Jewish Funeral Traditions

Jewish funeral traditions are based on centuries of Jewish tradition, and have long adhered to beliefs in accordance with the teachings of the Torah. If you are attending a Jewish funeral, it is important to know what these traditions are and why they are important. This is an excellent way to honor the person who has passed away.

The Jewish Funeral Service

Just before the service the immediate family will gather together in a small room with the Rabbi for the traditional tearing of a garment. Usually this is done symbolically with black ribbons worn by the mourners. The tearing of a garment is done as an outward sign of grief.

A Jewish funeral will typically be held at either a funeral home or at the cemetery itself, while occasionally being held in a synagogue. The service is designed to honor the deceased, and can include readings, eulogies, and the recitation of prayer.

At a traditional Jewish service flowers are not appropriate. The family will usually suggest a charity to make a donation to that was important to their loved one.

The Jewish Burial

In a traditional Jewish burial the deceased is usually buried in a simple wooden casket within a Jewish cemetery. Before being placed in the casket they will have undergone a ritual washing, called a Taharah, which is performed by designated caregivers. After the Taharah the loved on is dressed in a burial shroud. Also there can be a caregiver who watches over the deceased from the time they are brought into the funeral home until the burial called a Shomer.

At the end of the service at the cemetery the family is usually asked to help fill in the grave by shoveling in some dirt. This is what’s known as a mitzvah, a good deed.

Jewish MourninG – Sitting Shiva

Immediately after the burial the focus shifts to the family in mourning. The mourning period that directly follows the funeral is called Shiva. Traditionally shiva is observed for 7 days, although these days it can range from 1 day to 7 days. Typically during this time the family does not go to work, or school, and does not do any errands or chores as their time should strictly be used for mourning. The purpose of shiva is to acknowledge those feeling of grief and sadness. People are encouraged to share stories of the deceased, and there is usually a short prayer service, or Minyan, that is run by a rabbi. It is appropriate at this time to bring an offering of food to the family who is in mourning.

Some Jewish Mourning Customs

THE MOURNER One becomes a mourner upon the burial of a parent, husband, wife, child, brother or sister. The laws of mourning are not obligatory for children under the age of thirteen and do not apply when the deceased is an infant of age thirty days or less.

ONAN One who loses by death one of his next to kin” for whom he is bound to observe mourning is termed. ONAN from the time death occurred until after the interment. An Onan is concerned only with funeral preparations and is exempt from observing many precepts, because of the honor due to the dead and because in this most intense period of grief he is in a traumatic state. But the Onan must observe all prohibitive laws, be they even enforceable only by Rabbinic enactment.

THE SHIVAH—The traditional week of mourning is observed for seven days and begins immediately after the funeral, this period includes the day of the funeral. The morning of the seventh day is regarded as a full day. On the sabbath and holidays the mourners go to the synagogue, otherwise they remain at home where morning and evening services are conducted. A memorial light burns in the home during the entire week. Circumstances which permit the mourners to engage in their occupations should be discussed with the Rabbi.

When the FUNERAL is Heald 

When a funeral is held the day before a festival, and one hour of mourning was observed before the festival, there is no Shivah.

SHLOSHIM—The thirty day period of mourning begins after the funeral and ends on the thirtieth day. :Mourners do not take part in festivities during this time. During this period the grave of the deceased is not visited so that feelings of grief are not overly heightened. Special circumstances which arise because of a Festival should be discussed with a Rabbi.

KADDISH—Mourners are to recite Kaddish for a period of eleven months less one day.

YAHRZEIT—The anniversary of death is observed by kindling a memorial candle in the home, reading appropriate meditations, and attending synagogue services to
pray and recite the Kaddish. Some congregations also memorialize the departed on the Sabbath prior to Yahrzeit. The first Yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of the funeral and subsequent Yahrzeits on the anniversary of death. The Yahrzeit begins with the preceding evening and is reckoned by the Hebrew date.

UNVEILING OF MONUMENTS This may be done at any time after Shloshim or thirty days of mourning. Generally this is done as close as possible to the Yahrzeit of the departed.