Hineni Online Information about Jewish Funerals and Mourning Traditions

Jun 18, 2024 | 0 comments

Jewish funerals are different from the funerals of other faith traditions. In this Q&A with David Zinner, Chair of the Jewish Association for Death Education (JADE), he explains a new online tool to help people understand Jewish traditions around death, mourning and Jewish funerals.

What is Hineni and who created it?

The Hineni tool is designed to give succinct information about Jewish death practices. The word, Hineni, is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase used in the Torah, meaning “Here I am.” It was chosen to indicate this tool is here to give succinct, direct answers to everyone quickly and easily.

The information presented applies to all levels of Jewish observance and is intended for general user learning. This tool is not an official dictum as to the application of Jewish law (halacha) nor does it indicate what is allowed or not allowed. Rather, it is an educational tool intended to help people understand Jewish end-of-life practices. Information presented in this tool was gleaned from many sources, specifically including those from many Jewish denominations. 

The Hineni tool was developed by the Jewish Association for Death Education (JADE) staff as a part of ongoing community educational efforts to find the best ways to disseminate and share knowledge about Jewish end-of-life practices, rites, customs, and traditions.

Are there any statistics on the percentage of U.S. Jews who are unaware of Jewish funerals and mourning practices?

We are not aware of any formal statistics on this. But informally we hear from many funeral directors that a large percentage of Jewish customers are not familiar with traditional Jewish practices.

Who is Hineni designed for?

Hineni is intended to be used by four audiences:

  • Death professionals: those who work with members of the Jewish community when facing a death, such as funeral directors, cemetery workers, hospice personnel, Jewish clergy, chaplains, death doulas, and hospital personnel;
  • Families facing a death: those who need immediate information to make decisions about the care of a loved one after death;
  • Those doing advance planning: families who are making arrangements for a future death and who want to understand traditional Jewish practices;
  • Educators: those who teach Jewish practices in the community and who can use this tool as a teaching aid and as a resource for drashot for services, lectures, or classes, along with Chevrah Kadisha workers who want to expand their abilities to share these practices with their community.

What topics does Hineni address?

The Hineni tool presents topics along the continuum of events around the end of life.  Each topic area includes the following information:

  • A succinct definition of the topic area
  • Four perspectives through which to understand the topic (practical, textual, emotional, and spiritual) – each of which displays a small paragraph of information
  • A longer article for deeper understanding that includes significant detail about each topic
  • All transliterated Hebrew words are italicized and highlighted – when hovered over the definition of the word or phrase is displayed in a small popup window – when the mouse is moved off the text, the popup disappears
Jewish star on casket

Jewish star on casket

The following topics are included:

  • Jewish Death Practices – an overview, the big picture
  • Preplanning for Death – an overview of what’s involved in thinking ahead about death
  • Bikur Cholim – visiting those who are ill: comforting the sick and dying
  • Vidui – deathbed confession: who it’s for, what’s it about
  • Shmirah – comforting the soul between death and burial; how it’s done, who it’s for
  • Taharah – respectful preparation of the body for burial; what’s involved in this
  • Caskets and Garments – what is traditionally used for Jewish burial and why
  • Kriah – the tearing of garments as a sign of grief; how this is done today
  • Jewish Funeral – what is involved today
  • Jewish Mourning – big picture overview of Jewish mourning practices
  • Burial and Disposition – choices in today’s world and traditional Jewish practices
  • Jewish Cemetery – what makes a cemetery Jewish, why it matters
  • Afterlife in Judaism – traditional views of the afterlife and how this is reflected in our rituals
  • Chevrah Kadisha – what this organization is and how it is involved in Jewish death practices

What are some elements of Jewish funerals and death topics that would surprise people?

It is surprising that Jewish practices around death teach us how to live.

Jewish death rituals are based on two profound values – kindness and respect – and are imbued with beauty, dignity, humility, and loving kindness.  All of these teach us to treat the living with dignity, honor, and respect.

Is Jewish burial essentially green burial?

Jewish funerals casketIn today’s world, there are many approaches to disposition after death, including traditional Jewish burial.  The customary Jewish practices include many aspects of green burial, including no embalming, natural clothing, wooden caskets, and in-ground burial. However, many cemeteries require non-green aspects including concrete grave liners, that are not in accordance with natural practices.

What other things would you like people to know about Hineni?

It is intended to educate the large Jewish and non-Jewish population who do not understand the basics of Jewish end-of-life practices. It is free and available to everyone. It runs as a website, so it works on any device with a web browser.

This tool is accessible, easy to use, succinct in its presentation with access to deeper understandings, and includes audio reading of text, three sizes of text display, and light/dark display modes to present the information in the ways that users need it. It includes a simple help package and two ways to access the topic areas quickly.

The tool URL is: https://hineni.jadeinfo.org/

David Zinner holds or has held the following roles in Jewish death education and cemetery organizations:

  • Jewish Association for Death Education (JADE), Chair
  • Ben Zakkai Institute, Staff
  • Preservation and Rehabilitation Initiative for Neglected Cemetery Entities (PRINCE), Coordinator
  • Maryland State Advisory Council on Cemetery Operations, Consumer Representative
  • Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, Vice President
  • Columbia Jewish Congregation (CJC), Chevrah Kadisha Chair
  • Kavod v’Nichum & the Gamliel Institute, Founding and Past Executive Director

Additional posts about Jewish funerals and related traditions are available on The Family Plot Blog.

A Good Goodbye