The Legal Processes and Logistics of a Funeral
Members of your family have already met with staff of Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals. However, it might be helpful to review these formalities.
The legal documents which were signed during the meeting with the funeral director enable the funeral to take place. Forms for the cemetery and also information to be lodged with the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages were also completed during this meeting. This information not only notifies the department that your loved one has passed away but enables the department to produce the official Death Certificate. This certificate will be forwarded in four to six weeks directly to the person who signed the documentation.
The Bet-Olam Jewish Funeral forms (one copy for you and the other for Bet-Olam) have details of the time, car pick-up time (if applicable), date and location of the funeral.
Charges for a Funeral
This form also shows the costs which, by law, we must explain to you.
We ask that you pay the following disbursement fees prior to the funeral taking place. These are:
This is the cost of the actual grave with headstone that Springvale Botanical Gardens charges Bet-Olam Jewish funerals.
Cemetery internment fee
The cemetery internment fee is the cost of preparing or digging the actual grave – Springvale Botanical Gardens charges Bet-Olam for this service.
Funeral service charge
This covers the transfer, mortuary, coffin, bookings with the cemetery and death certificate lodgment. These are arrangements that Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals puts into place to enable the funeral to proceed.
Cremation fee (if applicable)
If the service is a cremation, a fee is charged to Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals by Springvale Botanical Gardens. Also a government medical officer needs to sign a separate document which Bet-Olam staff organise.
If the family wishes, Bet-Olam staff will organise all press notices at cost.
Religious administration fee
If the deceased was a non-member of a Progressive congregation, the Religious Administration fee is charged to cover the cost of the officiating Rabbi. If the deceased was a member of Temple Beth Israel, The Leo Baeck Centre, Etz Chayim or Kedem they are exempted from the Religious Administration fee.
If the person who has passed away was not a member of a Progressive synagogue, this is the fee for a Rabbi to conduct the minyan.
If the account is paid within 14 days of receiving the Bet-Olam Jewish Funeral’s account, please deduct this amount.
Except under the most unusual circumstances, burials take place only in ground which has been formally set aside for Jewish use – in our case, the Jewish Memorial Gardens at the Springvale Botanical Gardens. The Jewish Memorial Gardens is most commonly used for Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals. Other sites for Jewish burial are found at the Melbourne General Cemetery, Fawkner Cemetery and the Chevra Kadisha Cemetery.
Burials at Melbourne General and Fawkner require at least 36 hours notice, so there may be instances where the burial cannot take place as quickly as is encouraged by Jewish custom.
If it is known that cremation was the wish of the deceased, it is within the framework of the Progressive approach for the funeral service to be conducted under the auspices of Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals. Cremation services are often conducted at our chapel in Elsternwick.
Timing of Funeral
Our services are usually conducted as soon as practical – usually within 36 hours of a person passing away. Bet-Olam takes into account the need to delay the funeral when there are relatives arriving from overseas or interstate.
A Jewish ritual cleansing of the deceased fulfils the verse from Ecclesiaste 5:14;
“As we come forth, so we shall return.”
Before the funeral, the body is washed in a ritual act of purification called Tahara. We leave the world, just as we entered into the world, and so just as a baby is washed and enters the world clean and pure, so do we leave the world cleansed by the religious act of Tahara.
The ritual cleansing or Tahara is carried out by the Progressive chevra kadisha (“holy society”). The Progressive chevra kadisha is a group of specially trained Jews who care for the body and prepare it for the funeral. Strict procedures are followed, which include the recitation of psalms and prayers from the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah. Men handle male bodies and women prepare female bodies; modesty is preserved even in death.
After the body is cleansed, it is dressed in shrouds (in Hebrew, tachrichim). The shrouds are simple and plain and made of white cotton or linen. A tallit (prayer shawl) may be spread over the shroud if it was the deceased’s practice to wear one when praying, otherwise it may be handed down to the next generation. If a tallit is being buried, one of the fringes of the tallit is cut to show that it will no longer be used.
This tradition of Tahara enacted by the Progressive chevrah kaddishah is one of the oldest and most sacred of Jewish traditions, and is considered an act of true kindness or chesed shel emet, as it is not one which the deceased can ever thank them for.
If the coroner is involved in the death of your loved one, Bet-Olam will guide you through this process every step of the way. Our funeral directors are constantly speaking with the coroner to try to speed up the process that will allow for the dignified burial or cremation of your loved one in a respectful time frame.
Jewish tradition allows an autopsy when required by civil law, or when the knowledge gained from an autopsy might help save others suffering from the same disease. Routine autopsies where nothing specific will be learned should be avoided because they violate the principle of kevod ha-met – respect for the body of the deceased. Bet-Olam will write a letter for you to sign if you wish to object to an autopsy being carried out and will be there to guide you through this process.
