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Birth  -  B'nai Mitzvah  -  Conversion  -  Death and Mourning  -  Divorce  -  Weddings  -  LGBTQ Transitions

Birth

Expecting a child can be both one of the greatest sources of joy and also one of the greatest sources of trepidation. The Jewish tradition sees the birth of children as a promise of the future. There is a story told that when Moses received the Torah, he was asked by God to find a guarantor for the holy text in case Israel were to default. Although Moses brought God the suggestions of the elders, the prophets, the men and the women and the community, God did not find favor with these suggestions. It was only when Moses brought God the children in the community that God agreed. Forever, our children would be considered the keepers and guardians of our tradition, helping to ensure our tradition would continue for many years to come.

There are many Jewish questions people have about new babies. Click on any of the links below for more information:

Coming home with a new baby can put a great deal of stress on a new family. If it would be helpful to have some meals provided by congregants for the first couple of weeks as you settle into a new routine, please contact TNT's Chesed Committee and let us know. We are happy to help out.

Brit Milah

Brit Milah (know also as a Bris) has been a central part of welcoming a boy into the covenant and is inspired by God’s commandment to Abraham to circumcise himself and his sons as a sign of Abraham’s covenant with God. A Brit Milah is usually conducted on the 8th day of a boy’s life unless there is a medical reason why this should not happen. Because Jewish days start at night, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out when this occurs. If a baby is born before sunset, his bris will be the next week on the same calendar day (ex. if he is born at 1 PM on a Thursday, the Bris will be on the following Thursday). If he is born after sunset it will be a week later on the next calendar day (ex. if he is both at 10 PM on a Thursday, the bris will be on the following Friday). A Bris usually occurs in the morning, though many mohelim (professionals who perform brit milah) will accommodate early afternoon times. Brit Milah happens every day including Shabbat, however if one has a C-section on Shabbat it is customary to push the Bris to the following Sunday.

A Brit Milah ceremony has three sections. During the first third, prayers are recited to formally welcome the child into the Jewish people. During the second third, the surgery takes place by a mohel, a person trained in the ritual and the practice of circumcisions. See below for a list of suggested mohelim.

The final section is the naming. Here the child is given a Hebrew name. For families from Ashkenazi backgrounds, the child is often named after a loved one who has died. In Sephardi families, the child often will be named to honor someone who is living. All names follow the same pattern. A child is called [Hebrew name] bar [Father’s name] and [Mother’s name]. At TNT, children are named for both parents. At TNT, if one parent is not Jewish or does not have a Hebrew name we will still include their name alongside the other family member. If you need help choosing a Hebrew name please contact our clergy or visit our naming page for suggestions. Following the circumcision, it is customary to take part in a festive meal known as a Seudat Mitzvah.

The TNT clergy would be honored to attend your bris and officiate. We are happy to work with your Mohel to share the ceremony. While we are not trained in the act of circumcision itself we are happy to name your son and say the surrounding prayers. However, if it is better for your family we are also happy to attend as guests.

While there are dozens of mohelim, many congregants at TNT have had success with the following mohelim. Each is different and we recommend speaking with them about their approach and styles before committing.
Suggestions:

Useful Websites for Brit Milah

Baby Namings

Giving a child a Hebrew name is considered one of the first Jewish gifts a parent can give a new baby. It is a tie to the past and a platform for their identity. So important are Hebrew names, say our Rabbis, that one of the reasons the Israelites were freed from Egypt is because in spite of becoming slaves they refused to give up their names.

Families usually choose to have baby namings at TNT if they have daughters or if they have sons who, for medical purposes, needed to have a circumcision in the hospital. Sometimes parents of a daughter will have a brit bat (a ceremony like a brit milah conducted on the 8th day for girls). Most families will have a naming ceremony for their child sometime within their first year of life.

The TNT clergy are excited to work with you to plan a naming in the synagogue. There are three services at which namings take place for members. The first, and most common service, is at our Saturday morning Shabbat services, starting at 10:00 AM. We will call you up to bless the Torah and give your child a Hebrew name. The ceremony lasts 5-10 minutes. Second, some families will opt to have the naming on Friday night as part of our Kabbalat Shabbat service. This service begins at 6:30 PM (or 8pm, depending on the time of year) and the namings look very similar to those that take place at the main service on Shabbat morning. Finally, some families will decide to have private naming ceremonies in their homes, akin to a bris. 

Naming services follow a similar structure to a brit milah (with the exception of the surgery). We begin by welcoming the child formally into the Jewish people with a few prayers. Following this we give the baby a Hebrew name. Finally we say Kiddush, say the Shehekhianu (blessing for all joyous first in our tradition) and the baby receives the priestly benediction (the oldest blessing in the Jewish tradition).

When the child is given a Hebrew name, for families from Ashkenazi backgrounds this name is often the same name as a loved one who has died. In Sephardi families, the child often will be named to honor someone who is living. All names follow the same pattern. A child is called [Hebrew name] bar/bat [Father’s name] and [Mother’s name]. At Temple Ner Tamid, children are named for both parents. If one parent is not Jewish or does not have a Hebrew name we will still include their name alongside the other family member.

Useful Websites for Choosing a Hebrew Name

Please note: Namings can be done at any age. If you or your child does not have a Hebrew name we would be happy to name them or you at any time. There is something very beautiful about a grade-school age child choosing his or her own Hebrew name.

