Jewish Funeral Customs and Traditions: Everything You Should Know

Going to any funeral is stressful. It’s a time when people need you the most, but it is unclear how to help. Funeral anxiety is very genuine. And this anxiety can be made worse if you don’t know what to expect. This guide is for people attending a Jewish funeral. The purpose of this guide is to let you know about Jewish funeral Customs, so you feel at ease. When you are calm, you can do the most important thing of all, comfort the mourners. 

What do Jewish people do when someone dies?

According to Jewish law, A Jewish person must be buried as soon as possible after death. This means everything will happen very quickly. It is not unusual to find out someone has died, and the funeral is the next day. 

What are Jewish funeral customs and traditions?

From the time the person passes, the following will happen:

  • The body will be washed thoroughly.
  • A simple wooden coffin (often pine) is selected. (For more on this, click here.)
  • The body is covered in a white shroud or prayer shawl known as a tallit.
  • It is the job of someone who is part of the synagogue to stay with the body, praying over it until after the burial.
  • Before a Jewish funeral service, the closest relatives will either rip a piece off of what they are wearing or wear a black ribbon to symbolize this act.
  • Jews, when they hear someone has died, will often say “Baruch Dayan Emet,” Blessed be the one true Judge.

What are Jewish funerals like?

Jewish funerals are solemn, as are all funerals. As you walk in, there is usually a line to give your condolences to the family. Often they are off to the side, so they can comfortably show their grief however they choose. Generally, the funeral is a closed casket ceremony.

The rabbi will say some blessings, and often some people will come up and give eulogies about the person who died. A prayer called the mourner’s Kaddish will be said, and finally, the pallbearers will carry the casket into the hearse pausing seven times. (for more on this Jewish funeral custom, click here.) 

What is Jewish funeral etiquette?

There is no unique Jewish funeral custom concerning etiquette. If you knew the family well, then it’s polite to wait in line and give your condolences and unless you are a close family or friend, try to sit at least three or four rows back as the first few are reserved for close friends and family.

What do you wear to a Jewish funeral?

What you would typically wear to a funeral is fine, a suit and tie or a jacket, button-down shirt, and nice pants.

What happens at the cemetery?

The funeral director will announce the cemetery where the burial will take place, and a procession will take place following the hearse. The pallbearers will carry the casket from the hearse and put it on a platform to be lowered into the grave.

The rabbi will say more blessings and prayers, and as the casket is lowered, there is a tradition for attendees to place dirt on the coffin. Sometimes this is done by hand and sometimes with a small shovel provided for the occasion. 

What are the five stages of mourning in Judaism?

  • Stage one – Aninut: The most intense period of mourning is the period between the death and the burial. During this period, the close relatives’ all-consuming concerns are the funeral and burial arrangements.
  • Stage two and three – Shiva: After the burial, the immediate mourners return to a home called the “Shiva house” to begin seven days of mourning. The first three days are the most intense due to the fresh grief over the death, which is why Shiva is split into two stages. This week is called “sitting Shiva” and is an emotionally healing time when the mourners sit low, talk together, and friends and loved ones come to comfort them with short visits referred to as “Shiva calls.”
  • Stage Four – Shloshim: The first 30 days following the burial (which include the Shiva) are called shloshim, from the word meaning “thirty.” Mourners do not shave or cut their hair during this time and avoid happy gatherings.
  •  Stage Five – The One-Year Period: During the 12-month period from the day of death (which includes the Shiva and shloshim), only one who has lost a parent is still considered a mourner.

Should you bring a gift to the funeral?

Generally, people do not bring flowers or gifts to a Jewish funeral; however, people will often give charity in the deceased person’s name or bring food to the Shiva house. If you bring food, and the family is religious, ensure it is kosher.

Jewish funerals are not very different from other funerals. As long as you are respectful and pay your condolences, people will appreciate your presence.