Jewish Funeral Traditions: 15 Important Things You Need To Know (2022)

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When it comes to Jewish funeral traditions, there are quite a few things you need to understand.

Whether you’re going to attend a Jewish funeral, or just curious about the topic, this guide will give you all the important traditions.

We discuss the funeral process and answer some of the most common questions about a Jewish funeral.

Later we talk about customs on burial, mourning, prayers, and provide some recommendations on funeral etiquette.

Jewish Funeral Service: Rituals & Customs

Judaism is basically comprised of three denominations, which in some instances have variations in their rituals and customs.

For the most part, we include the views that are shared by all denominations. For instance, all Jews believe they will attain holiness if they follow the laws laid out in the old testament.

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The Role of the Chevra Kadisha

The Chevra kadisha is the Jewish organization that handles the funeral arrangements of the deceased.

Their role includes ensuring that the body is properly prep

Jewish Funeral Traditions: 15 Important Things You Need To Know (1)

ared according to Jewish law.

One important responsibility is washing and dressing the body and protecting it until the funeral takes place.

Orthodox Vs Reform Judaism Rituals

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Orthodox Jewish Men

The three denominations within Judaism are reform, conservative, and orthodox.

The differences largelydepend on the degree to which they observe traditional beliefs.

Reform Judaism

Reform is the most modern, free-thinking, and less observant of traditional Jewish law.

Orthodox Judamism

Orthodox have strict observance of Jewish law.

Conservative Judaism

Conservatives are somewhere between the other two.

The Usual Funeral Process

The Hebrew word for funeral is levaya, which means honoring the deceased by accompanying them to their grave.

The funeral will take place at a synagogue, funeral home, or the entire process mayhappen at the cemetery. The process can vary, but there are a few standard elements.

Time Between Death and Burial

As soon as possible after death, the Rabbi or funeral home should be contacted, so that the arrangements can begin. A speedy burial is extremely important.

It’s believed thatthis isone of the most important ways to honor the deceased.

Within 24-hours is preferred, if it’s possible.

They feel that it disrespects the dead to leave the body unburied.

Immediately after death a few rituals are performed, which will be discussed in more detail later.

(Video) Jewish Traditions Around Death

During the Funeral

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Jewish Funeral Prayers & Eulogies

The funeral usually begins with several readings. Afterward, the eulogies are read and then thememorial prayer islast.

At that time, the deceased is moved to the gravesite.

Funeral Prayers

One of the most popular memorial prayers asks God to grant perfect peace to the departed and to remember their good deeds.

Readings at the beginning of the funeral are frequently Psalms 23, 15, 24, 90, and 103. Eulogies are read by the rabbi as well as a few family members.

Dignity Memorial Jewish has many prayers for this occasion.

The Casket

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Jewish Casket

It is mandated by Jewish law that the casket must be a simple box, preferably made from pine with no metal.

Sometimes holes are cut at the bottom, in order to hasten the decomposition of the body.

Common questions about a Jewish Funeral

Below are answers to the most commonly asked questions.

How long does a Jewish Funeral last?

The time can vary depending on whether the deceased was a well-known person or not, the number of people who will speak, and the wishes of the family.

However it is rarely longer than one hour.

Is the Funeral in Hebrew?

A Jewish funeral is likely to be in both English and Hebrew. In some cases, there may be a book that translates the Hebrew to English. It depends on the denomination and the family’s wishes.

Can Jews be Cremated?

Whether cremation is allowed usually depends on the sect of Judaism observed.

Orthodox, does not allow cremation. They believe the body should be buried intact.

Reform Judaism has become open to the cremation process, and Rabbis are usually willing to officiate at a funeral or burial.

Although conservative denominations are still opposed to cremation, the Rabbi may still officiate atthe funeral for the ashes, but rarely at the burial.

Can they be Embalmed?

Unless required by law, embalming or cosmetic procedures are not allowed.

The same goes for autopsies, however if it is mandated by law, a rabbi may be present if possible.

Why do Jews cover mirrors when someone dies?

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Covering Mirrors After Death

This tradition is from very old customs and superstitions. There are many opinions about the significance of this action.

It is thought that the mourners should concentrate on God and on the soul of the departed instead of dwelling on their own vanity.

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Jewish Burial

After the conclusion of the funeral, the casket is carried by hand to the burial site if possible, usually by family and close friends.

Being a pallbearer is considered a great privilege.

Burial Time: What does Jewish Law state?

As mentioned, Jewish law mandates that the burial should take place within 24 hours after death. However, this is not always possible.

Funerals are prohibited on the Sabbath, therefore it’s allowable to wait until Sunday.

Other reasons for delay would be if close relatives must travel from abroad and it will take more than 24 hours.