Infertility

We know that there are many in our community who struggle with infertility. You are not alone. The TNT clergy are here to have a confidential conversation and can recommend resources and rituals to help you. We also know that sometimes the best way to feel less alone in a struggle is to find others who have struggled in the past. We have a number of people in our community who have struggled with infertility and would be happy to open their doors and their hearts to you.

Resources to help

B'nei Mitzvah

Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a milestone in our journey of life. Torah (Study), Avodah (Prayer), and Gimmilut Chasadim (Acts of Lovingkindness), are stepping-stones towards the realization that it’s not the day that has the highest of importance, but the lessons we learn on the journey to get to that place. Our preparation for our journey in life does not begin nor end in the seventh grade. One might think of becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah as a rest stop, a place to share Torah and lead a group of people in prayer, as one becomes a part of a larger Jewish community.

Individual training with Rabbi Katz, Cantor Greenberg, and Clergy Associate Ronni Pressman gives our students a unique opportunity to work closely with Jewish leaders that share the vision of the continuation of Judaism for generations to come. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah year of studies is, for us at Ner Tamid, one where students and their families can feel the comfort and joy in the journey of ‘becoming’ a Bar or Bat Mitzvah more than merely marking a single-day event.

Should you have any questions about that process, please reach out to Cantor Meredith Greenberg.

Conversion

Conversion is and has always been an important part of the Jewish tradition, and TNT welcomes all who seek to join the Jewish people.

People convert to Judaism for many reasons. Some seek religious meaning in their lives and simply find that Judaism offers a spiritual and religious place in which they are comfortable. For others, a relationship with a Jewish person offers them a first chance to explore Judaism. Participating in Shabbat, holidays, and Torah study may be a completely new and different experience, and can be the first step toward considering conversion.

Once this journey of Jewish exploration and learning has begun, each seeker makes the individual choices that best suit his or her life. Some choose to convert shortly after their learning process begins, while others begin the process and take more time to make a final decision. Some people convert to become part of a Jewish family and to raise Jewish children, many after living in a Jewish family for years. Others choose to remain a non-Jewish member of a Jewish family while participating fully in Jewish life. Reform Jews in general, and TNT in particular, wholeheartedly welcome those who choose Judaism, recognizing that our Jewish community is made stronger by those who actively seek to become Jews.

Adult Conversion

The Conversion Process

The process toward conversion is actually quite simple and consists of three aspects:

  1. Taking an introduction to Judaism class: Our clergy can help you find a class in the area if we don't currently offer one. Taking a class will give you much of the necessary information, history, and background you will need for conversion as well as introduce you to a community of like-minded Jews. In certain rare occasions we have allowed students to take online courses to fulfill this requirement.
  2. Meeting with a sponsoring clergy member: Scheduled at the availability of students and clergy members (every 2-4 weeks), these meetings allow conversion students to process information they are learning about in class, discuss Jewish experiences they are having in life, and explore special readings and topics.
  3. Living as a Jew for an extended period: The year that one converts should be a year of thoughtful experimentation. Students should develop a prayer practice, begin to embrace Shabbat, focus on eating in a Jewish way, and engage with the holidays. In concert with your sponsoring clergy member, conversion students will develop a plan to try various Jewish rituals that they will discuss in their individual meetings.

While these aspects are definite, one’s timetable toward conversion is not. Usually, the journey toward conversion takes anywhere between 8-14 months, however timetables can be shortened or lengthened depending on the individual students. In the end, one knows it is time to convert if two things are true:

  1. Students feel they now know enough about the history, theology, and ritual to live a full Jewish life without the aid of their sponsoring rabbi. Though they won’t know all the answers, they now know reputable sources to find answers.
  2. Students feel Jewish. There is a difference between identity (the way you see yourself) and status (the way others see you). Though your status won’t be Jewish until the day of your conversion, your identity should be fully Jewish before that day.

When students are ready, they will make a date with their sponsoring clergy and will write a personal statement that explains why they want to convert. This statement will be shared on the day of their conversion.

What to Expect on the Day of Your Conversion

When one is ready, there are a number of rituals associated with the day of conversion (three for men and two for women). Men who are already circumcised engage in a ritual called Hatafat Dam Brit where a single drop of blood is taken from the head of a man’s penis as a symbolic gesture toward a bris (brit milah). For those who are uncircumcised, we can help you find a doctor who will perform the circumcision.

Men and women share the next two steps. Together we will meet at the Mikveh (1726 Windsor Rd, Teaneck, NJ 07666) with three clergy (rabbis, cantors, or seminary students). We will all have a conversation about what this ritual means to you, why you want to convert, and what you have gained from your journey to conversion. Called a Beit Din (a rabbinical court), this conversation is less a test (we won’t ask you what the fourth book of the Bible is) and more a way to know that you have engaged in this process in a serious and thoughtful way and are ready to become a Jew.

After the Beit Din, our conversion candidates get ready for the mikveh.

The mikvah we use is temperature controlled (it is around the temperature of a slightly warm bathtub), and its water is naturally collected. While we tend to use human-made pools, oceans and rivers can also function as a mikveh.

To prepare for the mikveh, our conversion candidates remove all jewelry, makeup, and creams so that there is no barrier between them and the water. Candidates will enter into the water. Both men and women need someone to make sure they fully immerse in the water. We will match you with a witness who is of the same sex as you and with whom you feel comfortable.

Candidates immerse three times. After the first they say the following blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu Al Tevilah

(Blessed are you God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy through commandments, and commands us concerning ritual immersion).

After the second, they will recite the blessing Shehekheyanu.

