Flowers and the Jewish Mourning Tradition
In many faiths and cultures, sending flowers to the funeral home or the home of those who have lost a loved one is a kind gesture and an appropriate sympathy gift. However, you generally should not send flowers to a Jewish funeral or to the shiva home while a family is sitting shiva following the funeral.
Unlike many other cultures, in which flowers are generally considered symbols of respect and condolence and may adorn the casket of the deceased, flowers are typically not a part of the Jewish mourning tradition. Sending flowers to a burial or funeral service, or the home of family members, is not widely practiced in Jewish communities. There are some Jewish communities that believe the life cycle of flowers should not be interrupted or cut short in order to create floral arrangements for a funeral.
Traditionally, Jewish funerals take place within one day following the date of death, and these are solemn and reflective services followed by a gathering at the mourner’s home, marking the beginning of shiva. The first seven days following the funeral is known as shiva, and the mourners generally stay at home and receive guests to help them pray and reflect upon their loss. Judaism allows for a deep mourning period during which celebration of life and beautification of yourself and your surroundings are considered distractions from the religious healing process.
It is known and understood that those close to the family, from all aspects of their life, want to help in an appropriate way. Donations that provide for the family during the mourning period or those that have a lasting impact on the community are considered suitable ways to honor the decedent's memory. Making contributions in the deceased individual’s name or sending condolence items, such as a fruit basket or meat platter, are appropriate. Making a shiva call, by visiting and being there for the mourners, is also a kind gesture.
More About the Jewish Funeral:
A Jewish funeral usually occurs within 24 hours after the death; however, in the modern world, there is allowance and acceptance to delay the burial for mourners to travel and for appropriate arrangements to be made. The funeral is a private time for the family and the religion provides that there is no public viewing of the body. The traditions, rituals and customs for Jewish burials state that the body is buried in a plain and unadorned wooden casket. According to Jewish law, the body is washed and not embalmed.
The casket is usually closed, and the funeral service conducted by a rabbi is usually short, reflective and solemn. A eulogy is given and family members and close friends often read psalms and prayers and share stories in their own way. Jewish funeral services can take place at the synagogue, funeral home or graveside at the cemetery.
Although flowers and wreaths are important and prominent at Christian funerals, for example, this is not the case at Jewish funerals or in the shiva home. There are some distinctions and exceptions whereby Jews do accept flowers, but as a general rule, one should not send flowers or wreaths to a Jewish funeral or shiva home as a sympathy gift.
Grief & Bereavement
After a Jewish funeral takes place, the immediate family (i.e., spouse, parents, children and siblings) are considered the mourners. The immediate family begins 'sitting shiva.' Shiva means seven, and is a seven-day mourning period that is observed. The family remains at home, in a shiva house; prayers, including the Mourner's Kaddish, are recited; and traditional mourning practices, customs and rituals are followed. During the Jewish shiva, the community, extended family, friends and colleagues, visit a shiva home during designated times to make a shiva call. This is an appropriate way to pay your respect and support the bereaved. The bereaved (i.e., immediate family members who are mourners) continue the traditional mourning period beyond the seven-day shiva and continue certain traditions for between 30 days and up to a full year after the death of a Jewish family member.
What Can You Do
Many of you are wondering how to express condolence to a Jewish friend and what types of sympathy gifts or items are appropriate to send or bring to a shiva according to Jewish customs and traditions. There are many ways to support bereaved friends and loved ones of the Jewish faith who are grieving. During the mourning period, you can provide food and meals, but it may be advisable to first check on the dietary and food requirements of the shiva home and consider sending kosher products if the family is Orthodox. Visiting a shiva (i.e., 'making a shiva call') is another appropriate and kind gesture. In addition, sending a condolence basket containing fruit, chocolate or nuts, a sympathy card, or planting a tree in Israel in memory of the loved one are common ways to show your support.