After conducting a funeral, Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said, he is often confronted by individuals asking about mourning rituals, dealing with grief, and how to act around the bereaved.
In response, Rosenberg, religious leader of Congregation Beth-El in Edison, has written Handbook for the Jewish Mourner. In additional to traditional prayers, poems, and meditations, the book offers practical advice on etiquette and comforting the bereaved.
“I prepared it so I can give it out after a funeral,” said Rosenberg. “It goes through the basic laws of mourning and explains customs and ceremonies. It also has various readings about giving comfort as well as various essays I wrote. It wasn’t done for retail purposes, but as a help and aid for those in need of guidance during their bereavement.”
Rosenberg said one of the most important aspects of the self-published book is the section on shiva, which is often misunderstood.
“When you go back to a shiva house, it is not a party,” said the rabbi. “People have a tendency to joke around and treat it like an occasion for happy festivities when it’s really a time for reflection.”
In addition, many people will say well-meaning, but ill-advised, things to mourners. On his list of no-nos: “It was a blessing,” if the deceased suffered from a long illness, or saying that the deceased “lived a long life.”
“When you lose a loved one there’s no such thing as age and being comforted because of the length of a person’s life; that’s not how they look at it,” said Rosenberg. “When you say, ‘It was a blessing’ because someone was ill, it actually irritates the mourner.”
Rosenberg advises against telling a mourner “that their loved one wouldn’t want you to cry.”
“Some people need to cry and some people need to talk about their loved ones quite a long time,” he explained. “Some people don’t cry and talk about heir loved ones. They keep it in. But that doesn’t mean that they loved their loved one any more or less. They are just handling it differently.”
Another area fraught with potential missteps is explaining death to children, to which another section of the book is devoted.
“Many Jews do not know we believe in heaven and hell and children should know death is not the end of us,” said Rosenberg. He urges people, in talking to children, not to use euphemisms such as “Your parent has gone on a long trip” or has “gone to sleep forever.”
The handbook is available by calling Beth-El at 732-985-7272 or e-mailing Rosenberg at email@example.com.