would terminate Sunday morning. The rules of shiva are different on Shabbat. On Shabbat we do not wear torn clothing or non-leather shoes. Instead, normal Shabbat clothes and shoes are worn. The full seven days of shiva are not observed if a Yomtov intervenes. In such cases, you should speak to the rabbi for advice.

During the week of shiva, the synagogue wardens can arrange services. You must ask them for help and guidance on these matters. If you do not wish, or are not able to have prayers in the shiva house, mourners can attend services at the synagogue. It is advisable to check times and availability beforehand.

The Shiva house is traditionally open to visitors to pay condolences during the day and until after evening services. However, mourners do need to be able to rest and eat, and it is quite acceptable to ask people not to call at certain times.

Someone who is not one of the actual mourners should prepare meals, open the door to visitors (some people leave it slightly open all the time), and answer the telephone.

It is usual that some visitors will bring items of food, or will offer to prepare meals.

It is not the practice to offer refreshments to visitors unless they come from a long distance.

A shiva house should not be treated as a social occasion and traditionally visitors wait for the mourner to initiate conversation.

Visitors may wish the mourners ‘Long Life’ or may pray that they be comforted among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem -a short Hebrew prayer, which can be found on the card sent by your local synagogue.

There are differing views about changing to a different seat in the Synagogue and the rabbi should be asked for guidance.

Kingston Bereavement Service

A further source of local counselling is Kingston Bereavement Service. (valid as of January 2015)
020 8547 1552

Tombstone Consecration

It is advisable to telephone Cemetery Maintenance 020 8950 7767 immediately after the shiva to arrange this. Please also contact the rabbi at the outset to ensure, as far as possible, that he will be available.

This guide is not a comprehensive set of burial and mourning laws. If further information is required, including laws relating to the first month and the first year; these should be obtained from the rabbi. The synagogue will provide a book on mourning laws and customs and prayer books for the shiva services.

The information in this section has drawn heavily from a United Synagogue booklet “A Brief Guide for Bereavement” with their permission.