Attending a Jewish Funeral 


 

                                      

 

    We often receive phone calls from individuals planning to attend the funeral of a friend but they are not sure what to expect when attending a Jewish funeral.  Basically, a Jewish funeral will be similar to other funerals you have attended in the past.  The main differences you will notice are the use of Hebrew, a closed casket and few, if any flowers.  The remainder of this page will specifically address the customs surrounding the traditions involved in Jewish services.  Don't become overwhelmed and fearful of offending another person in attendance.  Jewish law considers attending a funeral and burial to be a mitzvah or “religious obligation.”  With this in mind, your presence is the most important thing, and the family understands their traditions may be different than what you are used to, and will appreciate your attendance. 

    There are three distinct differences among Jewish funerals.  An Orthodox (Congregation Anshei Sfard) service will strictly adhere to tradition. A Conservative (Congregation Adath Jeshurun or Keneseth Israel Congregation) service will incorporate a little less tradition and a Reform (Temple Shalom or The Temple) service will have the least amount of tradition involved.  We have tried to categorize the guidelines below into these 3 groups, but many times they will overlap.  The easiest thing to do is ask the family or call us to find out what will be appropriate.

 


 

A basic overview of Jewish beliefs and traditions surrounding death 

 

Orthodox  (Congregation Anshei Sfard)

Funerals should take place as soon as possible after a person has died, often one or two days after death.

* Autopsies are not routinely done unless required by law.

*  A holy society (the Chevra Kadisha) cleans and bathes the body, performing a ritual of pouring water over the body (called Tahara) and dressing the body in a white linen shroud (Tachrichim).  The body is clothed in a white linen shroud and not street clothes.  Shrouds are sewn without knots, and are a multiple piece garment.  In earlier times, the sisterhoods or women's auxiliaries used to make shrouds for their community; this practice may still occur in traditional communities.  Today, virtually all Jewish funeral homes carry shrouds.  This is done because of a rabbinic decree of around 1800 years ago. People were spending more than they could afford on funeral expenses because no one wanted to show the deceased, typically a parent, less honor than others showed their loved ones. So, Rabban Gamliel, the "prince" of the Jewish community of the time, demanded that he be buried in simple white linen, and that this become the custom for everyone. He patterned this clothing after that worn by the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. If G-d asks the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies and confront the Divine Presence in simple white linen garments, it seems fitting to do the same when preparing someone to meet their Maker. To this very day, we bury people in a shirt (kittel), pants, belt - all of plain white linen - if a man, his tallis or prayer shawl, and simplified (and ritualized) shoes. No pockets, since "you can't take it with you."  And the belt isn't knotted, for Kabalistic reasons.

A Shomer, or watchman, remains with the body from the time of death through to the burial.

Objects are not put into the casket as we come into this world with nothing and so we leave with nothing. All of us are equal in the world to come.

Burial is in a wooden casket with no metal, that includes no metal handles or even nails. To meet this requirement, the caskets are assembled with wooden pegs and glue.  Actually, Jewish tradition is to bury the person without a casket unless mandated by local law. 

* Flowers are normally not sent, for the following reasons:  
  1.  Simplicity - The tradition in Judaism is to keep funerals as simple as possible, to make everyone equal in death.
  2.  Tradition - Although flowers are not prohibited, the custom arose over time of not sending flowers, and making contributions instead. In ancient days, the Talmud informs us, fragrant flowers and spices were used at the funeral to offset the odor of the decaying body. Today, this is no longer essential and thus, many Jews do not want flowers at a Jewish funeral at all.  Most feel it is much better to honor the deceased by making a contribution to a synagogue or hospital, or to a medical research association for the disease which afflicted the deceased. 

*  At the funeral, an article of clothing is torn by the immediate family.  This is called Keria.  It is usually a lapel of a dress or shirt, a tie or sometimes a black ribbon that is placed over the heart.  This custom began in biblical times when Jacob was told of Joseph's death.  Upon hearing the news, Jacob reacted by tearing his garment.  Also, both David and Job are referred to as tearing their clothing upon learning of another's death. 

Jewish law considers attending a funeral and burial to be a mitzvah or “religious obligation.” Family and friends attending a funeral should avoid ostentatious dress or behavior.

At the cemetery, it is a religious privilege and duty to assist in the burial.  K’vurah is the custom of placing at least 3 measures of earth into the grave.

Once the committal has concluded, it is customary to say "May the Lord comfort you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Once the committal service has ended, all attending ritually wash their hands as they leave the cemetery or before entering the Shiva house.

Shiva begins immediately after the burial and continues for seven days.

The Meal of Condolence is the first meal eaten upon return from the cemetery and is prepared by friends.

