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Author Topic: Death and funeral traditions  (Read 9666 times)

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Offline mendeleyev

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Death and funeral traditions
« on: September 25, 2012, 11:29:30 AM »
One of our highly esteemed members has lost a dear family member this week and for some perhaps there are questions about what happens, and why, in Russian traditions when someone passes.

The first thing we acknowledge is that while Orthodox traditions are much the same throughout the world, there are people of other faiths in Russia from Muslim to Jewish to Evangelical/Charismatic to those who had no belief in God. I apologize in advance if it seems that the bulk of this feature is centered on Orthodoxy, with some coverage of Islam, but those two groups are most represented and especially Orthodoxy in Russia, Ukraine, and the near-abroad.

The Orthodox traditions on death are closely aligned in many cases with Jewish traditions. That is natural as Christianity was birthed in the Jewish world and also because Jewish culture and philosophy was a powerful influence in many parts of the world at the time. Yet there are distinct differences in the way Orthodox Christians and the Jewish faith view death and the afterlife and so our coverage will centre primarily on the Orthodox and with some coverage of Islamic tradition in Russia.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2012, 01:03:51 PM »
The singing of "memory eternal" is very recognizable part of the tradition. This song is a prayer and consists of just two words: "memory eternal" or "Вечная память" in Russian.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/N-LRU5wJapA" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/N-LRU5wJapA</a>

Scheduled memorials are a part of the funeral process in the first year. That has a dual design of offering prayers for the departed and also easing the surviving family into the adjustment of life without their loved one. Memorials are performed at 3 days, 7, 14, 30, 90 days, 6th month, and 1 year.

If an Orthodox Christian is near death a priest arrives to hear final confession and give Holy Communion if the individual is conscious. One difference here from the Roman Catholic tradition is that the rite of Holy Unction is not a part of Orthodox traditional last rites. The priest reads a group of prayers designed to recall the need for repentance and offer hope in the belief of the soul's transition from earthly life to the hereafter. This is often done at the bedside and is called the "Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body."

Special prayers are offered for those who have suffered for great lengths of time and this is called a service "For One who has Suffered Long".

After death the "First Pannikhida" (панихида) is celebrated. It is a short Orthodox memorial service. Afterward the body is washed and clothed for burial. In accordance with Acts chapter 9:37, this is considered a final act of love and if possible is performed by the family and friends of the departed.

For what we call a "Wake" in Western culture, in Orthodox lands the wake is a period of visitation of family and friends accompanied by the continuous reading of the Psalter (the Old Testament/Jewish book of Psalms) over the body. Clergy, along with family members and friends take turns in reading the Psalter. During the wake brief memorials (Panikhidas) are read and sung, after which the reading of the Psalter continues. Anyone can read and it is common for the family and friends to take turns reading the psalms throughout the night up until it is time for the body to be transported to the church or grave site.

The priest places a crown ("phylactery") ion the deceased's head. This is a thick strip of paper with the Trisagion written. A small icon of Christ, the Theotokos, the deceased's patron saint, or a cross is placed in the right hand and a prayer rope may be placed in the left hand.

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[ Guests cannot view attachments ]

The Orthodox cross, above, has a distinct "footrest" at the bottom.


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An Orthodox prayer rope is woven with either 100 or 50 knots for laymen. Monks use ropes with hundreds of weaves/knots as they pray continuously through the day. The beads seen above are optional on this 50 knot rope and woven in at intervals to make it easy to count. When using a prayer rope the Orthodox believer prays the Jesus Prayer over and over, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
                   

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2012, 01:13:49 PM »
During the "wake" there is the reading from the Psalter which is done continuously except when a brief service known as the Trisagion Service is conducted. The reading from the Psalter continues afterward.

The Trisagion Service:

Opening doxology by officiating priest.

The singing of the hymn “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” accompanied by other brief prayers which conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.

The singing of a series of hymns, called “troparia,” in which we implore God to grant eternal rest to the departed.

A Litany for the departed, with the faithful responding “Lord, have mercy” three times after each petition.

The final blessing, in which we ask God to grant the departed “rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

The closing exclamation: “Grant eternal rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy departed servant ______, and make his/her memory be eternal,” to which the faithful sing “Memory eternal.”


<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/N-LRU5wJapA" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/N-LRU5wJapA</a>

(Text from the Orthodox Church in America; http://oca.org/questions/liturgicalservices/trisagion-service)


Offline Muzh_1

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2012, 03:07:36 PM »
Thanks for the info Mendy.