After the third immersion they recite the prayer known as the Shema, proclaiming God’s oneness. Candidates are now Jewish and we sing and celebrate their new status in our community.

After getting dressed, conversion candidates will be given the option to receive their Hebrew name at the mikvah or in a ceremony at TNT during Shabbat.

Conversion of a Child

We know there are many reasons why parents may seek conversion for a child. For some, it is because the child is adopted. For others it is because the child’s mother is of another faith. Whatever the reason, we are happy to help.

Please note: in keeping with Reform Movement policy, the TNT clergy recognize a child as Jewish if either his or her father or mother is Jewish, however we acknowledge that this belief is not shared across the whole Jewish world. We welcome any family who wants to bring a child formally into the Jewish people through conversion.

The conversion of a child consists of three steps for boys and two for girls. For a boy, parents circumcise their child with the intention to later convert him or her. This includes the addition of a hebrew line to the ceremony and most mohelim can easily add this. However, if you did not do this, there is a ritual a mohel can do, called Hatafat Dam Brit, where a single drop of blood is taken from the child’s penis as a substitute if the baby was circumcised in the hospital.

Boys and girls share the next two steps. Together we will meet at the Mikveh (1726 Windsor Rd, Teaneck, NJ 07666) with three clergy (rabbis, cantors, or seminary students). We will all have a conversation about what this ritual means to you. Called a Beit Din (a rabbinical court), this conversation is not a test, but a way to prepare you for the meaning of the ritual.

After the Beit Din, parents can help their child get ready for the mikveh.

Our mikvah is temperature controlled (it is around the temperature of a slightly warm bathtub), and its water is naturally collected. While we tend to use human-made pools, oceans and rivers can also function as a mikveh.

Parents prepare the baby or child by making sure that all creams (or piercings for older children) are removed so that there is no barrier between them and the water. For babies, one Jewish parent will enter into the water with them (the parent may wear a bathing suit) as the beit din looks on. Holding the child in front of them, they will blow in his or her face. As a reflex, the baby will scrunch up its nose. Then they let go so that the baby immerses for a second in the water alone. Scooping the baby up, they will recite the blessing:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu Al Tevilah

Following this we will all recite the blessing Shehekheyanu

For a video of this ritual, click here.

Afterwards, we will give your child a Hebrew name. This can either be done at the mikvah in a private ceremony or as part of services at TNT. For a full description of this ritual visit our baby naming page

Death and Mourning

Dealing with the death of a loved one can be one of the most emotionally challenging periods of one’s life. Coupling it with navigating the many logistical and ritual elements of the Jewish tradition can feel overwhelming. This section is meant to help you deal with both the secular and Jewish elements of death and the mourning process. Learning these details now will provide you more space to grieve when you do face a loss.

Preparing for the Death of a Loved One

As death approaches, the clergy at TNT are here to comfort and support you. Please let us know if you or a loved one is seriously ill or in the hospital by calling us at (973) 338-1500.

We know that the days leading up to a death can cause a whirlwind of emotions and pain. However, it is important at that time to concentrate on the living and avoid treating your loved one as if they have already died. Funerals can be planned quickly and will always be treated with urgency. Still, there are important steps you can take in the days (and years) leading up to Will you do this in death. The more information you can collect about your loved one before they pass away, the easier the administrative burden will be after their death. Therefore, we suggest, if possible, completing the following forms before they are needed:

Family Information Form and Checklist

This form is for the use of the family and contains important information including your loved one’s Hebrew name and their parents’ Hebrew names, estate and insurance information, names of relatives, and funeral arrangements. Collecting this information is essential for filling out the death certificate, preparing the funeral, and settling your loved one’s estate.

Advanced Directive (Living Will) and Health Care Proxy An advanced directive enables a person to specify the kind of life-saving measures he or she wants and does not want near the end of life. Although it is difficult, speaking with your loved ones about these issues will greatly ease the burden of decision making later. New Jersey allows one to appoint a proxy to make these decisions.

A Will

Wills are essential documents that allow you to decide what happens to your estate after you pass away. Because there are many legal issues, both state and federal, surrounding one’s property and estate, we urge you to contact a lawyer. Every adult, no matter his or her age, needs a will.

Ethical Will

Ever since Jacob gathered his children together around his deathbed (Gen. 49), ethical wills have remained an important means to pass on one’s values, blessings, and dreams to one’s family and loved ones. Often written in the form of a letter, these documents contain the essential lessons one wants to impart to those they love. For more information about these documents click here.

Finding a Plot

One of the simplest ways to help your family deal with the logistical challenges of death is to pre-purchase a funeral plot. There are many Jewish cemeteries in the New Jersey area. TNT has a number of plots at the East Ridgelawn Cemetery in the Menorah Section. East Ridgelawn is located 11 minutes from the temple and TNT's gravesites are situated right off a major cemetery road, making it easy for family members and friends to visit loved ones’ place of rest. Burial plots may be purchased for use by any Jewish member of a TNT family – yourself, a spouse or life partner, a parent or any family member. For more information, contact our office.

The Final Days

When someone is understood to be within three days of death, they fall under the category of a goses. At this time, loved ones should be especially careful to tend to the physical and emotional comfort of that person. While one should avoid praying for a loved one’s death, many find comfort in praying for a loved one to find peace. Some might also find it comforting to recite Psalms, or Biblical poems, many of which deal with mourning and healing. Psalms 23 , 91 , 103 121 130, and 139 are all particularly appropriate.