* Condolences are made at the home of the mourners.  It is a mitzvah to visit a house of mourning during Shiva. We visit to offer friendship and sympathy to the mourner.  When making a Shiva call, you should:

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Conservative  (Congregation Adath Jeshurun or Keneseth Israel Congregation)

Funerals should take place as soon as possible after a person has died, often one or two days after death.

* Autopsies are not routinely done unless required by law.

*  A holy society (the Chevra Kadisha) cleans and bathes the body, performing a ritual of pouring water over the body (called Tahara) and dressing the body in a white linen shroud (Tachrichim).  The body is clothed in a white linen shroud and not street clothes.  Shrouds are sewn without knots, and are a multiple piece garment.  In earlier times, the sisterhoods or women's auxiliaries used to make shrouds for their community; this practice may still occur in traditional communities.  Today, virtually all Jewish funeral homes carry shrouds.  This is done because of a rabbinic decree of around 1800 years ago. People were spending more than they could afford on funeral expenses because no one wanted to show the deceased, typically a parent, less honor than others showed their loved ones. So, Rabban Gamliel, the "prince" of the Jewish community of the time, demanded that he be buried in simple white linen, and that this become the custom for everyone. He patterned this clothing after that worn by the High Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. If G-d asks the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies and confront the Divine Presence in simple white linen garments, it seems fitting to do the same when preparing someone to meet their Maker. To this very day, we bury people in a shirt (kittel), pants, belt - all of plain white linen - if a man, his tallis or prayer shawl, and simplified (and ritualized) shoes. No pockets, since " you can't take it with you."  And the belt isn't knotted, for Kabalistic reasons.

Objects are not put into the casket as we come into this world with nothing and so we leave with nothing. All of us are equal in the world to come.

Burial is in a wooden casket with no metal, that includes no metal handles or even nails. To meet this requirement, the caskets are assembled with wooden pegs and glue.  Actually, Jewish  tradition is to bury the person without a casket unless mandated by local law. 

*  At the funeral, a black ribbon is placed over the heart and is torn by the immediate family.  This is called Keria.  It is usually a lapel of a dress or shirt, a tie or sometimes a black ribbon that is placed over the heart.  This custom began in biblical times when Jacob was told of Joseph's death.  Upon hearing the news, Jacob reacted by tearing his garment.  Also, both David and Job are referred to as tearing their clothing upon learning of another's death. 

Jewish law considers attending a funeral and burial to be a mitzvah or “religious obligation.” Family and friends attending a funeral should avoid ostentatious dress or behavior.

At the cemetery, it is a religious privilege and duty to assist in the burial.  K’vurah is the custom of placing at least 3 measures of earth into the grave.

Once the committal has concluded, it is customary to say "May the Lord comfort you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Once the committal service has ended, all attending ritually wash their hands as they leave the cemetery or before entering the Shiva house.

Shiva begins immediately after the burial and continues for up to seven days.

The Meal of Condolence is the first meal eaten upon return from the cemetery and is prepared by friends.

* Condolences are made at the home of the mourners.  It is a mitzvah to visit a house of mourning during Shiva. We visit to offer friendship and sympathy to the mourner.  When making a Shiva call, you should:

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Reform  (Temple Shalom or The Temple)

Funerals should take place as soon as possible after a person has died, often one or two days after death.

*  At the funeral, an article of clothing is torn by the immediate family.  This is called Keria.  It is usually a lapel of a dress or shirt, a tie or sometimes a black ribbon that is placed over the heart.  This custom began in biblical times when Jacob was told of Joseph's death.  Upon hearing the news, Jacob reacted by tearing his garment.  Also, both David and Job are referred to as tearing their clothing upon learning of another's death. 

Jewish law considers attending a funeral and burial to be a mitzvah or “religious obligation.” Family and friends attending a funeral should avoid ostentatious dress or behavior.

At the cemetery, it is a religious privilege and duty to assist in the burial.  K’vurah is the custom of placing at least 3 measures of earth into the grave.

Once the committal has concluded, it is customary to say "May the Lord comfort you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Once the committal service has ended, all attending ritually wash their hands as they leave the cemetery or before entering the Shiva house.

Shiva begins immediately after the burial and may continue of up to seven days.

The Meal of Condolence is the first meal eaten upon return from the cemetery and is prepared by friends.

* Condolences may be made at the home of the mourners.  It is a mitzvah to visit a house of mourning during Shiva. We visit to offer friendship and sympathy to the mourner.  When making a Shiva call, you should:

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Herman Meyer & Son, PO Box 4052, Louisville, Kentucky 40204 | 502.458.9569 | info@meyerfuneral.com

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