Burial is alsonot allowed on some Jewish holidays.

Other Burial rules and customs

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Placing Stones on Headstones

Time of Death Rituals

After death, the entire body must be washed thoroughly. It is then submerged in water or it’s poured over the body, which is a ritual bath called “taharah”.

The deceased is then dressed in white burial shrouds.

However if the deceased was injured and there is blood on the clothing, then the washing is not completed.

Their belief is that a person’s blood is just as important as his life and should be buried with the body.

After Death Rituals

As soon as death occurs, someone must guard (A guard is called a Shomer) the body at all times until the funeral, frequently done by the Chevra kadisha.

In some denominations, the immediate family members tear their clothing to symbolize their loss.

Burial Rituals

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Family and Friends Escorting Casket

Those who will not attend the burial may escort the casket for a short distance, as it’s carried to the gravesite.

The pallbearers stop seven times on route to the burial site, symbolizing their reluctance to let go of their loved one.

If you are ever at a Jewish cemetery, you will likely notice stones that have been placed on the grave markers.

People have varying reason for thisritual. It tells someone visiting the gravethat other mournershave been there as well.

Others feel that it means they are never finished building a monument for the departed.

Burial Service

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Ripping of Clothing

At the gravesite, the mourners sitand the attendees stand around the grave. If the tearing of their clothing was not done before, the Rabbi sometimes does it for them at that time.

Prayers

Someone chants from Psalms while the casket is lowered into the grave. At that time the Rabbi recites, typically in Hebrew, “May he or she go to his or her resting place in peace.”

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The mourners then stand and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, which reaffirms their belief in God. As they pass, they fill the grave with dirt by passing a shovel to one another.

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Family Filling Grave

Burial Rituals

They must use the convex side of the shovel. The shovel cannot be passed hand to hand, but should be placed into the dirt and then retrieved by the next mourner.

Some take grass from the ground and throw it behind them. This signifies their renewed awareness of their own mortality.

Jewish Wake

It would be rare for a wake or visitation to take place, due to the urgency to bury.

Instead, the family gathers and tears their clothing in a visible place such as a lapel or pocket. Thissymbolizes that they are inmourning.

This is sometimes done at the gravesite by the rabbi or a piece of black torn material is pinned to their clothing.

Mourning & Bereavement Customs

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Family Lowering Casket into Grave

There are two periods of mourning.

What is Shiva?

Shiva meaning seven, is the first period of mourning. It begins immediately after burial and lasts for seven days.

During this time, the family does not participate in their normal daily routine, which includes going to work.

A candle is also burned for the entire duration of shiva.

What is shloshim?

The second mourning period is shloshim, meaning thirty, which begins the first day after the funeral.

Family resumes their daily routine, but will recite Mourner’s Kaddish, also known as the mourner’s prayer for30 days.

If the deceased is a parent, the Kaddish is said forone year.

Funeral Etiquette

If you’re attending a Jewish funeral and unfamiliar with the customs, below are a few tips on proper etiquette.

Clothing

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Proper Jewish Funeral Attire

The best thing to remember is to dress conservatively.

Men

Men should wear a jacket, tie, and a yarmulke, which is a head covering.

Women

Women should wear a skirt or dress with a length that reaches at least below the knee and their shoulders must be covered.

Women should not wear open-toe shoes. A head covering is typically not necessary.

What to say at a Jewish funeral?

You’re not expected to say anything during the funeral, which mainly consist of prayer.

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When speaking to the bereaved, simply express your sympathy for their loss and perhaps say something nice about the deceased.

What Not to Say

As with any religion, don’t inquire about the cause of death or try to comfort by saying things such as, “I know how you feel.”

What to bring to a Jewish funeral?

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Jewish Shiva Food

Flowers are not generally part of a Jewish funeral, so they shouldn’t be sent or brought to the funeral.

After the burial, the family is in mourning and they abstain from their normal daily duties, including cooking. Therefore, bringing food is an excellent option.

It may be a good idea to inquire about thetypes of food to bring. A basket containing baked goods, dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts, is a very nice choice.

What do you send if not attending?

Contributing to a charity, such as the United Jewish Appeal, would be an excellent gesture. Many people send a condolence card as well.

Remember, a Jewish funeral is a quiet and somber occasion. It’s good to keep that in mind when attending the funeral, expressing condolences, or giving gifts.

Because they are in mourning and unable to do their normal chores, it could be most useful if you offered your services in some way.

Cleaning the home, preparing meals, or even babysitting could be a great comfort at their time of loss.

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FAQs

What are the rules for a Jewish funeral? ›

Jewish tradition requires that the person be buried in a plain, modest, casket. The casket must be made from material that will disintegrate in the ground, allowing the body to return to the bosom of the earth as quickly as possible, and enabling the soul to attain true and final peace.