State law does not require embalming in most situations, and does not permit it without the expressed permission of the next of kin.
Based on the biblical verse “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen.3:19), embalming or the use of cosmetics is not a traditional Jewish practice.
In Jewish law, organ donations are not only permitted, but are considered a mitzvah or a moral obligation. In donating organs the donor may save lives, and this imperative supercedes all other considerations.
Check with one of our Rabbis for guidance.
Public viewing of the Deceased
If there is a need to identify the deceased, Jewish tradition is to do so in private. The coffin is then closed and remains closed throughout the funeral.
Flowers and Charity
Jewish tradition is to bring a stone or a pebble to a grave as a symbol of the eternal nature of memory and of the soul. This also reflects the metaphor that flowers are much like the body in that they wilt and die. Some would invite those who wish to bring flowers to donate to a charity in lieu.
Reserving a Grave
Plots at the Jewish Memorial Gardens can be reserved years ahead for the interment of named individuals.
If the family wishes to reserve the grave next to their loved one, Bet-Olam staff can organise this when the funeral is booked.
Arrangements can be made for a grave to be dug to a depth of five foot, seven foot or nine foot which allows for one, two or three interments.
Whether burial or cremation, it is Jewish custom to keep the coffin as simple as possible, without elaborate handles or trimming. This centuries-old Jewish tradition reflects the significant realisation that in death there are no differences of wealth or status. All of us leave this world as we enter it – without adornment or decoration. For the same reason, the body of the deceased is dressed in a simple white shroud. Traditionally no jewellery is buried or cremated with the deceased and nothing else is placed within the coffin. If a family wishes the tallit and kippah can be placed in the coffin.
A eulogy cannot possibly summarise the totality of your loved one’s life. Rather, it is a moment to remember, to cherish a few anecdotes, and to celebrate their life. The Rabbi may be the primary speaker, or on occasion the family or close friends may be invited to write a eulogy and to share it at the funeral or at the minyan (a short evening service after the funeral). The most poignant and moving eulogies tend to be those filled with personal anecdotes and memories.
Bet-Olam offers you the following suggestions which you might find helpful.
- Speak about the unique qualities of the person; you may wish to include family history, important career or personal highlights
- Keep your eulogy brief enough to say what you need to say and to ease the pain of those present
- It is all right to use humour (but keep it appropriate!). People enjoy hearing about the anecdotes that are part of our lives
- Be sincere
- Speak as naturally as possible, as if talking to just one person
- If you become upset when giving a eulogy, take a moment to compose yourself and take a few deep breaths before continuing; everyone will understand:
Finally, remember that a eulogy should be a celebration of a person’s life.
Attending a funeral is not something you do every day – so it is natural you may not be sure what to say or what to do. Please ask the funeral director if you need any assistance at any time.
Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals conducts most burial services at the graveside. We suggest that the immediate family arrive at the cemetery 15 minutes before the start of the service.
At the appropriate time, we will then invite all mourners to gather at the graveside, with the immediate family sitting. Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals staff will then walk from the roadside to the grave carrying the coffin, which will be placed on two bearers over the grave.
The Rabbi will begin the service, and at a point during the service, Bet-Olam staff will lower the coffin. A small sachet of soil from Israel will be given to the principal mourners to place into the grave and then the Rabbi will invite family and friends to each place three shovels of soil into the grave.
We do not fill our graves as they are dug to seven feet, but we do cover the coffin with soil. [Be assured that as soon as everyone has left, cemetery staff will immediately come to fill in the grave.]
The Rabbi will then continue with the service and if there is to be a minyan, the Rabbi will announce this.
At the conclusion of the service, the principal mourners will be invited to gather at the roadside to enable others to speak with them.
Please note that if the deceased belonged to either VAJEX or a Masonic Lodge often a representative of either organization will conduct a short service at the same time.
Most of the cremations conducted by Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals take place at our chapel on the corner of Glenhuntly and Kooyong Roads, Elsternwick. If the family wishes, the service can be conducted at one of the chapels at Springvale Botanical Gardens.
At the appropriate time, mourners are invited into the chapel. As mourners walk in, they will see the coffin on either a dais or a trolley at the front of the chapel.
The Rabbi will begin the service, and at a point in the service the coffin will either be respectfully taken into a separate room or – in the case of Springvale –slowly lowered into a cavity. In both cases, at the conclusion of the service and after all mourners have left, the coffin is then taken to the crematorium.
At the conclusion of the service, the principal mourners will be invited to gather outside the chapel to enable others to speak with them.
Ashes can be collected from Springvale and can either be buried under a bush in Jewish Memorial Gardens, kept by the family or scattered.
