An Overview Guide to Handling Jewish Dead (2023)

This guide is intended for those professionals whose work includes the handling of dead bodies (in Hebrew mait for a man and maita for a women), to provide an understanding of Jewish customs and expectations when a Jewish person dies. This document has the following sections:

  • Overview of Jewish Customs
  • Requirements Asked of the Funeral Home
  • Questions to be Asked of the Family
  • Items to be Taken to the Cemetery for the Funeral Service
  • Recommended Burial Shroud Sources
  • Recommended Personal Protective Clothing

Overview of Jewish Customs

During a person's life, their body holds their soul. Thus the body is considered a holy vessel to Jews, and it is treated with utmost respect and dignity, both during life and after death. When a Jew dies, the body is prepared for burial through a specific procedure known as the Tahara that is performed by other Jews. This process includes washing the body physically, a ritual washing through the pouring of water over the body, the dressing of the body in tachrichim (burial garments) and the placing of the body into the casket.

(Video) Jewish Mourning Rituals: Caring for the Body

Because the Jewish tradition includes the concept of soul, the body of the deceased is not left alone from the time of death until burial. A "shomer" (Jewish person guarding the body) sits with the deceased and reads psalms.

Part of traditional Jewish practice is to avoid embalming and autopsies if possible. However, most Jews supportorgan donation is allowed. It is expected that if the body is cut open for either autopsy or organ donaton, that afterwards openings will be stitched tightly closed so no fluids can pass into or out of the body. Also blood and any other body parts should be saved and returned along with the body. The Tahara procedure is usually performed a few hours before burial.

Requirements Asked of the Funeral Home

A rabbi or Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial organization) representative should be contacted immediately upon the receipt of the body and arrangements made for the Chevra Kadisha to prepare the body for burial by performing a Tahara, a procedure that includes a physical washing of the body along with prayers and ritual washing. The Chevra Kadisha will provide much of what is needed for this process, however we need your help in the areas listed below.

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  • The body should be lying on his/her back with eyes closed on a table that tilts with the table tilted downward just slightly toward the feet. The body should be covered with a clean sheet. All catheters in the body should be removed before our arrival, clothing should be left on the body. If jewelry is not removed before the deceased reaches the funeral home, it should be removed prior to the Tahara and returned to the family of the deceased. The body should always tagged with full name when received in the funeral home, and this tag should not be removed.
  • The table on which the body is resting should be locked into position, both the tilt and the wheels.
  • The casket should be in the room on a separate table. The casket should be simple wood, not metal or other material. It should have holes cut into the bottom, and be free of fancy linings or other embellishments.
  • There should be a third empty table available in the room for spreading out shrouds and supplies, etc.
  • Please provide a Jewish tachrichim set for the appropriate gender of the deceased. (See the recommended burial shrouds below.)
  • Please provide jackets, aprons, or smocks for the Tahara team to wear (usually four to six people are needed). A supply of heavy-duty rubber or latex-free gloves (sizes XL and S) should be on hand. (See the recommended personal protective clothing below.)
  • There should be at least 6 clean, dry sheets available (white, rectangular, twin-size).
  • There should be plenty of clean cloth towels (at least 12) available and a roll of cotton batting or paper towels available as well.
  • A water source should be close at hand - a sink big enough to fill buckets in, wash hands, etc.
  • The room should have a working drain in the floor or near the end of the table on which the body is resting.
  • An appropriate container for bio-hazardous material should be available in the room.
  • There should be another trash can or laundry bin for used sheets and cloth towels.
  • Arrangements should be made to turn off any buzzers, phones, alarms, etc., that are in the room where the Tahara takes place.
  • Once the Tahara is completed, the casket with the body inside will need to rest in a different room from where the washing occurred [why?]. It should be a place safe for a candle to be lit, and have space for a person to sit near the coffin. Please make arrangements for family members or others to sit with the body until burial. This could easily be through the night or over a weekend. Some funeral homes provide low chairs specifically for this purpose.
  • At the gravesite, please ensure that there is a mound of dirt near the grave, and several shovels available. Part of the burial service includes family members shoveling dirt into the grave onto the casket. See Items to be Taken to the Cemetery for the Funeral Service below.
  • A qualified staff member should always be [not always needed] in the facility when a Tahara is being performed should any problems arise that need assistance.