What is the most important part of a Jewish funeral? ›

A speedy burial is extremely important. It's believed that this is one of the most important ways to honor the deceased. Within 24-hours is preferred, if it's possible. They feel that it disrespects the dead to leave the body unburied.

What is the tradition when a Jewish person dies? ›

According to classic Jewish practice, those mourning the death of a parent continue reciting Mourner's Kaddish for eleven months (including the first month). Some mourners mark the end of shloshim with a special service or ceremony at which the mourner or family members speak about the deceased.

What color do you wear to a Jewish funeral? ›

Jewish funeral etiquette varies; usually men are asked to wear a skullcap and women a head covering. Black or dark colors are appropriate, as are respectful clothes such as suits, dresses, or business attire. You may notice that immediate family members wear a black button-looking pin with a ribbon hanging from it.

What should you not say to mourners? ›

It is the mourner who must do the grief-work, not you.
...
For when we do, we often say the wrong thing:
  • “Time will heal. ”
  • “Calm down.”
  • “I know exactly how you feel. ”
  • “It's probably for the best.” Be strong.”
  • “What my mother went through when she died…”
  • “You're young. You'll have another child.”
  • “It'll be all all right. “

How long do you sit shiva? ›

Children, siblings, parents, and spouses of the deceased have a religious obligation to observe Shiva or to sit Shiva. The Shiva begins immediately after the burial and lasts for seven days. A pitcher of water, a basin, and towel are placed outside the front door for use upon returning from the cemetery.

Who is buried standing up? ›

Ben Jonson

One of the most well-known people buried standing up is buried in the famous Westminster Abbey in London, England. This famous Poet Laureate's work was celebrated in his lifetime, but he always seemed to be poor. In 1637 when he died, he had fallen back into poverty.

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

Traditionally, a Jewish burial takes place within 24 hours because the Torah states “you shall bury him the same day”.

How long do you wear a Kriah ribbon? ›

Children who are mourning a parent wear the ribbon on their left side, symbolizing that they are the direct lineage of the person who passed. All others wear the ribbon on the right side. The ribbon is traditionally worn for the seven day shiva period but some Rabbis suggest wearing it for 30 days.

How long do Jews mourn for? ›

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).

What do you bring to a shiva? ›

Suggested items for a Shiva basket are: baked goods and desserts, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts or chocolates. A Shiva platter usually contains cooked meats, fish and/or specialty salads. If the mourners keep a Kosher home, it is imperative to choose Kosher food to send.

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 don t Jews have flowers at funerals? ›

Jewish funerals are not meant to have bright, colorful decorations. Basically, Jewish funerals are solemn affairs. Therefore, flowers disrupt the mourning process. The family will view the arrival of flowers as an act of celebration and not grief.

Do Jews wear all black to funerals? ›

Unlike Christian funerals where black is the traditional color to wear, this is not the tradition at Jewish funerals. However, guests should shy away from bright colors and try to stick to dark colors like grays, blacks and browns. In terms of footwear, everyone attending the funeral should wear comfortable shoes.

Can I wear jeans to a shiva? ›

Though there is no specific shiva attire, when attending a shiva you should dress respectfully. Men should wear long pants and women should dress conservatively. If the shiva is being held in the home of an orthodox Jewish family, women will be expected to wear long skirts (below the knees) and long-sleeved shirts.

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

I'm Sorry for Your Loss.

This is one of the simplest things to say, which makes it perfect for almost any situation. It expresses your condolences in a graceful, understated way, and it is equally appropriate regardless of your relationship to the deceased and their family.

What do you say at shiva? ›

It is a mitzvah to visit a house of mourning during Shiva. We visit to offer friendship and sympathy to the mourner. It is customary to say to the mourners: Ha-Makom ye-nachem etchem be-toch she'ar avelay Tziyon vi-Yerushala'yim. May the Lord comfort you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

What is forbidden during shiva? ›

Many traditional Shiva restrictions include no wearing of new clothes, no shaving for men, no washing clothes, no bathing.

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.

Can non Jews sit shiva? ›

Though shiva is a religious event, any non-Jews are welcome to this event. It's customary to make a shiva call before visiting a family during shiva. This call is to remind mourners that they're not alone. You are encouraged to listen and be compassionate support during the call.

Who was buried in their car? ›

Sixteen gravesites were required to fit the car, one of the largest Cadillacs made. George Swanson of Pennsylvania had his ashes interred with his 1984 Corvette in 1994.

How did the Israelites bury their dead? ›

First the body would be brought into an outer room and laid on the floor, or in special slots in the wall. Then later, perhaps a year later, the family would return to the burial cave, collect the bare bones and add them to a pile of bones left by previous generations in an inner sanctum.

