Death & Mourning 101

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In Practice

Jewish funerals often take place almost immediately after a death. Outside of Israel, it is not customary to send flowers, but charitable donations are a common and meaningful practice. A person paying a "shiva call" on a bereaved individual or family can easily learn the basic customs of this unusual yet comforting visit.


Suicide is forbidden in Jewish law; an individual who takes his or her own life is usually presumed to have been suffering from mental illness. Traditionally, cremation is forbidden because of the sanctity of the human body; similarly, autopsies are, with some exceptions, traditionally not permitted. Organ donation is permitted in order to save another individual's life. Law and custom mandate special cemeteries for Jews, but many contemporary Jewish cemeteries will arrange to bury non-Jewish spouses. Many converts to Judaism follow traditional mourning practices  (including saying Kaddish) for their non-Jewish family members. And while Jewish tradition frowns on things which can be construed as mutilation of one's body, like tattoos and body piercing, none of these things represent a barrier to burial in even the most traditionally-run cemetery.

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