As we reach the end of life there is one particular prayer that may be recited. Tradition teaches that one should repent the day before his or her death (Talmud, Shabbat 153a). For this reason, many choose to recite the vidui, or confessional prayer. The prayer asks God for forgiveness and to watch over their family after they pass away. The prayer ends with a recitation of the Shema, an affirmation of God’s oneness. Our rabbis believed that special merit would come to those who affirmed God in this way toward the end of their life.

https://sites.google.com/site/viduivariations/personal-compositions-of-vidui

When Death Occurs

Guidelines for managing the process after a loved one’s death are provided below. At any point along the way TNT clergy are here to help you navigate this often overwhelming process. Please call us at (913) 338-1500.

Depending on where a person dies there are a number of different steps one takes upon discovering a death.

In the hospital:

Find the attending nurse or doctor. The doctor will prepare the death certificate and arrange for transportation of the body to the funeral home. The family should make arrangements with the funeral home directly, though TNT clergy can help guide you if you have questions.

At hospice:

Call the hospice physician who will prepare all necessary documents. Together you will arrange with the funeral home for transportation of the body.

At home:

In some cases, your first call will be to the police or 911 to report the death. The officials will arrange for transportation of the body. Only after this phone call should you call the funeral home.

At some point during or after these initial steps, one can recite the ancient formula:

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, Dayan Ha’emet

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, the True Judge

This phrase is the standard formula said when something bad happens in life. It acknowledges that things are often out of our control and that even in our time of pain and sorrow we can acknowledge God’s presence.

Autopsies

While autopsies are generally forbidden by Jewish law, there are situations where either the law requires one or there are mysteries surrounding a death that a family needs to clarify. In these cases, the TNT clergy can provide a list of guidelines that the family can ask the Medical Examiner’s office to follow. Generally, the Medical Examiner’s office will abide by such a request.

If a Suicide Occurs

While all deaths are tragic, death by suicide is particularly painful. If someone you love has taken his or her own life, please contact us immediately. Full funeral and mourning practices will be observed.

Contacting a Funeral Home

Temple Ner Tamid will work with any funeral home of your choice. However, we often work with these three:

  • Jewish Memorial Chapel (841 Allwood Rd, Clifton, NJ 07012)
  • J L Apter Jewish Memorial Chapel (486 Pompton Ave, Cedar Grove, NJ 07009)
  • Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel (68 Old Short Hills Rd, Livingston, NJ 07039)

The funeral home will be primarily responsible for transporting the body, providing the casket, and preparing obituaries and death certificates. TNT clergy will travel for funerals outside of the immediate Bloomfield area for members of the congregation and their immediate families. There is no charge for the clergy to do funerals for our members and members of their immediate families. Our clergy will not accept any honorarium for officiating. However, it is customary to make a contribution to the Rabbi or Cantor’s Discretionary Fund which is used to support special needs that emerge within the community.

If clergy can, upon request, they will also officiate at funerals for non-members, provided these funerals do not impede their existing responsibilities to the congregation.

Decisions Immediately Following Death

At the funeral home, you will make decisions about these things:

  • Timing and other arrangements related to the funeral itself
  • Burial or cremation
  • Choosing a coffin
  • Pre-burial rituals, if any
  • Selecting 6-8 pallbearers to escort the coffin out of the funeral

Timing of funeral

Kevod hamet is the value of showing honor to a deceased loved one through word and action. One important way to honor a loved one is not to delay the burial. TNT clergy will prioritize all aspects of the funeral in order to ensure it is arranged quickly and we will be prepared for the funeral to take place on the day following death. While it is understandable that certain extenuating circumstances may necessitate a delay (such as the arrival of a close family member from out of town), Jewish tradition understands that the period between death and burial (anninut) is the most painful and difficult period for a mourner and seeks to minimize it by burying a loved one as soon as possible.

Organ Donation

Jewish tradition has always valued the saving of lives. Because so many people benefit from organ donation, the Reform movement ruled that it is legally permissible (and in many cases preferable) to register as an organ donor (CCAR Responsa, “Surgical Transplants” 1968). This is in accord with many Orthodox authorities who have ruled likewise. We encourage everyone to make decisions about organ donation while they are still healthy. If you choose to make such donations, that information can be recorded on your driver’s license and your Living Will. The TNT clergy are always available to discuss the issue and answer any questions.

Choosing a Coffin

In Hebrew, the word for coffin is aron. Traditionally, Jewish coffins are made of plain pine wood and include no metal, though some people may choose more ornate coffins. The reason many Jews choose simple coffins is twofold. First, it is important that the whole casket can decompose. This is because it says in the book of Genesis (3:19), “For you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Second, Jewish tradition values democracy in burial. The only thing we can take into the next world with us is a good name. Therefore, all people should be treated equally during burial. This notion finds its roots in Talmudic times:

Formerly, they used to bring out the deceased for burial: the rich on a tall state bed, ornamented and covered with rich coverlets; the poor on a plain bier. The poor felt ashamed. Therefore, a law was established that all should be brought out on a plain bier (Talmud, Moed Katan 27a)

Cremation

Jewish tradition discourages cremation and advocates burial in the earth as a way to show respect to a loved one who has died. The Reform movement has stated publicly that if cremation is chosen the cremains should be buried in a Jewish cemetery rather than scattering them. TNT clergy advise burial but will officiate at a funeral of someone who has been cremated.

Embalming

Jewish tradition advocates that one should be buried whole. For this reason, many seek to ensure that the blood and organs are intact at the time of burial (with exceptions made for organ donation and autopsies – see above). For this reason and others, our tradition discourages embalming. In the event that a funeral needs to be delayed, refrigeration provides an alternative to embalming, that is in keeping with Jewish tradition.

