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End of Life

Some of the most wrenching moments of life occur when we experience the loss of a loved one.

Sadly, sometimes those moments are even more challenging when, in addition to bearing with the shock and sadness of the loss, the family is put in the position of scrambling to make decisions about end-of-life and funeral issues. In many cases, they try desperately to guess the decisions that their loved one would have wanted them to make—and the process is often accompanied by a sense of regret that their loved one never actually communicated his or her opinion on these important matter.

Rabbi Scheinberg, guided by his experiences in our congregation and in his own life, strongly encourages people of all ages to have these difficult conversations with their loved ones. Having these conversations in a time of good health can often make the wrenching experience of illness and loss at least somewhat less stressful.

When a Death occurs

Rabbi Scheinberg is available to assist when death occurs. It is preferable to contact the Rabbi prior to making arrangements with a funeral home or making other funeral commitments, so that the bereaved family can be counseled concerning traditional Jewish practices.

Call all of these phone numbers in this order, leaving messages, until you reach someone or someone calls you back:

Rabbi Scheinberg's office: 201-855-6696

Synagogue office (9-5): 201-659-4000

Rabbi Scheinberg's mobile phone: in his office voicemail message.

End of Life Issues

A quick guide to dealing with end-of-life issues from a Jewish perspective

Medical Interventions

There are a variety of traditional Jewish approaches to health care issues at the end of life. It is recommended that people complete an advance directive and health care proxy when they are in good health. Such documents are available from many hospitals, and there are numerous examples online. The Rabbinical Assembly has an advance medical directive form that was prepared in accordance with the Jewish legal guidelines of Conservative Judaism.

Advance Medical Directive Form

See here for the Rabbinical Assembly's Advanced Medical Directive document.


Routine autopsies are regarded as a desecration of the dignity of the deceased and are not in accordance with Jewish law. In many cases, Jewish families can request that a recommended autopsy not take place for religious reasons. When required by law or when it is clear that information could be discovered through an autopsy that would save the life of someone in the future, autopsy is permitted according to Jewish law. It is recommended to consult Rabbi Scheinberg in such cases.

Organ Donation

There are a number of people in our congregation who are alive today only because they received organs that were donated after death. Conservative Judaism regards organ donations as an act of chesed, loving kindness, of the highest order. You can find more information at USCJ.

Approach to Death in Jewish Tradition

The Jewish way of dealing with death is one part of a larger approach to life in which all people are viewed with dignity and respect. We believe that even after death, the body, which once held a holy human life, retains its sanctity. Our sages have compared the sacredness of the deceased to that of an impaired Torah scroll, which although no longer usable, still retains its holiness. In Jewish tradition, therefore, the greatest consideration and respect is accorded the dead.
Another principle at work in Jewish funeral traditions is an insistence on the radical equality of all people, dictating simplicity in the burial shrouds and casket and discouraging ostentation at Jewish funerals.

The Sarah Condiotti Chesed Committee

The Chesed Committee helps our congregation to support those who are experiencing bereavement, by providing books about Jewish approaches to death and mourning, helping to coordinate the shivah process and providing food upon request, and generally seeking to meet the needs of members of our community who are undergoing crises.

The Chesed Committee at USH is named for our beloved friend and member, Sarah Condiotti z”l.

Please contact, if you would like to assist in the important work of this committee.

Funeral Arrangements

Scheduling the Funeral

Jewish tradition suggests that burial take place as quickly as possible, usually within 24 hours of death. Burial may be delayed for legal reasons, to transport the deceased, to permit close relatives traveling long distances to be present at the funeral/burial, or to avoid burial on the Sabbath or another holy day. In any case, it should not be delayed longer than necessary. Special cases should be referred to the rabbi for guidance.

Choosing a Funeral Home

Different members of our congregation have used the services of different Jewish funeral homes. Please note that all these funeral homes can provide a traditional Jewish funeral but that some of them also offer services such as embalming that are not compatible with a traditional Jewish funeral. FTC regulations require full disclosure of funeral rates.

Purchasing mortuary services before a loved one dies is often possible. This is called a “pre-need” purchase. Since death is sometimes sudden and often not predictable, in many cases arrangements can only be made after death. People who value the peace of mind that comes with pre-need arrangements should feel free to make them.

Some Jewish funeral homes in our area (in alphabetical order)


Gutterman Bros. - Jersey City, NJ


Independently owned and managed by USH member Larry Gutterman.


Jewish Memorial Chapel - Clifton, NJ


A community-owned non-profit funeral home.


Wien and Wien, - Hackensack, NJ


A funeral home owned by Dignity Memorial



It is traditional for Jews to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. USH makes burial plots available to USH members in our synagogue's cemetery sections in Riverside Cemetery (Saddle Brook, NJ) and Mt. Zion Cemetery (Queens, NY). Per the terms of these cemeteries, burial is only for members of the Jewish faith. The plots are available at no charge to USH members (though there are other cemetery charges for the opening and closing of the grave). Many USH members choose to be buried in various other Jewish cemeteries and make their own cemetery plot arrangements. It is strongly recommended to make burial arrangements long before death is anticipated.

