Customs & Traditions

“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 3:19

Customs

Preparation for Funeral and Burial:

Mt. Sinai honors the traditions and the wishes of families from all branches of Judaism. If a family chooses to follow the more traditional Jewish practices, the funeral home arranges for a Shomer (watcher) to sit with the body continuously until the funeral and recite from the Book of Psalms. The body is washed in a process of Taharah (“purification”), considered a sacred and religious act, and then dressed in a burial shroud of white linen cloth. The body is then placed in a wooden casket.

Funeral:

In Jewish tradition, we pray facing east, towards Jerusalem. Funeral services can be held in the covered outdoor pavilion at Mt. Sinai, facing east to the beauty and splendor of the desert surroundings. The pavilion is equipped with ceiling fans, a misting system, and in the cooler months, heaters. Following the service, the casket is moved to the gravesite, often by pallbearers. The sidewalks to every grave at Mt. Sinai allow this to take place easily, and assure that no one will walk or stand upon a grave.

Burial:

After lowering the casket into the grave, it is traditional for the mourners and friends to complete the burial by each placing a few shovels of dirt onto the casket. This act is considered the ultimate Mitzvah (“commandment” or “good deed”) because the deceased cannot do it for himself, cannot ask the mourners to do it for him, and cannot repay or thank them for seeing to his proper Jewish burial. It is the last commandment the mourners and friends are able to perform on behalf of the deceased. The Kaddish prayer is then recited.

Hand Washing:

Originating out of a superstition in the early post-Talmudic period, the ritual of washing one’s hands after being at the cemetery was done to dispel the evil demons that might have attached themselves there. Another explanation is to cleanse oneself of the ritual impurity of being in contact with the dead in any way. For the convenience of mourners and visitors, several hand-washing stations are placed throughout Mt. Sinai.

Unveiling

The ancient custom of placing a headstone over the burial site originates in the Torah, when Jacob placed a pillar on his wife Rachel’s grave. The headstone serves to clearly indicate the resting place of the deceased, and is a permanent and tangible memorial.

The unveiling is a beautiful graveside ceremony marking the setting of a loved one’s headstone. By gathering to unveil the monument, the ritual serves as an important part of the mourning and healing process. The unveiling of the monument can take place anytime from the end of Shloshim (the 30 days after the funeral) to the first Yahrzeit (anniversary date). The ceremony, often led by a rabbi, is brief and usually informal.

In biblical times, graves were marked by a pile of stones. Today scholars suggest that the custom of leaving a pebble on the monument serves as a visible sign that the deceased is loved and remembered. At the unveiling, those present can mark the occasion by placing a small stone on the memorial.

Traditions

Yahrzeit Calendar

Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word meaning “a year’s time”. Each year the anniversary of the death of a loved one is commemorated according to the date of death in the Hebrew calendar.

It is customary to commemorate a Yahrzeit by attending services and reciting the Kaddish prayer, lighting a Yahrzeit candle on the evening prior to the date, and giving Tzedakah (charity), in memory of the deceased.

The Yahrzeit date is dependent on both the day and time of death. If the time of death was after sundown, use the next day’s date to determine the appropriate Yahrzeit date.

Click here to print a custom calendar of Yahrzeit dates.

The Mourner’s Kaddish

Kaddish, or “holy” in Yiddish, is known as the mourner’s prayer. The prayer does not speak of death or mourning, but is an affirmation of life and our unfailing faith in G-d. By reciting it, the mourners show that even as their faith is being tested by their loss, they are affirming the greatness of G-d.

The Mourner’s Kaddish is traditionally recited for parents, spouses, siblings and children. It is recited for eleven months following burial for parents and for thirty days for all other relatives.

We say the Mourner’s Kaddish each year on the anniversary of death, known as Yahrzeit. By reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, we preserve the memory of our beloved, even after the formal period of mourning has ended. We also recite the Mourner’s Kaddish at memorial services known as Yizkor, meaning “remembrance”. Yizkor occurs four times a year: Yom Kippur, the eighth day of Sukkot known as Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Passover and the second day of Shavuot.

Click here to read or print a copy of the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer.

Candle Lighting

We light the Shabbat candles on Friday at sunset and recite the blessing to reaffirm the faith that has sustained our people throughout history.

View the weekly lighting times

Jewish Holidays & Yizkor Dates

Holidays begin at sunset the prior evening

 
* Commences Prior Evening
**Cemetery Office and Gates Closed

Jewish Holidays 5777-5778

2017-2018  
Rosh Hashanah  ** Sep. 21-22, 2017
Yom Kippur  ** Sep. 30, 2017
Sukkot  ** Oct. 5-6, 2017
Shemini Atzeret  ** Oct. 12, 2017*
Simchat Torah  ** Oct. 13, 2017*
Chanukkah Dec. 12, 2017*-Dec. 20, 2017
Tu B’Shvat Jan. 31, 2018*
Purim Mar. 1, 2018*
Passover                         **1st, 2nd, 7th & 8th Day Mar. 31*-Apr. 7, 2018
Yom HaShoah Apr. 12, 2018*
Yom HaZickaron Apr. 18, 2018*
Yom Ha’Atzmaut Apr. 19, 2018*
Lag B’Omer May 3, 2018*
Shavuot  ** May 20*-May 21, 2018
Tisha B’Av Jul. 22, 2018*

Yizkor Dates    5777-5778

2017-2018
Yom Kippur Sep. 30, 2017
Shemini Atzeret Oct. 12, 2017
8th day of Passover Apr. 7, 2018
2nd day of Shavuot May 21, 2018

At a time of loss, great comfort comes from embracing the rich traditions of our Jewish faith.