My wife just landed in Kharkiv and skyped me from her mobile.

I just learned his funeral is tomorrow.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2012, 03:39:06 PM »
You are welcome, Muzh. I'll continue with the other parts soon. My God give peace to your wife and family.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2012, 07:29:56 AM »
After the wake the body is moved to the church or grave site for the funeral. In some cases the funeral memorial liturgy may take place after the burial at the grave site. As Orthodox liturgies are virtually the same around the world instead of recreating the entire process we'll use materials readily available below.

The following is from the Orthodox Church in America funeral forms of worship:
(http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-sacraments/funeral)

The funeral service in the Orthodox Church, although not considered as specifically sacramental, belongs among the special liturgical rites of the People of God.

We have already seen that the Church has a particular sacramental service for the consecration of human suffering, and special prayers for the departure of the soul from the body in death. When a person dies, the Church serves a special vigil over the lifeless body, called traditionally the parastasis or panikhida, both of which mean a “watch” or an “all-night vigil.”


The funeral vigil has the basic form of matins. It begins with the normal Trisagion Prayers and the chanting of Psalm 91, followed by the special Great Litany for the dead. Alleluia replaces God is the Lord, as in Great Lent, and leads into the singing of the funeral troparion.

The troparion and the kontakion of the dead, as all hymns of the funeral vigil, meditate on the tragedy of death and the mercy of God, and petition eternal life for the person who is “fallen asleep.”

As the funeral service is now normally served, the Beatitudes are chanted after the canon and the hymns of Saint John, with prayer verses inserted between them on behalf of the dead. The epistle reading is from First Thessalonians (4:13-17). The gospel reading is from Saint John (5:24-30). A sermon is preached and the people are dismissed after giving their “final kiss” with the singing of the final funeral song: Eternal Memory.


And an order of the funeral service from the Greek Orthodox Church:
(http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith9218)

The Funeral Service of the Eastern Orthodox Church consists of hymns, prayers, and readings from the Scriptures. The order of the Service is as follows:

The Trisagion Service, chanted at the funeral home or in the church on the evening before the funeral service and on the day of the funeral, at the graveside following the funeral service, and for memorial services.

Selection of verses from Psalm 119 (LXX 118), in three stanzas: (Part I -verses 1, 20, 28, 36, 53, 63; Part II -verses 73, 83, 94, 102, 112, 126; Part III -verses 132, 141, 149, 161 1 175, 176)

-   Blessings (Evlogetaria): "Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes!" (Psalm 119:12).

-   Kontakion and Hymns in each of the Eight Tones.

-   Scripture Readings: (a) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and (b) John 5:24-30.

-   Small Litany, Prayers, and Dismissal.

-   The Kiss of Peace and the anointing of the body.

-   The chanting of the Trisagion Service at the cemetery.


Trisagion Service : Before the Funeral Service itself, the brief Trisagion or “Thrice-Holy” Service is served at the place where the deceased lies.  This service derives its name because it begins with the familiar prayer, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” repeated three times.  After the initial prayers, four hymns are chanted asking the Lord to give rest to the deceased among those who have already been perfected in the faith.  A litany follows and is concluded with a prayer that includes again the petition to the Lord to grant rest to the deceased and asks for the forgiveness of sins. Before the service is concluded, the faithful sing, “May your memory be eternal.”

Psalm 119 : The Funeral Service begins with the chanting in three stanzas of verses from Psalm 119 (118 in the Septuagint). In Greek this is referred to as the Amomos (blameless) because the first words are, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.”  Following the first stanza, a small litany is said with petitions for the departed.  If more than one priest is officiating, this litany is said after each stanza.

Evlogetaria : Following the chanting of Psalm 119 are the Funeral Praises, the Evlogetaria. These hymns are chanted in a solemn tone which highlights there deep theological content.  They are called “Evlogetaria” (meaning hymns of praise) because each one is proceeded by Psalm 119:12, “Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes.” Their designation as the Funeral Evlogetaria distinguishes them from the Resurrectional Evlogetaria that are chanted during the Sunday Matins service.  For the Funeral Service for a member of the clergy, two additional Evlogetaria are included.

Kontakion and Hymns of the Eight Tones : At the conclusion of the Evlogetaria, the Kontakion of the Funeral Service is chanted:

“With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Your servant where there is no pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering, but life everlasting.”

