When a death occurs the family and friends of the deceased are often expected to provide answers to questions concerning the funeral and associated arrangements for their loved one. However, this comes at a time when they may be least able to respond.
This guidance is for all Menorah members and their relatives in the hope that it will assist in navigating a route through what may be unfamiliar procedures.
Role of Menorah Synagogue
Guidance on funeral and bereavement is available from the Rabbi and staff in Menorah’s office. We also have senior experienced members of the community who are willing and able to offer support and guidance at this difficult time.
At Menorah, as with other Jewish communities, at time of death there is an urgency to move quickly with the funeral arrangements because of the custom of arranging the funeral soon after death occurs. Whilst Menorah will try to comply with a family’s wishes, this may not be as speedy as the family may wish for a number of administrative reasons which are explained below.
We have written this guide as a series of questions and answers. We recognise that it isn’t possible to be as comprehensive as one might wish, so please feel free to contact us should you find there are matters not covered satisfactorily in this guide.
Whom should I tell when a death occurs?
The bereaved family or friend should notify the synagogue office. If calling outside of office hours, you will be directed to a cemetery committee member who will advise on the appropriate procedure.
Burial or Cremation?
Burial is the traditional Jewish funeral. As a Reform community, however, Menorah will provide cremation if the family so wish. It is very helpful for families to confirm their wishes in advance to clarify and help us make the funeral arrangements.
What is the Death Certificate? How do I obtain a certificate of death and what is the certification procedure?
After death occurs, the attending doctor will seek to issue a medical certificate of death, if death was in a hospital setting. If someone dies at home or in a care home, the registered GP will be asked to sign the Death Certificate. Unfortunately, this may not always happen immediately as it may be dependent on the location and circumstances of the death.
Only one doctor is needed to sign the Death Certificate. However, two doctors will be needed to sign the extra form if a cremation is required.
In the event of a sudden or unexplained death, the coroner’s office will be involved and only they, when satisfied, can issue a death certificate. (See below for more on the role of the coroner.)
If a coroner is involved, their statutory duty follows a process of inquiry and investigation. When this happens, neither the bereaved nor the synagogue can demand that these processes be speeded up to ensure burial occurs quickly. Where delay occurs this can be most unsatisfactory for the bereaved who may wish burial to take place quickly and in accordance with Jewish custom.
However, most coroners are sympathetic to Jewish tradition and do all they can to help within their remit.
After the medical certificate of death has been obtained you should register the death within five days of the certificate being issued.
How and why do we need to register the Death?
The next of kin, (near relative or even a close friend) is required to make an appointment to register the death at the Registrar’s office. This appointment is with the Birth, Marriages, and Death Registrar responsible for the locality in which the death occurred. Their office is usually managed by the local authority (Council) and their hours of opening will vary between one local authority area and another.
When attending the Registrar’s office, the relative will present the Death Certificate to the Registrar. The Registrar will formally record the death and issue their Green Certificate for Cremation or Burial, commonly called the ‘green form’. Without the green form, the funeral arrangements through Menorah and its undertakers cannot be made.
Please note that the Registrar will ask further questions about the deceased such as their age, place of birth and occupation. The person registering the death should have this information available.
The Registrar will also provide the applicant with their own copy of a Death Certificate. It is worth asking for a number of certified copies of the Death Certificate as there will be a need to provide a copy of the certificate to any organisation requiring confirmation of death. These certified copies have to be paid for.
Having obtained the green form, how does one go about organising the funeral?
Our synagogue and its officers are there to assist and lead on these arrangements. Once we are informed and with the green form issued, we – the office or synagogue officer – will inform the undertakers of the death. Please be aware that neither the synagogue nor its undertakers can make arrangements or confirm the funeral time and date until the family or person acting for the family has passed the green form to the undertaker. The green form enables the body of the deceased to be released from hospital (or elsewhere) to the undertakers for burial or cremation.
After the green form has been passed to the undertakers what then happens?
With the green form, the undertakers collect the body of the deceased and bring it to their establishment for burial preparation (if so wished) by our own burial society, the Chevra Kadisha.
The undertakers will liaise with the local authority, who manage our burial grounds at Mill Lane (or Southern Cemetery), to finalise the date and time for the funeral or cremation. This will then be confirmed to the synagogue office and passed on to the bereaved.
Can the family specify when and how the funeral takes place?
In general, Menorah tries to accommodate the wishes of the bereaved. However, instances do sometimes arise when we are not able to arrange the funeral or cremation for the time when the family wish it to take place…
Why might a family not have its wishes met?