Preparing a Body For Burial

You may wish to consider the practices of the chevrah kadisha or Jewish burial society which are some of the most ancient and beautiful practices in Judaism. Your funeral home can give you more information about local chevrah kadisha in the area. The job of a chevrah kadisha falls mainly into three categories:

Shmirah

Jewish tradition believes that the soul does not depart the body immediately. For this reason, it has become a custom that someone stays with a body (or if that is not possible, in a room closest to the body) from the moment of death until burial. Out of respect for the body, a shomer, or guardian, should refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, singing, or speaking about business since the deceased cannot enjoy these things. Usually a shomer will sit quietly with the body and read from the book of Psalms, in Hebrew or English. If this practice might be meaningful to you, ask your funeral home about it.

Taharah

Taharah is the purification and preparation of the body for burial. Before taharah begins one closes the eyes and mouth of the deceased and their limbs are straightened.The body is then turned so that the feet face the door, and some have the custom of placing the body on the floor to begin its descent into the earth. Taharah, the careful ritual washing of the body then begins, starting with the head and moving down the body. If this practice might be meaningful to you, ask your funeral home about it.

Tachrichim

Following washing, the body is then dressed in a kittel or simple burial shroud. This simple wrapping serves to equalize all who die; just as we came into the world simple, we leave the world simple, taking only our name and good deeds. This is also the reason why traditionally no makeup or jewelry is worn at the time of burial. Burial shrouds address a problem we deal with even today: the high cost of funerals. Jewish tradition explains:

At one time, funerals [among the Jewish people] were more difficult [because they were more costly] for the relatives [of the deceased] than the death itself, so much so that they would leave [the body] and flee. Then Rabban Gamliel came and behaved simply with regard to himself, [insisting] that they would bring his body out in linen garments. Then everyone followed his example and brought out bodies in linen garments. Rav Papa said: “Now it is the practice to bring out bodies in rough cloth worth only a zuz.” (Talmud Ketubot 8b)

If this practice appears meaningful to you, ask your funeral home about it.

Funerals

Who is a mourner?

Traditionally a mourner is the father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, son or daughter of the deceased, although one may certainly bring others like grandchildren or close cousins into the inner circle.

Mourning before a funeral

During the time between death and burial, these mourners are called onenim and are in a period called aninut. There are no traditional customs or practices associated with this stage. This is because the death is too raw to focus on anything particular. Rabbi Maurice Lamm writes:

“The onen [mourner during aninut] is a person in deep distress, a person yanked out of normal life and abruptly catapulted into the midst of inexpressible grief. He is disoriented, his attitudes are disarrayed, his emotions [are] out of gear. The shock of death paralyzes his consciousness and blocks out all regular patterns of orderly thinking” (The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, p. 21).

The Talmud teaches us, “Do not console a person whose deceased relative lies before him” (Mishnah Avot 4:23). This means that at this time of intense sadness, one should avoid worrying about making a mourner “feel better.” Instead, rather than trying to cheer a mourner up, we should offer a mourner our warm presence and our open hearts. Sometimes, just being there is enough. However, with all things, take your cues from the mourner and be sensitive to his or her needs and wishes.

Involving Children

Funerals are often an important tool to help children achieve closure. However, we acknowledge that often children are not at a developmental stage to fully understand what is happening at a funeral and burial. Recent scholarship has shown that in some cases what children imagine goes on at a funeral can be more disturbing than anything that actually occurs. Please consult the CBE clergy if you would like to talk more about involving children. If you decide to bring a child, a close friend or family member who does not mind leaving the ceremony should be assigned to care for him or her.

Jewish Rituals at a Funeral

Actions associated with preparing and burying a body are known as chesed shel emet or true acts of loving kindness, as there is no reward or thanks given by the deceased after one cares for him or her. Because of this, Jewish tradition contains many rituals that involve numerous members of the community, both at the cemetery and at the funeral, so that those close to the deceased may show their love.

Kriah

Ever since Jacob tore his garments upon hearing the news of his son Joseph’s death, kriah or the ritual ripping of garments or ribbons pinned to garments has been an important part of the Jewish funeral practice. It symbolizes the tear that has occurred in the lives of the mourners and also gives a physical catharsis for one’s pain. For the most part, this practice is done by the deceased’s father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, brother, and sister, however others can do it. If one is mourning a parent he should tear his clothes or ribbon on his left side, above his or her heart. For everyone else he should tear on his or her right side. Kriah is traditionally done while standing and the ribbon or torn garment is worn for the days following the funeral.

Funeral Service: What to Expect

Funeral services are traditionally short, lasting anywhere from 30-40 minutes. They usually consist of three traditional aspects. The first section of a funeral consists of readings and psalms (liturgical poems) about loss and faith. The second section is the hesped or the funeral eulogy. The TNT clergy will meet with your family before the funeral to learn more about the deceased, so that we can craft a meaningful eulogy and sketch of their life. While members of the family and dear friends are invited to speak, we also acknowledge that the main task of a mourner is to mourn. Therefore, while we encourage family and friends to share memories, TNT clergy are happy to share any memories for you, if speaking is too challenging. After these speeches, the funeral service concludes with one specific prayer, El Malei Rachamim. This prayer asks God to have compassion and to enfold the soul of our loved one under God’s wings.