During the chanting of this hymn, the priest censes the deceased and the faithful, as well as the Holy Altar Table and icons.  Following this are chanted the very moving hymns known as the Idiomela.  Each hymn has its own particular melody and are sung in the order of the eight modes or tones of Byzantine chant. These hymns and their changing melodic modes express the mixed emotions of grief and consolation that come from the loss of a loved one and in our affirmation of our hope in God’s promise of rest for the departed and eternal life.


Scripture Readings : In addition to the prayers and hymnody, the Funeral Service also includes two Scripture lessons, one from the Apostolos (the liturgical book that contains the lections from the Book of Acts and the Epistles) and another from the Evangelion (the liturgical book of the four Gospels arranged in pericopes or lections). The assigned readings for the service are I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and John 5:24-30.  The Apostolos and the Evangelion also list several alternate readings which include from the Apostolos   I Corinthians 15:47-57; I Corinthians 15:20-28; Romans 14:6-9; and from the Evangelion John 5:17-24; John 6:35-39; John 6:40-44; and John 6:48-54.  All of these passages reflect the Church’s belief in the reality of Christ’s death and Resurrection and of the benefits that we derive from them, namely, the resurrection of our body on the last day, and the promise of incorruption and immortality.

Prayers and Dismissal : Following the readings, the small litany that was said earlier is repeated, and priest offers a prayer for the repose of the deceased.  At this point a special prayer is added if a hierarch is officiating and/or the funeral is for a member of the clergy.  The priest, addressing Christ who defeated death, asks the “God of spirits and of all humankind” to grant rest to the soul of the deceased, “now asleep in a place of light, a place of renewed life, a joyous place….”  The Dismissal prayer of the Funeral Service once again introduces the hope of the resurrection as the priest calls upon the intercessions of the all-holy Theotokos, the holy Apostles, the holy Fathers, the three Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of the holy and righteous Lazarus, the friend of Christ who was raised from the dead by our Lord.  After this prayer the faithful sing, “May your memory be eternal.”

The Kiss of Peace and Anointing : Following the dismissal prayer comes the moment of our final farewell greeting to the deceased.  As the people come forward to look upon the deceased, the choir or chanters sing hymns that invite them to offer a kiss to the one who has reposed in the faith while they pray for the Lord to give the person rest.  The kiss given to the deceased is an expression of love for the departed, but it is also an affirmation that the one who has fallen asleep is worthy of the fulfillment of God’s promises having lived a life of faith and known the grace of God.

After the people and the family have come and offered their final greeting, the priest anoints the body in the sign of the Cross with oil and earth.  As the priest anoints with the oil he says: “Sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).  As the priest anoints the body with earth, he says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and all that dwell in it (Psalm 24:1). You are dust and to dust you shall return”  (Genesis 3:19).

At the Cemetery : Following the Funeral Service, the priest and people proceed to the cemetery.  Here, the priest chants the Trisagion and the body is committed to the grave to await the return of our Lord and the resurrection of the dead.



Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2012, 07:39:07 AM »
Unique customs and traditions in a Russian Orthodox funeral:
(http://www.russianorthodoxfunerals.com.au/)

The most important and the first one is the need of ensuring that there is a priest to hear the last confession and conduct the holy communion to the dying. This important moment depends on the family of the dying person if they will make arrangements early enough to have a priest visit the person when the dying can still communicate or respond. If the dying cannot communicate, the Holy communion cannot be conducted but will read the Canon for the Departure of the Soul from the Body. During the reading of this, family are not allowed to be present which is why it is important that the family of the dying has a panikhida or requiem sung in the church when the family is all these. Such service is known as the Panikhida of the First Day.

In Russian Orthodox funerals, the burial takes place on the third day upon death. This is because this is the traditional teaching of the church that on the third day, this is the time when the soul leaves the world and embark on its ascension to God. However, there are situations when this is not possible and if there are other arrangements in mind, it may be done in consultation with the priest.

Russian Orthodox funerals have rules as well and one general rule that they implement is that they do not conduct burial service for suicides, cremations or non-Orthodox persons. However, there are exceptions as well and every case is investigated. If an exception is made, it will be granted by the local bishop after all the investigations such as required documents are placed before him by the parish priest. One should not be taciturn to speak to the priest about situations that can effect the chances of a loved one having a Christian burial.

In their tradition, the Church celebrated a panikhida for the deceased on the ninth day when the soul has reached the Throne of God. According to St. Basil the New and the Blessed Theodora, about the Trials of the Toll Houses, the ninth day also marks the start of the period of weighing up of one’s sins and virtues which goes on until the fortieth day. On the last day which is the fortieth day, such tradition teaches that the soul has received its conditional judgement which remained in place until the Great Day of Judgement at the end of time. Therefore, the Church celebrates another panikhida for the soul’s repose of the deceased beseeching God to be merciful to the deceased and give them a place of spiritual comfort in the Lord’s presence.

