Planning A Jewish Funeral: Traditions & Customs You Should Know About

Planning A Jewish Funeral: Traditions & Customs You Should Know About

Jewish literature teaches us that all human beings are created in the image of God — which affirms all the rituals that go into a Jewish funeral (Levaya) to honor our departed loved ones.

 

The death of a close friend or family member is always followed by intense emotion, shock and grief, so weve put together all the Jewish funeral rites that you need to know about when planning a Jewish funeral.

Planning A Jewish Funeral

Organising a traditional Jewish funeral can feel like a daunting task when a loved one passes. While some specific details of a Jewish funeral vary depending on the denomination of your loved one, there are several major funeral rites and customs that must be observed.

 

  • The loved one is washed in a ritual bath (Tahara)
  • Their casket is a simple pine wood coffin
  • They are wrapped in white burial shrouds
  • The loved one is accompanied from their death until burial
  • The garments of the close family mourners are torn, or a torn ribbon is worn (keriah)
  • The loved one is buried in a Jewish cemetery

 

Aninut: The First Stage Of Mourning

The period immediately after your loved one passes is known as aninut. During this first stage of mourning, you notify friends and family of your loved ones death, plan the funeral service and prepare them for their burial.

 

This will be a stressful time for you and your family, so you can use our free funeral comparison and booking tool to find a funeral director that specialises in Jewish funerals to help with the arrangements.

 

During this time, you should also:

  • Check if your loved one had any wishes or pre-paid funeral plans.
  • Inform your rabbi of the funeral plan.
  • Arrange a funeral date.
  • Choose a burial plot in a Jewish cemetery, preferably close to family members.
  • List the details about the shiva house for the congregation.
  • Arrange a Meal of Consolation for after the funeral.

Preparing Your Loved One After Death

After your loved one passes, a family member or friend should sit with them until the funeral director comes to collect them.

 

They are then cleaned and submerged in a ritual bath known as a Tahara.  After this, they are clothed in traditional white shrouds, ready for burial.

 

Throughout this process, your loved one is never alone, and they are accompanied right up until burial — your funeral director will be able to help you to arrange this vital mitzvah.

 

Embalming is not allowed in a Jewish burial, as the departed must naturally return to the soil from which they were formed, according to Jewish literature.

Arranging A Speedy Burial

One of the best ways to honour your loved one is through a speedy burial, preferably within 24 hours. However, Jewish funerals are not permitted on the Sabbat (Saturday) or Jewish holidays, so this may be delayed.

Designating Mourners

Jewish tradition states that parents, children, siblings and spouses are officially mourners (avelim). Of course, other members of the family and local community will still mourn your loved one, but the official mourners have specific roles in the leadup to the funeral, the burial itself and the months afterwards.

Choosing A Casket

A kosher coffin suitable for your loved ones Jewish burial is a simple biodegradable pine casket with no metal fastenings or nails. Open caskets are not permitted at Jewish funerals to protect your loved ones dignity and privacy.

Burial Or Cremation?

Most Jewish funerals are burials, as Judaism teaches that your loved one should return to the earth as naturally as possible. Depending on your loved ones denomination, cremation may also be forbidden — Orthodox, for example, do not allow cremation.

Deciding The Location

Where your loved ones funeral takes place depends on the familys wishes and the customs of your local community. Funerals can take place at the funeral home or the synagogue and proceed to the cemetery, or the entire service can take place at the grave site.

The Tearing (Keriah)

Just before the funeral service begins, the rabbi places a torn black ribbon on each mourners outer garments, or if youre Orthodox, an actual garment is torn. This ancient Jewish funeral rite symbolises a few meanings:

  • Tearing a ribbon or clothing helps to express grief and sadness physically.
  • It signifies the tear in the fabric of the family after your loved ones death.
  • It separates the mourners from the rest of the congregation. Before the keriah, it is up to you to plan the details of the funeral; now, your responsibility is to allow the community to take care of you during the funeral and following mourning periods.

As the ribbons are attached, or garments are torn, the mourners recite the blessing, Blessed Are you, Adonai, Truthful Judge”. Keriah is always done while standing to show strength during your grief.

The Readings

Once the congregation is seated, the Rabbi delivers several readings about death from Jewish literature, usually Psalms 91. These readings offer comfort and reflection about your loved one to the congregation.

The Eulogy (hesped)

After the initial readings, the Rabbi reads the eulogy (hesped) that captures the life essence, personality and accomplishments of your loved one. Its becoming increasingly popular for family members to give a eulogy to honor your loved ones life, so dont be afraid to ask if you or a family member can deliver a tribute. Make sure you write it down so the rabbi can read it for you if you cannot deliver your eulogy at the funeral.

The Memorial Prayer

Before your loved one is buried, the rabbi leads the congregation in reciting one of the most well-known prayers in Judaism, the El Malei Rachamim (God full of compassion). This prayer asks God to grant perfect peace to your loved one and remember the many good deeds they performed in their lifetime. The prayer mentions your loved one by their Hebrew name and states that they are sheltered beneath the wings of Gods presence”.

The Burial

At this point, the formal service concludes, and if not there already, the funeral moves to the graveside.

 

Your loved ones coffin is carried by hand or on a special gurney by close family members (such as in-laws, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews) but not the official mourners (avelim).

 

The pallbearers will pause three or seven times before reaching the grave, symbolising how difficult it is to let their loved one go. During these pauses, the rabbi recites verses from Psalms 91, which provides comfort and reassures the congregation that God is watching over the funeral party during each of these stops.

 

Its a great responsibility for the community to follow the casket for at least a few steps on the way to the grave to honor the deceased by accompanying them on their last journey.

 

After your loved ones casket has reached the grave, the funeral party sits in a row of chairs. The coffin is then lowered into the ground by hand or via a mechanical device while the Rabbi recites in Hebrew, May [he/she] go to [his/her] resting place in peace”.

 

Once the coffin has been lowered, the congregation rises and recites the Mourners Kaddish, the ancient prayer that reaffirms belief in the greatness of God.

Placing Dirt On The Grave

The final part of a Jewish funeral invites the mourners and others in attendance to fill your loved ones grave with earth. The back side of the shovel is used to symbolise how difficult it is to bury your loved one.

 

At this point, its also custom for mourners to ask the departed for forgiveness for any hurt they may have caused them in their lifetime.

What Happens After The Funeral?

After the casket has been lowered and the earth has been placed on the grave of your loved one, the funeral party will wash their hands with water and return to the house of mourning to participate in shiva, a seven-day period of mourning. 

Planning A Jewish Funeral For Your Loved One

Planning a funeral can be a daunting task during an emotional and challenging time, so we’re here to support you with organising and booking a Jewish funeral for a loved one or yourself. Find trusted Jewish funeral directors and create a personalised funeral plan for you or a loved one using our free and independent Legacy Of Lives funeral planner.