By way of example only, in winter months more deaths occur. This means that cemeteries, often with their limited number of burial appointments each day, may be unable to respond as quickly as we might wish.
Our cemeteries are run and managed by the local authority, so it may be difficult for them to follow the Jewish (orthodox) custom of burial before sunset the same day. Council personnel need time to excavate the land which, in spite of mechanisation, takes time to complete. Furthermore, health and safety requirements mean that cemetery staff are not allowed to work after daylight hours, which in winter months can be as early as 3pm. Additionally, bad weather or public holidays can delay burial preparation.
What happens where the death occurs on a Shabbat?
Where a death occurs on a Shabbat, and even where death certification and registration may be processed by the Registrar on a Sunday, the local authority may not be able to prepare the grave for a Sunday morning interment. Sometimes this is possible and our undertakers and council will work hard to meet our requests, but this isn’t always possible.
Sometimes the Coroner is involved when a death occurs. Why is this and what is their role?
Coroners are state-appointed judicial office holders who act independently. They have qualifications and substantial experience as lawyer, medical doctor and sometimes both.
The Coroner is required to determine who died, where they died and the cause of death. It is the determination of cause of death which may delay a prompt interment. Again by way of example, if someone dies and they had no previous related illness or condition and has not seen a doctor for some time, the coroner may delay issue of the Death Certificate until they are certain of the cause of death.
When is a coroner’s post mortem held?
If the Coroner is unable to establish the cause of death, they may call for a medical post mortem examination. This can take up to a week or more and cannot be hurried, even for religious reasons.
Where this occurs it is sometimes possible to have an MRI scan in lieu of a post mortem. When requested and agreed by the coroner, the cost has to be met by the deceased’s family and will not be met by Menorah’s burial scheme. (The MRI procedure carries a significant extra cost). The deceased’s next of kin may request an MRI scan be carried out instead of a post-mortem, but the coroner may refuse it and insist on a post mortem.
If the Coroner is involved, when does burial or cremation occur?
The burial or cremation can occur only after the coroner has agreed to it happening and when the medical certificate of death has been issued. Only then can the green form procedure begin and the burial or cremation arrangements go forward.
What role does Menorah have in organising the funeral arrangements?
Menorah and the Rabbi will assist and advise. The synagogue has the services of an excellent firm of undertakers who have many years’ experience in handling Jewish burials and cremations. They and the synagogue will work to ensure the arrangements are handled in a sympathetic manner and, where possible, according to the wishes of the bereaved family.
Are there requirements concerning the Hebrew naming of the deceased for the funeral arrangements?
When the funeral arrangements are being made, the family will be asked for the Hebrew name of the deceased.
It is helpful if members notify the office of their Hebrew name and their wishes as to whether they want to be buried or cremated. This information when given to the office should also be given to their close family members. Where this isn’t the case, the Rabbi or an officer of the synagogue will discuss with the family how the deceased’s funeral is to be handled.
If a person’s Hebrew name is not known it can often be found on their Ketubah, the Jewish marriage certificate.
Can Menorah carry out the funeral where family members require an orthodox Jewish ceremony?
Menorah Synagogue cannot arrange funerals at Jewish cemeteries outside its jurisdiction.
What are the Jewish procedures relating to burial?
Sometimes situations arise where the deceased, having been a member of Menorah, has requested that Reform customs be followed. This may lead to a difference in approach with the surviving family members at a time when those involved may not be able to take the wider view of how best the matter is to be handled. Discussion between the family and Synagogue will, we hope, resolve this in a sensitive and compassionate manner.
Will the Menorah burial scheme pay for an orthodox funeral in an orthodox cemetery?
If the deceased is entitled to be buried in accordance with Orthodox rites, their family may choose to have the burial undertaken under Orthodox auspices. If this happens and the deceased has been a member of the Menorah burial scheme then the scheme will contribute towards the burial costs up to the figure accorded to all its members.
How are the burial plots managed at Menorah’s cemetery at Mill Lane, Cheadle?
The practice that Menorah has agreed is that every plot will allow two coffins to be buried in the same plot, referred to as double-digging. This accords with our synagogue’s wish to be approach burial in an ecological manner by conserving ground space.
Furthermore, it enables couples to be buried in the same plot with a joint headstone. In mentioning this it should be noted that at Mill Lane we do not reserve adjacent burial plots for the partner or other family members