Green Burial – Hevra Kaddisha

By: Linda H. Feinberg

At a meeting of Jewish artists recently, mind I was asked whether we had a hevra kaddisha (holy burial society) in New Hampshire. I mentioned that there were several. The questioner wanted to know why this wasn’t announced somewhere. I hesitated to answer, diagnosis because it’s a touchy subject and those of us who are involved are not really supposed to discuss it.

Meanwhile, help
I have noticed newspaper articles about “green burials” and also about Muslim burial rites clashing with Connecticut laws. It would seem that the Muslim rites are very similar to the Jewish rites – burial within 24 hours, washing the body, wrapping it in a special cloth. Since the state of Connecticut won’t allow burial without a casket or vault (burial liner) if the cemetery resides within 350 feet of homes, Muslims are being flexible and respecting the laws of the land. They also put some soil in the coffin or vault so that the body is in touch with the earth in accordance with Islamic law. Jews who are not being buried in Israel frequently have dirt from Israel placed in the coffin as well.

Green burials seem to be catching on as people become concerned about the environment and the costs associated with the average traditional funeral ($6,500 according to the National Funeral Directors Association) plus the cemetery costs. Cremations are also increasing.

As Jews we have choices in our state. We can have a funeral director guide us, or we can use our own traditions for guidance. Our traditions are already “green” – no chemical preservatives, no metal casket – and are less harmful to the environment. The hevra kaddisha is divided into two groups, one for preparation of women, one for preparation of men. We are very respectful of the deceased at all times, saying prayers (both in Hebrew and English), washing, shrouding, and placing the body in a wood coffin (interestingly enough the Hebrew word “aron” is used both for the coffin and for the “aron kodesh” – the holy ark which holds the Torah).

Another group is asked to provide a shomer (watcher, guard) at all times until the coffin is buried. We usually take one- to two-hour shifts. It is traditional to read Psalms while you are sitting with the coffin. It is not necessary for any of the people involved to actually know the deceased.

For more information, contact your local rabbi or ask questions in the comments below. Also, on the web, good materials can be found at www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org and other sites. Just do a search for “hevra kaddisha” or “green burial” or “Muslim burial rites” – I’m sure you’ll find something interesting.

Gan Eden

Four or five of us meet at the funeral home
quietly reviewing the procedures,
our roles and the prayers we will say.

Silently we enter the preparation room,
gather our supplies, wash and glove our hands.
We stand respectfully around the departed
and begin the prayer, slowly and with feeling,
first in Hebrew, then in English, so all can understand.

As I say the words, my mind visualizes this woman,
beautiful and healthy again, vibrant with life,
dancing with the other souls,
free at last in the Garden of Eden.

Linda H. Feinberg has been attending NHC events for a few years and is on the finance committee. She is a business owner (Z-Best Bookkeeping), poet, and artist who resides in Manchester, NH. She has a blog with poetry and art and can be reached by email.

2 comments

1 AP { 02.10.10 at 1:34 pm }

Jewish burials have been green burials for many years. See this blog for more. http://hfba.blogspot.com/2008/11/green-funerals.html

2 shroudwoman { 02.10.10 at 4:37 pm }

Our company KINKARACO-Green Burial Products makes white linen shrouds, among many others, that have a lowering device attached and all biodegrades directly into the earth.

Or one can choose to place the plain shroud inside a plain wood casket when direct shroud burial is not allowed. These shrouds have thick cotton batting lining and are very beautiful.

The KINKARACO tm shroud debuted on the Green burial episode of HBO ‘s “Six Feet Under” in 2005 and are used by many Faiths and their spouses. Here in California we hear from many modern Jews that had previously chosen cremation are now realizing they deeply regret not having an outdoor physical place to go with their children and relatives to commemorate their loved ones and are now choosing green burial over cremation.
It is our honor to help in this way.

Thank you

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