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.