Jewish Funeral Information, Traditions, and Customs
All Jewish funeral and burial customs and practices acknowledge death and they affirm life.
Because Jews believe that we are all created in the image of G-d, central to the Jewish Funeral is Respect of the deceased. In Hebrew this is called Kavod Hamet. Central to this idea are all of the practices of the Jewish Funeral. A Jewish funeral focuses on both supporting and comforting the mourners as well as honoring the deceased.
Traditional Jewish funerals are very simple and usually relatively brief. Visititation are not commonplace. Before the Jewish Funeral begins, the immediate relatives of the deceased (the siblings, parents, children and spouse) tear their garments, Kriah, to symbolize their loss and will recite the blessing, “Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam, dayan ha’emet,” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, the true Judge. This is similar to the prayer one says when they first hear of a death. In some communities, the tearing of garments has been replaced with the tearing of a simple black ribbon which is worn by the mourners. The cut is made on the left side of the person mourning the death of a parent and for all other Kaddish relatives, the cut on the person’s right side. This acknowledges that the relationship with a parent is different, and, therefore on the side closest to the heart.
During a Jewish Funeral there will typically be comments made by the Rabbi, which may be accompanied by an eulogy. The service will contain Psalm 23 (XXIII) and will conclude with the recitation of El Maleh Rachamim (the memorial prayer).
Shmeera is the time in between the moment of death and the time that the burial occurs. During this entire time it is a Jewish Funeral custom to have someone with with body. In practice, this time is often split between different Shomrim, or watchers. The acting Shomer will sit next to, or near to, a closed casket and recite psalms (Tehillim).
The Tahara is the ritual purification of the body not dissimilar to the Mikvah. It is performed by a Chevra Kadisha, or Burial Society which, is comprised of knowledgeable and observant members of the community. Men prepare men and women prepare women. The Tahara follows a strictly prescribed order of steps and always seeks to preserve the dignity of the deceased. Once the Tahara has been complete, the body is dressed in traditional burial shrouds. In the Jewish Funeral the Tahara and dressing typically replaces any embalming or cosmetizing.
The burial shrouds used in the Tahara are called Tachrichim. They are a handmade seven piece garment which can be made of simple, white, linen or cotton. For men, a tallith is often times added however one of the fringes are cut off so as to make it ineffective. Comprised of a hat, shirt, pants, shoes, coat and belt, these shrouds have no pockets because worldly goods are no longer of importance.
The Jewish Funeral’s casket is called the oron. Modeled after the biblical teaching, “for dust you are and to dust you shall return”. If is of all wood construction and uses no metal parts whatsoever. This allows the body’s natural return to dust as swiftly as possibly.
When arriving at the graveside of a traditional Jewish Funeral it is customary to have family and friends accompanying the mourners by walking behind the casket. The Rabbi may stop either three or seven times while walking to the graveside. In ground burial is central to the traditional Jewish Funeral practice. “The dust returns to the earth… and the spirit returns to G-d”. The Jewish Funeral’s burial calls upon friends and family to help fill the grave until a mound is formed. Mourners, family, and friends participate in the actual burial because this is something the deceased can not do for himself and the deceased can not ask the mourners to do it for him. Specifically, because it is an act which can never be repaid it is one of special loving kindness. Once the burial is complete it is traditional for those in attendance who are not mourners to form a ‘Shura’, a double line which faces each other. This ‘path’ for the mourners pass to through in which they first receive words of comfort. It is customary to your wash hands when leaving the cemetery. This may be done at the cemetery exit or prior to entering the shiva home, or your own home if you are not going directly from the cemetery to the shiva home.
Shalom Memorial Funeral Home is a staunch believer and advocate of the Jewish Funeral service and is a proud member of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America with Mindy Moline Botbol, a Shalom Memorial Funeral Director, serving as the current president of JFDA.