At the funeral, the aron or casket remains closed but in view during the service. Often, the casket is covered with a blanket called a pall. Since the casket is often plain pine wood, this covering is meant to beautify the ceremony. Ask the funeral home if you would like one of these covers. Following the service, the pallbearers take the coffin outside to the hearse. Most funerals have 6-8 pallbearers. Most funeral homes will provide this service for you. However, you may choose to designate friends or family of the deceased who are not the primary mourners for this honor if you want.

At the Cemetery

When one arrives at the cemetery, it is a tradition for those carrying the casket to pause seven times before reaching the grave. The number seven symbolizes the cycle of life—seven is considered a complete number in Judaism—and one pauses to display one’s unwillingness to part from a loved one. Often, someone will recite Psalm 91 during this processional. At the graveside, the rabbi or cantor will recite more psalms and poems.

Traditionally, flowers are not placed by the graveside. Often, those wishing to show respect and to their loved one will make a donation to charity in their name or will provide a meal to the deceased relatives during Shiva.

Once the casket is lowered into the grave, immediate family, followed by relatives and friends shovel earth into the grave. It is customary for those shoveling earth to shovel the first bits with an overturned shovel, symbolizing reluctance. Afterwards, all take turns shoveling earth into the grave, sometimes continuing until it is full. If not filling the grave completely, many will shovel enough so that the top of the casket can no longer be seen. Traditionally one does not pass the shovel to other mourners but returns it to the pile of earth, as each person must participate in the ritual out of his own free will.

At this point, mourners will recite either the mourners kaddish or the more traditional burial kaddish. This Aramaic prayer exalts God even at this difficult time and asks God to send peace to the world.

After the burial, guests form two parallel lines from the grave back toward the parking area. Mourners walk between these two lines as they are greeted with condolences by family and friends. The traditional condolence greeting is:

Hamakom Yinachem Etchem B’toch She’ar Avalay Tzion v’Yerushalayim

May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

This marks the transition point of the day, where the attention switches from remembering and caring for the deceased to focusing on comforting the mourner.

Following Burial

Mourning is an incremental process and this is acknowledged by the way that Jewish tradition has framed its customs and traditions around mourning. The following guide will give specific time increments starting with the first week after burial to help aid a mourner in understanding how Jews mourn.

Shiva

The following section includes a number of rituals, some of which are more common in Reform communities than others. As with anything surrounding death, we invite you to do what is meaningful to you and your family to help you in your time of grief.

After the burial, many may choose to wash their hands either before leaving the cemetery or upon arriving home. This marks the transition between being an onen (see above) and becoming a formal mourner called an avel. Some observe the custom of having a basin of water outside of the shiva house to facilitate this.

After arriving home memorial candles are lit. Mourners may sit on low stools to signal a lack of concern for personal comfort and appearance. In addition, mourners may choose to wear slippers, avoid wearing leather, and will remove all but the plainest, simplest jewelry. Many mourners may also choose to cover their mirrors, symbolizing a need to focus wholly on their grief rather than superficial things like their appearance.

The traditional first meal following the funeral is called the seudat havra-ah, or the meal of recovery or condolence. Mourners may choose to eat this meal in private. Often mourners will choose to eat foods at this meal that are round (bagels, eggs, or lentils) symbolizing the cycle of life.

Although some mourners will sit for fewer days, traditionally, the period known as shiva lasts seven days and is modeled after the mourning practice of Jacob’s sons after his death (Gen. 50:10). However, what many don’t realize is that these seven days usually amount to less, as the day of the burial counts as day one, mourning is suspended on Shabbat, and the final day ends an hour or two after daybreak. In addition to the above activities, it is customary for mourners to refrain from work during whatever days they are sitting shiva. For as many days as mourners sit, friends and family fill the mourner’s house to provide condolence, support, and meals. At least once a day, TNT clergy or a member of the community will be available to conduct a shiva minyan. This short service, which must have ten adult Jews present, allows the mourner a chance to reflect on their loved one and culminates in the recitation of the Kaddish by the mourners. TNT will ensure that there are enough people and prayer books at the minyan.

Please let the TNT clergy know how many days of shiva you will observe and whether/when you would like to have shiva minyanim. You can call us at 973-338-1500 or email us at rabbi@nertamid.org.

Also, even if you are not sitting shiva, please let us know about any deaths in your family. We can read the name of a loved one at services as well as send out a TNT mourns email in memory of close family members.

During Shabbat, mourners are encouraged to participate in Shabbat services. For major holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, mourning is cancelled after the holiday passes. When the burial has taken place during the intermediary days of Passover and Sukkot, shiva begins after the festival. In all of these cases, please consult with TNT clergy for more details.

Visitors to a shiva home should be mindful to adjust the length of their visits to the needs of the mourner. It is important to note that the mourner need not entertain their guests. Nechum avelim or comforting the bereaved is a mitzvah, a commandment, and thus no thanks are due. For this reason, one should not be shy to visit a shiva house even if he or she did not receive a death announcement. There is no need to ring the bell before entering if the door is unlocked. Additionally, there is no need to entertain or “cheer up” the mourner. A friend’s presence is enough. When you arrive enter quietly, avoid being too loud or rushing up to a mourner, and follow the mourners cues as to what kind of conversation if any he or she wants to pursue.

Also, it is not necessary for the mourner to serve of food and drink at shiva houses. We encourage friends to bring food for the mourners themselves. The TNT's Chesed committee will make every effort to provide a meal for mourners either during or after the shiva.

