Honoring Jewish Traditions When Death Occurs at a Distance
In Jewish practice, after the death of a loved one, the funeral and burial must typically take place as soon as practicable, ideally within 24 hours of the end of life. The Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy, admonishes believers to consecrate the body in the ground in a timely manner. Doing otherwise may be deemed an “affront to God.”
Ensuring the timely burial of a body was less problematic when the Jewish laws originated, as most people lived in the same geographic location their entire lives. In the modern world, where we can relocate to just about anywhere on earth with little difficulty, committing the body to the earth may take days or weeks. If the deceased has relocated to another state or is travelling outside of the state (or even the country), it may be impossible to bring the body back within the preferred 24-hour time period. Can the funeral and burial be postponed to allow for the return of the body? What if immediate family members live some distance away? Can the funeral and interment be delayed to allow them to be there?
Exceptions to the Rule Requiring Burial in a Timely Manner
While there are no hard and fast rules governing when the time period for a funeral and burial may be suspended, it’s becoming an accepted practice for a rabbi to grant permission to delay burial when government regulations make it impossible to transport a body in a timely manner. The length of time that burial may be suspended will generally be at the discretion of the rabbi, but, out of respect for the body, the delay will typically not be for an indefinite period of time. In most situations, the rabbi will consult with the family and, after learning as much as possible about the arrangements that have been made to transport the body, will suspend the requirement of burial for a specific period of time.
It’s important to understand that, even if you cannot have the body brought back for burial for a few days or a week or two, you must still have someone pick up the body (wherever it may be) and bring it to a local funeral home, where it should remain until it has been cleared for transport. Fortunately, you typically don’t have to worry about those details. It’s common practice for funeral homes and funeral directors in different parts of the country (or the world) to work together to facilitate the return of a body to the place of burial.
Accordingly, if your loved one has died in another state or outside of the country, the first person you should contact is your chosen funeral home director. Often, your funeral director will have professional relationships with Jewish funeral homes in the community where your loved one died. If not, they’ll know how to find a funeral home there that can care for your loved one’s body and take the necessary steps to have it returned for the funeral and burial. Your funeral home director can make all the necessary arrangements with the funeral home that’s caring for your loved one’s body, making certain that the body is prepared and transported by a “known shipper” in a manner that meets all TSA requirements. Typically, the other funeral home to accompany the body to the airport, and a representative of your local funeral home to meet the casket on its arrival.
Though less common, a rabbi may also permit a minimal delay so that certain mourners may travel from a distance to be at the memorial service and/or burial. As a rule, though, those delays are only granted when the travelers are close relatives, such as spouses, parents, children, or siblings.
Compassionate and Comprehensive Funeral and Burial Services in New York and Florida
At Gutterman’s and Gutterman Warheit, we bring more than 125 years of experience to members of the Jewish faith after the death of a loved one. We offer a full range of services, helping you put together the order of service for a memorial, select a monument or marker to honor your loved once, prepare to sit Shiva or set up a Yahrzeit calendar. We will also be your liaison with the Chevra Kadisha, so that your loved one’s body can be prepared in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.
If a loved one has died, or if you just want to learn more about the services we offer, call our offices at one of the numbers provided below. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assist you.