Panikhida is celebrated every year on the death anniversary of the loved one. This day has become their birthday in the Eternal Kingdom.

The Russian Orthodox Church teaches the significance of prayers for the deceased because it brings spiritual comfort to their soul. Lighting a candle in Church or having the deceased commemorated during the Divine Liturgy can also bring great spiritual benefit. The giving of alms in memory of the deceased has become a tradition of the Church because this is beneficial for the donor and to the person whose name the alms are given.

Before a deceased is laid to rest, he or she will go through a number of steps before he or she reach eternal rest. Here are some of the steps:

- Washing of the body – Russian Orthodox believes that washing the body of the deceased prepares the dead for his or her meeting with the Creator.
-  Dressing of the body – they dress the deceased in an all-white clothing but unfinished because it does not belong in this world but on the other world.
-  Belt – the dead is to wear a belt during the burial because it is needed when the deceased is resurrected during the Last Judgement.
-  Body of the deceased stays in the hours for 3 days – Not inside the coffin, the body is only out into the coffin after the three days.
-  Position of the deceased – in Russian Orthodox, they lay their loved ones in a position where the head of the dead is pointed towards the icon corner.
-  Funeral – the priest performs the “seeing off” ceremony and prays over the body and allows mourners to throw dirt on the grave. He will place a paper crown on the head of the deceased and mourners are to throw soil or coins.
- After the funeral – mourners will sing laments


Every religion has their different funeral rites and this particular religion, the Russian Orthodox is slightly unusual yet very interesting. It is very significant and symbolizes a lot of things. In fact, every step of the funeral rite has their own symbol which makes the whole funeral very spiritual.

In Russian Orthodox, the coffin is also known as the “new living room” as it is very comfortable and it is very similar to a bed and it comes with a pillow but also comes with birch bark or wood shavings. The friends and family of the deceased are encouraged to place objects in the coffin that they think the deceased will need after death like money and food. The men carry the coffin on their backs to the cemetery.
Meaning of Death to Russian Orthodox


The citizens of Russia are usually Russian Orthodox, a common religion in their country. Just like other religions, every religion has its own beliefs, culture and tradition. When it comes to funeral rites, Russian Orthodox funerals are different from other religions but also have similarities with other religions. Their funeral rituals are considered one of the most important rituals.

How do Russian Orthodox funerals define death? For them, death is a transformation into the other world, to the world on their ancestors. These ceremonies are supported in the transformation of the dead body and is protected against death for the living.


In Russian Orthodox funerals, there are a couple of steps the deceased must go through before he or she is finally laid to rest. The dead body must be washed to take of his or her life energy and they are put into funeral clothing. In the house, the deceased is laid on a bench with the legs facing the door. This goes on for three days and after three days, the body of the deceased is put in a coffin and the funeral will take place. During the funeral, mourners are encouraged to throw fir branches and juniper after the funeral procession as this covers the tracks of the living. They return from the cemetery using a different route to confuse the evil spirits and for the evil spirits not to know the location of the deceased. One of their rules includes the elderly to prepare a coffin and funeral clothing before the eventual death.

Money and nail cuttings are placed in the coffin with the deceased. This is because money will help the deceased cross the river that separates the living and the dead worlds. While the nail cuttings will help the dead climb mountains.


Another important part of Russian Orthodox funerals is lamentation. Mourners or the family and friends of the dead say their prayers and Psalter and weep over the dead. Lamentation takes place in the house and in the cemetery during the funeral commemoration. The commemoration takes place on the same days as the funeral and in the ninth and fortieth day after death. Ethere is no invitation to the commemoration because everyone is invited. Russian Orthodox believes that the dead is present in spirit during the commemoration.

They also have their traditional food they eat during the commemoration namely, kytia, pancakaes, fish pie and oatmeal kissel. Kytia is made of wheat corn with bird cherries and symbolizes revival, consolidation of life which the corn extended and preserved.

A special towel is kept on the window frame and cup of water on the windowsill during the forty days after the funeral. They believe that the dead’s soul will visit the home and will rest on the towel and take a sip of the water or bath in the water if he or she pleases.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2012, 08:32:03 AM »
Miscellaneous notes about a Russian funeral:

- You likely know that when giving flowers to someone the number should always be odd is the person is alive (one, three, five, etc.). However, to bring flowers to a funeral the number should always be even (two, four, six, etc.).