Sheloshim

It is taught that the Jewish people mourned for Moses for 30 days after his death (34:8). Shloshim is a transition period after the first seven days of mourning have ended. For 30 days after burial, those who are in shloshim, which means 30, begin to return to their normal lives. This is traditionally the time when people return to work and continue their routine but refrain from overtly festive and social activities. Traditionally, it is customary for men at this time to remain unshaven as a sign of their continued mourning, and for men and women to refrain from getting haircuts. All mourners continue to say Kaddish daily throughout this time. The 30th day concludes mourning for all mourners except for children mourning the loss of a parent. We will read your loved one’s name through this period on Shabbat. TNT clergy can provide more information about the spiritual practices associated with these times

Shanah

Shanah literally means year. Traditionally, children of the deceased continue to recite Kaddish for their parents for a full 11 months after a parent’s death. Like shloshim, it is traditional for those reciting Kaddish to refrain from festive activities during this period as well. TNT clergy will provide more information associated with the spiritual practices about these times

Yizkor

Following burial, and four times a year, at Passover, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, it is traditional for a congregation to have a formal memorial service for those who have died. This service called the yizkor service, meaning memorial. TNT conducts these services. You may find it comforting to join the community remembering loved ones, so we invite your participation at these services. 

The Unveiling

Ever since Jacob marked Rachel’s grave with a pillar (Gen. 35:20), Jews have observed the custom of marking graves. Gravestones often include the Hebrew and English names of the deceased as well as the dates of birth and death. If you are not sure of the Hebrew spelling of the name, you can send a copy of the engraver’s stencil to TNT clergy at the synagogue for verification. The monument company will provide you with a copy of the stencil. Your funeral home can provide you with a list of reputable monument companies in the area.

After the stone is carved and anytime between the end of shloshim (30 days) and the one year anniversary of the death, it is customary to have an unveiling of the stone or monument. This ceremony traditionally does not need a rabbi and includes the reading of psalms as well as the recitation of Kaddish or El Malei Rachamim. Our clergy recommend that family members consider writing a letter to their deceased loved one and reading it at the unveiling.

Yahrzeit

Each year on the Shabbat closest to the anniversary of a loved one’s death, it is customary to come to services and recite Kaddish for them. A few weeks before a loved one’s Yahrzeit, TNT sends letters to those mourners to remind them. If you did not receive a letter ahead of time please let us know so we can ensure your loved one is on the Kaddish list. Traditionally, one lights a 24-hour candle in memory of the deceased. It is also customary to make charitable contributions at this time.

Mourning For Members Of Other Religious Backgrounds

We know that there are many Jews whose family of origin is not Jewish or who have spouses or close family from other religious backgrounds. As in all other cases, the TNT community is available for help and support at a time of loss. If you choose, names of non-Jewish loved ones can be added to the Kaddish list.

Memorial Plaques

Donate a Memorial Plaque in memory of your loved one. Memorial Walls provide a special place to honor those who have touched our lives. Memorializing the names of loved ones expresses gratitude for the gift of their precious lives, and the hope that their spirits will continue to inspire us. Members can add a plaque with the name of a loved one to the beautiful Memorial Walls located in our Sanctuary. In Jewish tradition, we mark the memories of loved ones by kindling a flame next to each plaque on Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur Day, and on the Yahrzeit (annual anniversary of their death). Your loved one’s name will also be included automatically every year in the Yom Kippur Book of Remembrance. If you have any questions, please contact Laurie Schifano at LSchifano@nertamid.org or 973-388-1500. The cost is $360 per plaque.

Divorce

It is said in our tradition that when a couple gets divorced even the altar in the great Temple in Jerusalem sheds tears (Gittin 90b). If you are dealing with divorce the clergy at TNT are here to comfort and support you.

In addition to the emotional needs both members of a couple may have, there is one major ritual associated with divorce: the giving of a get.

According to tradition, in order for a divorce to be valid in the eyes of Jewish law, the husband must give the wife a document that spells out the divorce, called a get. This document is usually written by a scribe (sofer) and must be given and signed in front of a panel or rabbis (beit din). The TNT clergy can to help you with these logistics.

View a copy of a traditional get

Weddings

It is said in our tradition that since the creation of the world, God has been busy making successful romantic matches. In other words, when one meets the love of their life and marries them, it is a holy and godly experience. However with so many rituals and traditions, it is easy to get lost in the details of planning a Jewish wedding. This section is meant to help.

Whether you are looking for an officiant, planning an Aufruf, or designing a ceremony, there is information here for everyone.

Finding An Officiant

At TNT we see wedding officiation as the first step toward building a relationship with you and your new family. While the process differs depending on which clergy you choose, all of us are committed to meeting multiple times with the couple in order to fulfill three goals: to get to know you as individuals and as a couple, to plan the ceremony together, and to have important conversations about your relationship (your communication, religious outlook, dreams for the future) which will help you thrive as a couple.

All TNT clergy share a commitment to the ideal that a Jewish wedding is designed to establish a Jewish home with Judaism at its core. We also understand that many families choose to establish a Jewish home even if one member of the family is of another faith background. Therefore, while we cannot co-officiate with a clergy member of another faith, we are honored to marry an interfaith couple in a Jewish ceremony if they feel they fit these criteria.

We acknowledge the sanctity of Shabbat, and understand that for some, that commitment makes it hard to get married on Saturday evenings during the summer. Therefore we are open to officiating weddings during the spring and summer months after 6 PM.

All TNT clergy also share a commitment to the equality of LGBT couples and are delighted to perform ceremonies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples.

