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 directed towards people planning to attend a Jewish funeral and will let you know about Jewish funeral customs so you can know what to expect. This way, you can focus on the most important thing of all, providing comfort and support for the mourners.

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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 casket (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.
  • Members of the Jewish faith will often say “Baruch Dayan Emet” when someone passes, meaning “Blessed be the one true Judge”.

What are Jewish funerals like?

Jewish funerals are solemn, as are most 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 can be expected to have a closed casket ceremony.

The rabbi will give 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.

What is Jewish funeral etiquette?

There isn’t any unique Jewish funeral custom concerning etiquette. If you knew the family well, then it’s polite to wait in line and give your condolences. Try to sit at least three or four rows back since the first few rows 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. Women should wear a black or dark pantsuit or conservative dress. Men should wear a black or dark suit and tie.

What happens at the cemetery?

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

The rabbi will say more blessings and prayers as the casket is lowered. There is a tradition for attendees to place dirt on the casket as it is lowered, which is done by hand or with a small shovel provided for the occasion.

What are the five stages of mourning in Judaism?

According to Jewish law (formally known as Halakha), 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 that the funeral is taking place the next day.

There are five stages of ritualistic mourning which follow the death of a Jewish person which are discussed below:

  • 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, you must ensure that the food 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 and support.