Traditions Prior to Burial 

Sh’mirah – Accompanying the Deceased

In Jewish tradition, the deceased is not left alone prior to burial. Hospitals can be requested to avoid disturbing the body of the deceased until the arrival of a shomer (a "guardian" for the deceased). Sh’mirah traditionally continues at the funeral home and lasts until the funeral service begins. During sh’mirah psalms or other meditative prayers are read. This is a service that can be purchased from the funeral home, or the shomrim (guardians) can be members of the extended family or friends of the deceased.

Taharah – Ritual Cleansing; Tachrichim – Shrouds; Aron – Casket

According to Jewish practice, the deceased is cleansed according to a prescribed ritual as an expression of respect. A group of specially trained persons, called a chevra kadisha (holy society), performs this mitzvah. This service can be arranged by the funeral home.

Jewish law prescribes burial in plain white garments (tachrichim) to demonstrate the equality of all. It is also customary for Jews to be buried wearing the kippah and talit that they wore during their lives. In order to avoid interference with the natural process of "returning to the earth," in Jewish tradition the casket is made entirely of wood, without nails or metal decoration. The classic Jewish casket is the "plain pine box," an especially simple casket intended to demonstrate the equality of all human beings.

Jewish perspectives on embalming, viewing, and cremation

Various funeral practices, such as embalming, using cosmetics on the deceased, having a public viewing of the deceased, and cremation, are strongly inconsistent with Jewish tradition. For more details on Jewish perspectives on these practices, see this and this at My Jewish Learning.

At the Funeral

K’riah – Rending of Garments

Mourners for immediate relatives (parents, spouses, children, and siblings) traditionally participate in the ritual of k’riah (tearing a garment) just prior to the funeral service. Whereas most funeral homes will provide a ribbon for this purpose, Rabbi Scheinberg encourages mourners to consider performing this practice in the traditional manner, tearing a visible portion of one’s clothing. The torn garment is worn throughout the shivah mourning period.

Funeral Services

In our community, funeral services take place either in a funeral home or at graveside and are usually brief and simple. The service usually includes the chanting of psalms and El Malei Rachamim (the traditional memorial prayer), and eulogies honoring the deceased. Relatives of the deceased are often given the opportunity to speak if they wish. The mourners may have the opportunity to designate pallbearers, friends or family members who transport or escort the casket to the hearse (at the conclusion of a chapel service) and to the grave.

Flowers are not traditionally presented at Jewish funerals. Friends and associates of the deceased who wish to show some concrete expression of condolence can be encouraged to contribute to a charity that was of importance to the deceased.


Shivah – the First Seven Days

Shivah is the seven-day period of intensive mourning observed by the immediate family of the deceased, beginning on the day of burial. The immediate mourners include anyone whose parent, spouse, child, or sibling has died. During the entire shivah period, mourners are encouraged to stay away from work or school to remain at home, and to take the necessary time to grieve and to contemplate the loss amid family and friends. The mirrors in a shivah house are traditionally covered, and a seven-day memorial candle is kindled. Mourners sit on lower seats where possible (the USH Chesed Committee can deliver such lower chairs upon request). It is customary to arrange for a meal of condolence (that traditionally includes round foods such as eggs) to be served to the mourners and those who have accompanied and returned home with them from the cemetery. On the day of the funeral, a pail of water, a pitcher, and hand towels are placed outside the door of the house for those who went to the cemetery to wash their hands before entering the house.

Mourners are to be spared the obligation of offering any form of hospitality. Friends and relatives should help supervise the preparation and (or) ordering of necessary food and supplies. The USH Chesed Committee provides a food platter at a time arranged with the family, either for the meal of condolence or later on in the shivah period. Many who come to the shivah house will bring food with them. The role of the visitor in a shivah house is to be sensitive to the needs of the mourners, and to follow the conversation wherever the mourners wish to steer it (that is, to talk about the deceased when the mourners want to, and to talk about other things when the mourners want to).

It is also customary for the mourners to participate in daily services in the shivah home during the seven days, except on the Sabbath when mourners attend synagogue services. (Public mourning observances are suspended on the Sabbath in view of the belief that the sanctity and serenity of this day supersedes personal grief; however, the Sabbath still counts towards the seven days of shivah.) In our community, we arrange for evening minyanim to take place in a shivah home during the week of shivah, upon request, to permit the mourners to say the Kaddish memorial prayer.

The Mourning Process after Shivah

Sh’loshim (the first thirty days): during the thirty days directly following burial (except shivah), mourners return to work and normal activities but traditionally refrain from public entertainment or social activities. They are encouraged to attend services on a daily basis and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. The k'ria (torn item of clothing) is worn by some during sh’loshim, while others cease doing so at the conclusion of theshivah.

Shanah (the first year): mourners for deceased parents traditionally continue to attend services to recite Kaddish for eleven months and continue to refrain from celebratory activities for a full year.

Yahrzeit (anniversary of death): the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited each year on the anniversary of the death (not the burial).

Yizkor (memorial prayers): Yizkor prayers in memory of all deceased relatives and friends are recited on Yom Kippur, Sh’mini Atzeret, the seventh day of Pesach, and the second day of Shavuot.

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784