Questions To Be Asked Of The Family

  • What is the full Hebrew name of the deceased?
  • What is the full English name of the deceased?
  • What should be done with the wedding band (if any), buried with the dead or given to the family? What about any other jewelry found on the body?
  • Does the family want to participate in Shmirah? (Sitting with the casket, reading psalms.)
  • Does the deceased have a prayer shawl (tallit)? Do the family members want him (or possibly her) buried in it?
  • Any special requests?

Items to be Taken to the Cemetery for the Funeral service

  • Sound system and stand for speaker
  • Podium for Rabbi
  • Podium for register book
  • Hand washing water and Laver [3 handled cup]
  • Clean towel
  • Umbrellas in case of rain [6]
  • Blankets for family members in case of cold [6]
  • Cold drinking water/cups if hot weather
  • Kria Ribbons for family members to tear/wear
  • Kaddish cards
  • Rabbi's card with pertinent information about the deceased
  • Maps from cemetery to house of Shiva if needed
  • Shiva prayer books to be returned to funeral home after Shiva

Tachrichim (Burial Garment) Sources

  • Burial garments and other supplies for a Jewish funeral can be ordered from the following sources. It is best to have a number of these on hand depending on the size of your community and the volume of Jewish funerals performed each year. We recommend ordering men's size large and women's size medium, linen is recommended. Each shroud comes in a box containing the following pieces (unless one-piece shrouds are ordered):
    • Head covering [for a man] or bonnet [for a woman]
    • Pants [michnasayim]
    • Shirt [K'tonet]
    • Kittel [robe with collar]
    • Avnet or Gartel, [a belt]
    • Apron [for a woman]
    • 2 bands to tie on legs
    • Sack for loose hair and other items
    • Sheet to go into the coffin

One-piece shrouds can be ordered from Arkwood Casket Co.

Arkwood Caskets

Paul Fienstein
P.O. Box 3383
Ashland, OR. 97520
888-482-7135

Bais Moed

Rabbi I. Shimon
1441 - 52nd Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11219
718-851-5114

(Video) What to expect at Jewish Funerals: Customs and Traditions

Rose Solomon Company

63 Flushing Ave,
Unit 330
Brooklyn, NY 11205-1005
718-855-1788

Personal Protective Clothing

The following is a list of disposable protective items:

  • Surgical gloves, various sizes
  • Surgical gowns, waterproof and disposable
  • Surgical shoe covers
  • Surgical head covering
  • Surgical face shields and face masks

Examples are the following available from allheart.com:

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  • Full sleeve gown (one size) (50) AH-D000260
  • Skid resistant booties (100 pr) AH-D000320 (one size up to men's size 10)
  • XL booties (100 pr) CM-35
  • Bonnets (nurses cap) (5 boxes of 100) CM37
  • Anti-fog surgical masks (50) GM-1834
  • Safety glasses (1) PM-5900
  • Small latex gloves (100) AH-D000290 SM
  • XL latex gloves (100) AH-D000290 XL

For information about supplies the Chevra Kadisha group will bring to the funeral home click here.

(Video) Jewish Mourning Rituals: An Overview

FAQs

Can a woman wear pants to a Jewish funeral? ›

The Funeral

Men should wear a suit and tie and women should wear a skirt or dress.

What to say when someone dies who is Jewish? ›

Often, when someone dies, the traditional Jewish response is “yehi zichra baruch,” which translates to “may her memory be a blessing” or “may her memory be for a blessing.”

Why do Jews have to be buried within 24 hours? ›

A traditional Jewish funeral occurs within 24 hours of the time of death as it is a sign of respect to the deceased. However, many modern funeral services will happen later so friends and family members can all attend. There is no public viewing of the body.

What happens to the body after death in Judaism? ›

Many Jews believe that after a person dies, his or her soul doesn't simply vanish. A part of that soul remains with the body, stuck in a kind of limbo until burial. It's the job of the shomer, or shomeret if it's a woman, to comfort the deceased's soul.

Why do Jews cover the mirrors when someone dies? ›

Covering Mirrors

Mirrors are also covered as a way to remind us the observation of shiva is not about ourselves but rather a time to concentrate on the deceased. The concept of vanity is shunned as this is considered a time of self-reflection, to concentrate on one's inner self and not outward appearances.

