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September 2, 2015 | 18th Elul 5775
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Shiva and Cemetery Protocol


Including discussion on

  • Handwashing

  1. Jan 2007 Digest 011
    [Re appropriateness of saying the blessing over washing one’s hands when leaving a cemetery] I have seen the b’rachah on a card at the hand washing set up at the cemetery.

  2. Jan 2007 Digest 012

    I've been looking at some sources, including Isaac Klein's Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, the halachic "bible" for the Conservative Movement, and none mentions a blessing, even in articles where other blessings are cited.

    Personally, "al netilat yadayim" doesn't feel quite right here. For me it somehow resonates with the idea of not saying a Sheheheyanu the first time we wear shoes or other garments of leather. If a blessing feels called-for, maybe it could be "mayan ha'hayyim," or "makor ha'hayyim."


  3. Jan 2007 Digest 012

    I would feel that, for a Reform Jew, it's appropriate to recite the blessing if/when it feels right. Are we commanded to wash our hands? I don't know where it says to do so (including before meals)…

    The introduction of new b’rachot is, as I understand it, taboo in Orthodoxy, and I would imagine that would apply to using an accepted b’rachah for a new purpose. But we are not bound by the Shulhan Aruch or by Rabbi [Isaac] Klein [author of Guide to Jewish Religious Practice], either for what we do or what we don't do.

    So you can wash as you wish as far as I'm concerned, if it feels right to you. But the minhag I grew up with was not one of washing hands at the cemetery, but of doing so before entering the house of mourning. I still frequently see a pitcher of water and a stack of paper towels on the door stoop when coming back to the house after the burial.


  4. Jan 2007 Digest 012

    In a traditional siddur you will find a special blessing for washing the hands after leaving the cemetery. The blessing is taken from the book of Isaiah and is quite different than the blessing said for the washing of hands before Shabbat dinner.

    The source for the ritual comes, I believe, from the Torah mitzvot that have to do with rituals after coming into contact with a corpse.

    I don't know if this practice of washing the hands after the burial service is observed by many Reform Jews, but if it is a ritual that gives comfort, then perhaps it should be considered.


  5. Jan 2007 Digest 012
    …My understanding of orthodoxy is that there is what might almost be described as a fear of incorrectly or inappropriately applying a b’rachah. I think it may have to do with the prohibition upon saying God's "name" when it is not necessary. And of course we do not automatically count the Shulchan Aruch…as binding except as a personal choice…

  6. Jan 2007 Digest 012

    According to Olitzky and Isaacs The Second How To Handbook for Jewish Living pg 80:

    "When washing one's hands...prior to entering the home of the bereaved, it is customary to recite these words:

    'You will swallow up death forever;
    And Adonai, God will wipe away tears from off all faces;
    And the reproach of Your people will You take
    away from off all the earth;
    For Adonai has said it. (Isaiah 25:8)'

    This reflects the ancient custom of ridding oneself of the impurities associated with death."



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