How is extreme embalming done? ›

This is extreme embalming - where bodies are preserved by injecting them with a chemical fluid which makes them totally rigid - before being displayed in bizarre real life positions.

What do Jews do when someone dies in hospital? ›

Here, we look at Jewish after-death traditions.
  • At death, the body is handled with dignity and respect.
  • Jews prefer to bury the deceased as quickly as possible, usually within 24 hours. ...
  • Most Jewish communities have a burial society, Chevra Kadisha, who can take care of the preparation for burial.
15 Aug 2015

Do Jews wear black when someone dies? ›

It is common for people to wear black at a Jewish funeral, but dark colours are also considered appropriate, as long as the clothing itself is respectful.

Why do Jews cover mirrors at shiva? ›

At this time, individuals are instructed to focus on grief and mourning rather than themselves. In order to prevent selfish thoughts, all mirrors are covered within the homes of mourners.

What does a black ribbon mean when someone dies? ›

The black ribbon has come to represent not only mourning but also can be used as a way to honor an individual who has passed away or is missing. It may also be used to bring awareness to certain types of cancers and illnesses and support those who have received a diagnosis.

Why do Jews put stones on graves? ›

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.

Why do Jews mourn for 11 months? ›

Shanah: If the deceased is a parent, the mourning period lasts 11 months following sheloshim. This is a way for children to express gratitude for everything their father or mother did for them as they were growing up, and to reflect on the values and beliefs imparted by their parents.

Can you bring flowers to a shiva? ›

Avoid food that requires work on the part of the mourners. Kosher cookies, cakes, candies, nuts are all welcome at shiva as long as they are crowd pleasers and easy to serve. Jewish custom discourages sending flowers or gifts other than food when people are sitting Shiva.

What is a shiva platter? ›

Shiva platter (or basket) is a customary condolence gift containing a variety of food items that is sent to the home of those sitting Shiva following the loss of a loved one.

Can you eat meat during shiva? ›

Furthermore, mourners at this stage may not eat meat or drink wine. If the period between death and burial extends over the Shabbat, then these customs are not adopted (except for refraining from marital relations), though they begin again following the Shabbat. Shiva commences immediately after burial.

Can Jews donate organs? ›

Donation of an organ from a living person to save another's life, where the donor's health will not appreciably suffer, is permitted and encouraged in Jewish law. Donation of an organ from a dead person is equally permitted for the same purpose: to save a life (pikuach nefesh).

Can you feel cremation? ›

When someone dies, they don't feel things anymore, so they don't feel any pain at all.” If they ask what cremation means, you can explain that they are put in a very warm room where their body is turned into soft ashes—and again, emphasize that it is a peaceful, painless process.

What does ZL mean in Hebrew? ›

Interjection. z.l. (Hebrew) Of blessed memory, may he/she/they rest in peace; used after a reference to one or more people who died. Yitzhak Rabin (z"l) was a warrior turned peace-maker.

Do you tip a rabbi at a funeral? ›

Although it's not mandatory, it's customary to give your pastor or rabbi a small fee, called an honorarium, when they perform a funeral service.

Why do Jews not put flowers on a grave? ›

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 don t Jews lay flowers at graves? ›

It is not customary in Judaism to leave flowers at a grave after visiting. It is believed to be more appropriate to give money to charity that could otherwise be spent on flowers. In addition - cut flowers eventually die, but stones are enduring and do not die.

Who should attend a shiva? ›

Shiva, meaning “seven,” refers to the seven-day period of formalized mourning by the immediate family of the deceased. Jewish law prescribes that one observe shiva for a parent, sibling, child or spouse.

What do you bring to a shiva? ›

Suggested items for a Shiva basket are: baked goods and desserts, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts or chocolates. A Shiva platter usually contains cooked meats, fish and/or specialty salads. If the mourners keep a Kosher home, it is imperative to choose Kosher food to send.

Are Jews allowed to be 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.

Can Jews donate organs? ›

Donation of an organ from a living person to save another's life, where the donor's health will not appreciably suffer, is permitted and encouraged in Jewish law. Donation of an organ from a dead person is equally permitted for the same purpose: to save a life (pikuach nefesh).

Can you feel cremation? ›

When someone dies, they don't feel things anymore, so they don't feel any pain at all.” If they ask what cremation means, you can explain that they are put in a very warm room where their body is turned into soft ashes—and again, emphasize that it is a peaceful, painless process.

Do Jews get embalmed? ›

Jewish law mandates a simple pine box, so although you may need to choose a plot, you don't need to concern yourself with elaborate decisions about coffins. Or with cremation or embalming, which are forbidden by Jewish law (halacha), Greenberg writes.

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