What color do Jews wear to funerals? ›

Appropriate Colors/Attire

As this is a time of mourning, bright or flashy attire should be avoided. Anything that you wear should be neat and tidy. Suits, dress shirts and slacks for men and dresses for women should be in the gray, black or brown family. Men should complete their suit with a tie.

What is the best condolence message? ›

My sincerest condolences for you at this time. You have my deepest sympathy and unwavering support. Wishing you peace, comfort, courage, and lots of love at this time of sorrow. My heart goes out to you at this difficult time.

How do Jews say rest in peace? ›

Judaism. The expression "rest in peace" is "not commonly used in Jewish contexts", though some commentators say that it is "consistent with Jewish practice". The traditional Hebrew expression עליו השלום, literally 'may peace be upon him', is sometimes rendered in English as 'may he rest in peace'.

Why do Jews not flower at cemetery? ›

Additionally, there was a time when flowers at such locations were considered to be the custom of faiths other than Judaism. In order to distinguish traditional Jewish practice, therefore, flowers as the main focus of either gifts to the bereaved family or graveside placements were discouraged.

Why do Jews not have an open casket? ›

In other cultures, viewing the body may be important–to give a sense of closure to mourners. In Jewish culture, public viewing of the dead person is too one-sided and seems like a violation of the dead person's modesty: we can look at the body but the person can't look back.

What do Jews leave on graves? ›

common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the grave of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting. Its origins are rooted in ancient times and throughout the centuries the tradition of leaving a visitation stone has become part of the act of remembrance.

Why do Jews cut their clothes when someone dies? ›

Kriah is the tradition of rending garments to represent the tear in your heart when losing a loved one. It is a way to show outwardly that you are in mourning. Originally, people tore their clothing to represent their loss, but today we sometimes use a black ribbon that is worn on the outside of your clothing.

Why do Jews sit with the body? ›

The Tradition of Shemira

Over the centuries, shemira has developed as a practice to pay respect to the dead, ensuring that they were not abandoned between their death and subsequent arrival at theirnew home in the ground. Leaving a body unattended is considered to be akin to saying that no one cares for the person.

Why do Jews bury the body quickly? ›

Core Beliefs Relating to Death

Similarly the Jewish custom of burying the dead very soon after death; this also relates to the body's decay and the risk it poses to survivors.

Why do Jews wash their hands after a funeral? ›

WHY DO WE WASH OUR HANDS AFTER THE FUNERAL AT THE CEMETERY AND LATER AT THE MOURNER'S HOUSE? This is a symbolic, ancient custom of purification, performed after contact with the dead.

Why do Jews not shave when someone dies? ›

Shloshim – thirty days

Men do not shave or get haircuts during this time. Since Judaism teaches that a deceased person can still benefit from the merit of mitzvot (commandments) performed in their memory, it is considered a special privilege to bring merit to the departed by learning Torah in their name.

Why do they cover the legs in a casket? ›

It is a common practice to cover the legs as there is swelling in the feet and shoes don't fit. As part of funeral care, the body is dressed and preserved, with the prime focus on the face. Post embalming, bodies are often placed without shoes; hence covering the legs is the way to offer a dignified funeral.

Do Jews accept flowers for funerals? ›

For example, in many traditions, it is customary to send flowers to a funeral home or directly to immediate family members of the deceased. In the Jewish tradition, though, that is generally discouraged—it's extremely rare that flowers would be sent to either the funeral home or the shiva home.

Do Jews allow flowers at funerals? ›

When it comes to a Jewish funeral, sending flowers is not an appropriate gesture of sympathy. Unlike funerals in Christian faiths, flowers are not a part of Jewish funeral tradition. Jewish families typically won't adorn the caskets or gravesites of their loved ones with flowers.

Why do Jews sit shiva? ›

Shiva is derived from the word sheva, which means seven, signifying the seven days of mourning. It is a time referred to as – “sitting shiva” and its primary purpose is to provide a time for spiritual and emotional healing, where mourners join together. A person sits shiva for a parent, spouse, sibling or child.

What is the most comforting thing to say at a funeral? ›

“I'm so sorry about your loss. [The deceased] was a good person and they'll be very missed.” “Please accept my deepest condolences for your loss.” “[The deceased] was a wonderful person and I'll miss them very much.”

