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The Jewish Funeral

The Jewish funeral is a modest, solemn religious service designed to honor the dead and to provide support to the deceased's family and friends. It is important to remember that the specifics of a particular Jewish funeral will depend greatly on the preferences of the family.

RELIGIOUS TRADITION

Jewish law requires the following:

  • Fondest remembrances
  • That the body be thoroughly washed.
  • That the deceased be buried in a simple casket constructed of wood.
  • That the deceased be buried wearing a simple white shroud. Today, many families bury a loved one in clothing instead.
  • That the body be watched over until burial.
  • That, before the funeral begins, immediate relatives tear their garments to symbolize their loss. Some relatives now wear symbolic torn black ribbons on their clothes instead.

According to tradition, burial takes place as soon as possible after death. Because in the modern world families often live far apart, burials may be postponed to accommodate travel.


The practice of guarding the body from death until burial honors the dead. A family member, someone from a burial society, or a person assigned by the funeral home recites from the Book of Psalms while watching over the deceased. Although tradition discourages open-casket funerals, the family of the deceased will generally have an opportunity to view their loved one privately before burial.


The Jewish funeral service typically lasts between 15 and 60 minutes, takes place in a funeral home and is led by a rabbi, with participation by relatives and friends usually limited to eulogies or memorials by relatives or friends.

FUNERAL ETIQUETTE

Recommended funeral attire consists of dark-colored clothing. Sugested attire for a woman is a dress or skirt and blouse; a man should wear at least a jacket and tie, if not a suit. Men will be expected to wear a head covering known as a yarmulke or kipah, which will be provided by the funeral home to any man who needs one.

MOURNING

After the deceased has been buried, a Jewish family will mourn by sitting shiva, generally at the home of a close family member. Traditionally, mourners sat shiva for 7 days, but many Jews now observe for one or three days. As an alternative to a formal shiva, some families will receive friends on a more casual basis.


Mirrors might be covered at the home where shiva is being observed. It is a tradition for those grieving not to worry about their own appearance during the period of mourning.


Immediate family members might be wearing a torn black ribbon or torn clothing to symbolize their broken hearts.


Immediate family members might be sitting on low seats or even on the floor, and possibly in socks or slippers. This is done to symbolize being "brought low" by their grief.


A tall candle might be burning. This candle burns throughout the period of shiva, as a symbol of remembrance for the deceased.

ETIQUETTE FOR PAYING A SHIVA CALL

Find the right time to visit. Check with friends or family at the end of the funeral service for the right time(s) to visit. Avoid visiting on shabbat (Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown).


Wash your hands. A pitcher of water, a basin and towels will be located outside the front door of the shiva home. It is traditional to wash one’s hands upon entering the house when arriving straight from the cemetery.


Just walk in. The front door will usually be unlocked. This eliminates the need for the mourners to answer the door and the distractions from the doorbell.


Bring or send food. Sympathy flowers are not common for a shiva call. Instead, sweet fruit, desserts and food are more welcome gifts. Arrange for food, such as a sympathy basket, to be sent to the house, or bring food yourself. If you do bring food, bring it directly to the kitchen (often there is someone there to take it). Make sure any gift of food is kosher—prepared according to the requirements of Jewish law—unless you're sure the family doesn’t keep kosher.


Find the mourner. Allow the mourner to initiate conversation. Simply offer a hug, a kiss, a handshake or an arm around the shoulder for comfort.


Talk to friends. It is likely that you will see others you know when paying a shiva call, and you should feel comfortable speaking to them as well.


Consider the length of your visit. Although it depends on your relation, the appropriate duration of a shiva call is typically an hour.