Despite differences in the degree of ritual observance, all Jewish funerals share certain basic characteristics that stem from our common belief in the sanctity and equality of all human life. Because a Jewish funeral has profound religious significance, Jewish funerals avoid ostentation; family and visitors reflect in dress and deportment the solemnity of the occasion; embalming and viewing are avoided; music and flowers are rarely used; and interment takes place as soon as possible after death.
Some or all of these practices may be incorporated into any funeral out of respect for the beliefs of the deceased even though the surviving members of the family are less rigorous in their personal religious observances.
Jewish funerals conducted by more liberal Jewish denominations may differ in one or more respects from the foregoing traditional rituals. For example, the Reform movement does not object to cremation. Other less traditional practices include, burial in the deceased’s own clothing, burial in a mausoleum and a more elaborate funeral service including the use of music.
The customs listed below contain detailed information regarding funeral, burial and mourning practices, funeral etiquette and other related information.
Home of Peace will ensure that each family has access to any information that could be helpful in deciding on the arrangements that best suit its needs and that the arrangements selected are carried out with respect and dignity.
Timing of the Funeral Service
It is most appropriate to bury the deceased without undue delay, taking legal and logistical considerations into account. This accords greater respect to the deceased as well as providing a psychological benefit to the mourners, who do not have to undergo the emotional pain of an unnecessary delay. Setting the time of the funeral requires consultation with the rabbi, the funeral director, and the cemetery.
Based on the biblical verse “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen.3:19), Jewish tradition has maintained that burial should be in the earth. Most Jewish cemeteries provide crypt entombment as an option that is accepted by rabbinic authorities. Cremation historically has been rejected, but is accepted by some segments of the Jewish population. Questions regarding these matters should be addressed to a rabbi or the funeral director.
Jewish tradition allows an autopsy when required by civil law, or when the knowledge gained from an autopsy might help save others suffering from the same disease. Routine autopsies where nothing specific will be learned should be avoided because they violate the principle of kevod ha-met – respect for the body of the deceased.
State law does not require embalming in most situations, and does not permit it without the expressed permission of the next of kin. Embalming is not a traditional Jewish practice.
When a newborn child enters the world, the baby is washed and purified. “As he came,” writes Ecclesiastes, “so should he go” (Ecclesiastes 5:14). Consequently, it is the traditional Jewish way of reverence for the deceased that when a person departs this world, he or she is washed and purified. Persons with special training and religious piety perform the taharah – the sacred rites of washing and purification, accompanied by the recitation of prayers and appropriate Psalms. In most cases, taharah is accompanied by dressing the deceased in tachrichim (burial garments also called shrouds). These services may be requested through our mortuary.
Traditionally, the deceased is not to be left alone. A shomer (watcher) reads Psalms and recites prayers on behalf of the dead. In this way the deceased is attended at all times. This service may be requested through our mortuary.
Choosing the Casket
In choosing a casket, Jewish tradition mandates that ostentation should be avoided. Jewish tradition maintains that vanity and pride are out of place in the funeral. Caskets used in Jewish funerals are traditionally made of wood.
Public viewing of the deceased
Judaism considers it disrespectful to the deceased to have an open casket except for identification purposes.
Flowers and Charity
Greater honor is paid to the deceased by making a donation to charities rather that displaying flowers.
The rending of the mourners’ outer garment or a k’riah ribbon is a Jewish mourning practice, symbolizing the tearing of the heart the mourners feel at times of loss. When one is mourning for parents, k’riah is performed on the, left side, over the heart, while when mourning for children, siblings and spouses, it is on the right side.
Placing the Casket
The final placement of the casket should be witnessed for psychological and religious reasons. Those present at the interment are afforded the opportunity to place earth on the casket. Jewish tradition considers this a hesed shel emet, – an act of true loving kindness and the last kindness we can extend since there is no reciprocal favor we can expect from the deceased.
Meal of Consolation
The mourner’s first meal after returning from the cemetery (seudat havra’ah) is usually provided by friends, neighbors, or a synagogue committee. The meal generally includes hard-boiled eggs (which symbolize the potentiality of renewal) or other round objects symbolizing the wheel of life, continuity, and the need to move on.
The first, most intense stage of mourning is called shiva, the Hebrew word meaning “seven” and refers to a seven-day period of formalized mourning by the immediate family of the deceased. Shiva begins immediately after the burial as the mourners to gather together in the home of the deceased or the home of a mourner, cut off from the normal routine of their lives which death has interrupted. A shiva candle is lit when the mourners arrive home from the burial and is allowed to burn for the entire shiva period. Care should be taken to leave the candle in a safe location. A rabbi should be consulted regarding the details of shiva practices.