What can I say instead of sorry for sympathy? ›

Here are some ideas of things to say to family members instead of "I'm sorry for your loss":
  • "I love you."
  • "I'm glad we have each other for support."
  • "You are important to me."
  • "I can't imagine going through this without you."
  • "I'm proud of you."
5 days ago

What does 40 days mean after death? ›

The observation of the 40th day after death occurs in Islam and the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The ritual represents spiritual intercession on the part of the dead, who are believed to collectively await the Day of Judgment.

What are the 4 tasks of mourning? ›

Wordens Tasks of Mourning
  • Task I: To accept the reality of the loss.
  • Task II: To process the pain of grief.
  • Task III: To adjust to a world without the deceased.
  • Task IV: To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

What is the 40 day period after death? ›

The 40th Day after death is a traditional memorial service, family gathering, ceremonies and rituals in memory of the departed on the 40th day after his/her death. The 40th Day concludes the 40-day memorial period and has a major significance in traditions of Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Why we should not say RIP? ›

So there is no rest, hence, the concept of RIP is not valid in Hinduism. Hinduism believes in Moksha, that is liberation, liberation from the endless cycles of birth and death. That's why instead of using RIP we should say, “Om Shanti” or “Aatma Ko Sadgati Prapt Ho” (May the Soul attain Moksha), or simply "Om Sadgati".

How long do Jews take to mourn? ›

Shiva, meaning “seven” in Hebrew, is the week of mourning following the funeral. Traditionally shiva is observed for seven days, with a pause for Shabbat (the Sabbath, from sundown Friday until nightfall Saturday). Some mourners choose to observe shiva for a shorter number of days.

What do Jews say when someone sneezes? ›

Also sometimes "tsu gezunt". Hebrew equivalent of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. Used when someone is sick or injured.

Do Jews cover mirrors after death? ›

Mirrors. Individuals who are in mourning, or in a shiva home, are required to cover mirrors from the time an individual dies until the end of shiva. There are several reasons Judaism requires this. The first reason may stem from the idea that man was created in the image of God.

Why are Jews buried in a wooden box? ›

Furthermore, one of the tenets of the Jewish faith is the belief that we are created from dust and to dust we are destined to return. For these reasons, the custom, within Judaism, is for burial to be in a simple pine box.

Do Jews get cremated? ›

For thousands of years, Jewish law has held that burial in the ground was the only acceptable option for the Jewish faith. And yet today, despite tradition and continued opposition from some in the Jewish community, many Jews are choosing cremation instead of – or as part of – traditional burial.

Why do Jews put rocks on headstones? ›

Jews believed that placing the stones on a grave would keep the soul down in this world. Some people find comfort in this. Another interpretation suggests that the stones will keep demons and golems from getting into the graves. Flowers, though beautiful, will eventually die.

What can you not do at a cemetery? ›

Things not to do in a cemetery
  • Don't walk on top of graves.
  • Don't sit or lean on headstones and other memorials.
  • Don't leave food on the headstones.
  • Don't make out.
  • Don't take photos without permission.
  • Don't blow horn in the cemetery.

What does putting a rock on a grave mean? ›

These stones remind them that someone they care for was visited, mourned for, respected, supported and honored by the presence of others who've visited their memorial. The Hebrew word for pebble is also a word that means “bond.” By placing a stone on the headstone, it bonds the deceased with the visitors.

Do you wear black to a shiva? ›

You don't have to wear black to a shiva house, but your attire should always be respectful. Keep your visit short—It's not how long you stay, but that you pay the visit.

What are the five stages of mourning in Judaism? ›

The five stages are: 1) Aninut, pre-burial mourning. 2-3) Shivah, a seven-day period following the burial; within the Shivah, the first three days are characterized by a more intense degree of mourning. 4) Shloshim, the 30-day mourning period. 5) The First Year (observed only by the children of the deceased).

Why can't Jews touch elevators? ›

From sundown on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday, many observant Jews refrain from certain activities, including pushing elevator buttons, following a restriction that comes from a prohibition against creating sparks and fires.

Why do Jews shake back and forth? ›

According to the mystical text Zohar, a person's soul emanates from divine light. Every time a Jew engages with the Torah, the light of his or her soul ignites, which is why he or she moves like the flame of a candle.

Why do Jews curl their sides? ›

The reason for Ultra-Orthodox males' hair and curl rules is the following: the original basis is a Biblical scripture which states that a man should not "round the corner of his head." Authoritative talmudic scholars have determined that the meaning of this scripture is that there should be a hair cutting restriction.