What is appropriate dress?
Black is not compulsory attire for a funeral. You should dress in a way to show respect to the family and to the person who has passed away. Women are welcome to wear pants and are not required to cover their heads. Bet-Olam Jewish Funerals will always have spare kippot to hand out to anyone who wishes to wear one. The most important thing is not how you are dressed but that you are there.
Should children come to a funeral?
Parents are the best judges of whether their child is old enough to comprehend death and whether attending the funeral will be meaningful to them. It is important that children be allowed to express their grief and to share in this important ritual. Children can be naturally uplifting to those in grief, a hopeful reminder of the future. A suggestion for young children is that they might like to do a drawing, photo collage, photo album or write a letter to their loved one who has passed away. This often gives children a feeling of participation in the service.
If a young child becomes noisy, please walk away so as not to disturb the dignity of the service.
At the end of the funeral
The traditional expression by the Rabbi to the mourners at the conclusion of the funeral service is “May God comfort you among the rest of the mourners in Zion and Jerusalem”. The customary greeting at a funeral and at prayers following a funeral is ‘Long life’, a paraphrase of the Hebrew expression ad me’a ve-esrim ‘May you live to 120’ (120 years, the life-span of Moses, being considered the absolute limit of life).
The mourners’ first meal after returning from the cemetery (seudat havra’ah) is often provided by friends, neighbours, or a synagogue committee. The meal generally includes hard-boiled eggs (which symbolise the potential for renewal) or other round objects such as olives or dates, symbolising the wheel or cycle of life, continuity, and the need to move on. This symbolism may also be found in the food sometimes brought or provided after an evening service (minyan).
Sometimes people who are bereaved may feel that they need help to come to terms with their loss, to restore equilibrium to their life or to deal with some of the difficult emotions. These emotions – depression, anger, sadness, loneliness – often accompany the death of someone close and form part of the process of mourning. Very often support can be found from within the synagogue’s caring community network. If necessary, the Rabbi can give information and advice on specialist agencies.
Minyanim and Shivah
Mourners traditionally ‘sit shivah’ for seven days beginning on the eve after the funeral. The exception to this is to attend synagogue on Shabbat. During this first week of mourning, the community comes to the mourners, attending to both their material and their spiritual needs by bringing food and prayer to the home.
The minyan enables the mourners to recite the kaddish prayer. This prayer is an expression of faith in God who gives life, even while facing the reality of death.
Though the custom of sitting shivah strikes deep psychological chords, it can also be seen as a pattern for dealing with the first days of grief. Some will wish to have prayers at home for the whole week of shivah (excluding Friday evening); some for three or four nights; and others for only one night. Sometimes the gap between the death and the funeral influences how shivah is observed.
Many mourners choose for the minyan to be held in the synagogue rather than at home. Some are more inclined to be with their grief in private, while others want to surround themselves with friends. Again it is important to stress that in Progressive practice there are no set rules about which Jewish traditions will provide the right relief at the right moment.
If the minyan is held at home, the synagogue arranges to supply siddurim (prayerbooks). The usual format of prayers for the minyan is the evening service, followed by the Memorial Prayers, and the Mourner’s Kaddish.
During this service it is a good opportunity to invite relatives and friends to share their feelings, memories and experiences of the deceased.
Visiting a bereaved family
In general the purpose of the visit is not to ‘cheer up the mourners’ artificially (or to be unnaturally gloomy), but to be with the mourners in their feelings, and to allow them to share them if they wish, or to keep silent if they prefer.
- Be natural; things are unreal enough, and every bit of normalcy is something to hang onto
- Don’t attempt platitudes; just converse normally and if you run out of things to say, it’s Okay to sit in silence
- Don’t sell yourself short: your presence is what counts
- Don’t ask, ‘how did it happen?’ And don’t go into long stories about someone else’s bereavement
- Don’t feel you have to be a gloomy visitor
During the first month (Sh’loshim is literally ‘30 days’), the name of the person who has passed away is read out at the following listed Progressive congregations. (Everyone is most welcome to attend. Please check with the individual synagogues for service starting times):
Temple Beth Israel
Phone 03 9510 1488
76/82 Alma Rd
St Kilda VIC 3182
Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism
Phone 03 9819 7160
31-37 Harp Rd
East Kew VIC 3102
Etz Chayim Synagogue
Phone 03 9563 9208
549 Centre Rd
Bentleigh VIC 3204
Phone 03 9822 5802
117 Kooyong Rd
Armadale VIC 3143
Who to notify after someone dies
When someone dies, a number of people and organisations need to be told. This may help you to finalise the affairs and ensure you receive the help you need.
You may download the following checklist. It shows you many of the people and organisations you may need to contact.