Aufruf

The weeks directly before a wedding can be especially stressful. There is a Jewish ritual that provides a bit of holiness to these busy days. On a Shabbat, anytime before the wedding date, the couple is called up to the Torah to bless it. Afterwards, one of our clergy will give them a special blessing in honor of their upcoming wedding. This ritual is called an Aufruf which comes from the Yiddish, meaning “calling up.” While it is customary to perform an Aufruf during the reading of the Torah, our clergy are happy to perform this ritual on a Friday night in front of the ark.

Ceremony

Finding one’s beloved and choosing to marry is a truly joyous thing. Perhaps the great rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov said it best: “From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single, brighter light goes forth from their united being.”

We know that there are many questions surrounding Jewish weddings. We hope this page will provide you with many answers. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have other questions.

Before the Ceremony

There are a number of traditions many couples choose to observe in the hour before the wedding. Below is a guide to a few (Same-sex couples may choose to modify the traditions to fit their needs – TNT clergy have creative ideas to help):

B’deken:The bride is seated with her closest family and friends around her. People pass in front of her and offer her private wishes and she blesses them in return. If one chooses to do this ritual, it often means the cocktail hour is before the ceremony.

Tisch:This ritual happens concurrent to the b’deken. The groom is gathered around a table with whoever wants to join. There is singing, eating, toasting, and joking. Often the groom tries to give a speech. Don’t let him finish!

Note: Although traditionally these two are separate rituals for the bride and groom, couples can mix and match having a joint tisch or b’deken or concurrent bride and groom tisches.

Eventually, those at the the tisch will dance the groom into the room of the bride. He, along with his father and his future father in law, will bless the bride with the words:

Our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of ten thousands

May God, bless you and keep you

May God cause God’s face to shine upon you and give you grace

May God smile upon you and grant you a life of peace.

He may then put her veil on her. This act has biblical origins. It is the groom’s way to assure he is marrying the correct bride. In the Bible, Jacob did not do this and accidentally married Leah rather than Rachel.

Usually at an egalitarian wedding, the ketubah is signed here (it can be signed at the groom’s Tisch in more traditional ceremonies). A ketubah is a binding legal contract that spells out the terms and ideals of a couple’s upcoming marriage. A couple can choose to either have a traditional text or a liberal one. Liberal texts spell out a couple’s spiritual and emotional commitment to one another. Jewish law requires that the ketubah is signed by two Jewish witnesses unrelated to the bride or groom.

There are many Jewish rituals that appear as part of a Jewish wedding. Here are a few essential ones:

Chuppah, Wedding Canopy

The Hebrew word chuppah means “that which covers, floats above, or protects.” It is a wedding canopy and is a symbol of a couple’s future home, open on all sides to friends and family. Often the top of chuppah will be constructed out of a tallit (prayer shawl) that is important to the family.

Circling

In traditional Jewish weddings, the bride circles the groom seven times before they enter the chuppah together. In Judaism, seven is the number of days creation and completion and the circling symbolizes the world the couple will build together. Many couples will each circle the other three times, followed by one circle together. The double circling demonstrates independent yet complementary orbits.

Birkat Erusin, Blessings of Betrothal

These two blessings are the first official liturgy in a wedding celebration. They praise God as the creator of wine and then for the sacred rite of marriage. They also mark the betrothal of the couple as they drink from one cup of wine. 2,000 years ago, the act of getting engaged and the act of getting married were separated by about a year. Today they are collapsed into one ceremony. These two blessing provide the framework for the ring ceremony which will be the act that makes the couple engaged.

Kiddushin, Sanctification

In this second part of the erusin ritual, the exchange of rings marks the moment of Jewish marriage, when the couple are literally “set apart” for each other. Rings are traditionally wholly round with no stones or etching. The couple recites to one another the words, “You are hereby sanctified to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” After saying these words and exchanging rings, the couple is engaged.

Sheva Brachot, Seven Blessings

The second part of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is the nissuin (“nuptials”), which begins with the Sheva B’rachot (“Seven Blessings”), the heart of a Jewish wedding ceremony. Here the couple celebrates the joy, love, friendship, and community that contributes to the creation of their new life together. The section is also accompanied by a second cup of wine.

Breaking of the Glass

There are many interpretations of this act, from remembering the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, to tempering our joy with the reality of life’s brokenness. More than anything, the ritual serves as an exclamation point, a release after the heightened emotion of the wedding ceremony

Reading of the Ketubah

A ketubah is a binding legal contract that spells out the terms and ideals of a couple upcoming marriage. We have written more information about the ketubah above. We reprise the text here so that the officiant can read the promises that the couple has agreed upon in front of their family and friends.

After the Ceremony

Yichud

After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds spend their first moments as a married couple in a private space. It is a time to exhale, embrace, and let what has happened sink in. It is an island of privacy and peace, a respite before the public celebration begins.

Dancing

Throughout the generations, festive dancing has become a centerpiece of Jewish weddings. Known sometimes as the Hora, this circular dance involves the whole community. The bride and groom dance in the center and as people dance around them, they pull different groups in. It is also customary to lift them up on a chair.

Watch an example.

LGBTQ Transitions

At Temple Ner Tamid we recognize the importance of marking personal rites of passage. Whether coming into your full realization of your sexual identity, gender identity, or both we want to be here for you along the way. Please be in contact with us to have a confidential conversation about what you would like for this new stage of your life. Whether marking the occasion with a trip to the Mikveh, a re-naming ceremony, or a blessing before the ark, we want to make this new moment for you holy. 

Sat, February 22 2020 27 Shevat 5780