Why do they bury bodies 6 feet under? ›

Medical schools in the early 1800s bought cadavers for anatomical study and dissection, and some people supplied the demand by digging up fresh corpses. Gravesites reaching six feet helped prevent farmers from accidentally plowing up bodies.

Is it appropriate for a woman to wear pants to a funeral? ›

Women should avoid wearing overly casual or festive clothing. Appropriate outfits for women to wear to a funeral include a skirt suit or pantsuit; a skirt of appropriate length (not a mini skirt) or pants (not jeans) and a top with sleeves, a blouse, or a sweater; flats or pumps (not sneakers).

Is it inappropriate to wear pants to a funeral? ›

The appropriate attire for a funeral or memorial service is simple: dress to show respect for the person whose life you are remembering. This means selecting clothes that are more conservative, not flashy or brightly colored. Darker dresses, suits, pants, jackets and sweaters are appropriate.

What is the proper attire for a woman to wear to a funeral? ›

Most common funeral etiquette practices for women to wear include a dark or black skirt suit or pantsuit; a skirt of appropriate length or pants and a top with sleeves, a blouse, or a sweater; flats or pumps. In some cultures, and religions women wear hats to funerals.

Is it OK to wear jeans to a memorial service? ›

The most common answer is that jeans aren't considered appropriate funeral etiquette unless requested by the family. However, dark, unembellished jeans paired with a shirt, tie, and blazer for men or a blouse and a blazer for women can be appropriate for a casual service.

Can you wear purple to a funeral? ›

If you can't wear black, some staple colors to wear at a funeral are dark and muted tones such as navy blue, charcoal, deep greys, maroons, deep purple, etc.

Can I wear green to a funeral? ›

So anything from eggplant to navy, forest green, chocolate or deep burgundy are acceptable. We, too, have been to funerals where guests wore bright or pastel colors, and no one made a fuss.

What color is forbidden at funerals? ›

Red. Red has different meanings, according to different cultures. In China, red symbolizes happiness and is a color that's strictly forbidden at funerals. In South Africa, red is has been adopted as a color of mourning, representing the bloodshed suffered during the Apartheid era.

What colors are not allowed at a funeral? ›

Wearing dark grey or deep blue is just as appropriate as black, while brown and lighter greys are suitable for the vast majority of funeral services. However, unless specifically requested by the deceased or their family, you should avoid any bright colors such as yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds.

Can you have bare legs at a funeral? ›

Bold patterns are not appropriate for funerals and should be avoided. Keep skirts and dresses to the knee or below and avoid bare legs in general to keep your look formal. Avoid anything sparkly, fringed or sequined – this isn't a party.

How should you wear your hair to a funeral? ›

Hair should be simple. Those with shorter hair should go for a clean look. Those with longer hair can try out a modest updo or a half-up, half-down hairstyle. Like with all aspects of your outfit, your hair should be respectful and not distracting from the memorial event.

What shoes should a woman wear to a funeral? ›

Many styles of women's shoes feature a peep-toe or open toed design. These shoes are not usually considered appropriate for a funeral service, even during the summer months. Opt for a conservative, closed-toed pair of heels or flats. The same rule applies for both men's and women's sandals.

Can you wear black jeans to a funeral? ›

Bottom line: jeans are not appropriate for a funeral. Unless the family requests them, you should avoid wearing denim to a funeral. However, if it's a casual, outdoor service, you can consider a dark (almost black denim) paired with a button-down shirt and blazer.

What should you not say at a memorial service? ›

The worst things to say at a funeral

Don't tell friends or family members who are grieving that their loved one has gone to a better place. Never call the death a blessing or speculate that it was that person's time. Avoid saying anything that suggests that the loss of the loved one is a positive thing.

What color should you not wear on Memorial Day? ›

An old fashion rule states that you are not supposed to wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Here in New Orleans, it is already getting hot outside and right now it would be a perfect time for white shirts, pants or other white accessories.

Can you wear white to a funeral? ›

As a neutral color, white should not be considered inappropriate at most North American funerals. Though you should ask the family hosting the service when in doubt, plain, neutral colors are generally acceptable for memorials. Wearing white in conjunction with other dark tones is absolutely appropriate.

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