- In many cases there is a funeral banquet after the departed has been laid to rest. Vodka toasts will be offered and to refuse will be viewed as rude and as an insult to the departed. If you never drink, either don't attend the banquet at all or simply arrive briefly with your food contribution and leave quickly.

- If you've heard about the Russian superstition about kissing a woman on the forehead brings bad luck, well it is acceptable to do so during the funeral period as then it is an affectionate, fatherly sign of comfort.

- Often at a Russian grave site you'll see a small table. In some cases there are benches either placed inside the individual grave fence or spaced periodically throughout a cemetery. In some traditions some food and vodka is left for the deceased as Russians believe that the soul roams the earth for 40 days before traveling to the hereafter.


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(photo: russianmemorygallery.ru)


Debunking some myths:

- Perhaps you've heard that Russians do not use hard oak or solid pinewood for coffins?
Well, today they do. But there was a time when they didn't. In the 18th century, Peter the Great was building a modern navy for Russia and he banned coffins made of solid oak or pinewood. He needed that wood for shipbuilding. Today the Russian navy isn't using solid oak for shipbuilding and Russian can use any wood they choose for making a coffin.

- Solid and fine wood coffins were banned in Soviet times.
Not exactly. However Stalin's campaigns of collectivisation and the political purges that followed did cause Russian death rates to skyrocket so that it was simpler to use a plain wooden casket with a material draping. After Stalin's death the death rate slowed and solid wood came back into fashion.

- I've read somewhere that a blini (pancake) is placed on the departed's face and that after the grave site service the priest, or in some cases the family members, must eat the pancake.
No. That was an old pagan tradition of pre-Christian Russia. For some families it continued but it only rarely happens today and most priests would refuse to participate in a pagan tradition.





Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2012, 08:34:26 AM »
Here are a couple of videos on the burial of Russian heroes which may help you understand the various types of burial plots available.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/w7EyEvz2HeY" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/w7EyEvz2HeY</a>


<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/yMEviolIC8o" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/yMEviolIC8o</a>

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2012, 08:49:30 AM »
Islam is the second most widely professed religion in the Russian Federation. At the last census, 14% of Russia's population, one-seventh, are of the Muslim faith. Islam is enshrined as one of Russia’s traditional religions and legally considered part of Russian historical religious heritage.

Many Russian Muslims live in the North Caucasus regions between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, including the Adyghe, Balkars, Chechens, Circassians, Ingush, Kabardin, Karachay, and the Dagestani people groups. In southern Russia along the Volga Basin are communities of Tatars and Bashkirs, most being Muslims. Essentially the Tatars are the only large Muslim group in the European part of Russia.

Muslims in Moscow: It is estimated that close to a third of the capital's 10-12 million people are of Asian background. Some estimate that 2 to 3 million Muslims now live and work in Moscow, many of the considered to be illegal immigrants from former Soviet republics.

For a complete overview of Islamic funeral traditions see these sources:
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_funeral

- http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/funeral.htm

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2012, 09:00:35 AM »
According to Wikipedia: The vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest population of Jews in the world. Within these territories the Jewish community flourished and developed many of modern Judaism's most distinctive theological and cultural traditions, while also facing periods of antisemitic discriminatory policies and persecutions. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Soviet Jews took the opportunity of liberalized emigration policies, with over half their population leaving, most for Israel, the United States and Germany. Despite this emigration, the Jews residing in Russia and the nations of the former Soviet Union still constitute one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.


Jewish Death Rituals According to Jewish Law:
- The body of the deceased is washed thoroughly.
- The deceased is buried in a simple pine coffin.
- The deceased is buried wearing a simple white shroud (tachrichim).
- The body is guarded or watched from the moment of death until after burial.
- Just before a funeral begins, the immediate relatives of the deceased tear their garments or the rabbi does this to them or hands them torn black ribbons to pin on their clothes to symbolize their loss.
- Upon hearing about a death, a Jew recites the words, "Baruch dayan emet," Blessed be the one true Judge.

For a review of Jewish funeral traditions see this link: http://jewishstpaul.org/page.aspx?id=199256
 

Online AvHdB

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Re: From death into life
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2012, 08:44:23 PM »
Mendy, It is post such as yours above that make RUA great. Thanks  tiphat  AvHdB
“If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” T.S. Eliot

Offline mendeleyev

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Death and funeral traditions
« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2012, 12:54:36 AM »
Thank you, AvHdB.  :)


 

 

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