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Jewish Funeral Practices

Judaism has certain time-honored traditions and rituals for funeral and burial practices.


These traditional practices are intended to honor the deceased in a dignified manner.

Jewish Customs Prior to Burial More Detail

  • Tahara: Ritual washing and purification of the deceased.
  • Tahara is performed by members of the Chevra Kadisha (see Chevra Kadisha below) or “Sacred Society”.
  • Shmeerah: The watching over the deceased by a shomer.This person recites psalms on behalf of the deceased until burial.
  • Tachrichim: A traditional white burial shroud.This is a symbol that all people are equal before their Creator.
  • Kavod Hamet: Respectful treatment of the deceased.
  • Chevra Kadisha: A holy society made up of knowledgeable and observant people. Responsible for performing the Tahara (see Tahara above). Men care for men, women care for women.
  • Kriah: Tearing of garments.It is customary for mourners to tear an outer garment. A more common practice today is wearing a torn black ribbon.
  • Oron: All-wood casket.
  • Shiva: The seven-day morning period following burial.
  • Kaddish: A prayer sanctifying God’s name, recited by mourners.
  • K’vurah: Burial. Participation is both a privilege and a duty.
  • Shurah: Two lines formed by the community through which the mourners pass when leaving the cemetery.
  • Onen/Onenet: “One in distress”. Immediate family members (mourners), from the moment of death until burial. Excused from all obligations, except making funeral arrangements. (Aninut – the period of mourning.)
  • Avel/Avela: “One who is sad, grieving”. Immediate family members (mourners), from the moment of burial to the end of the mourning period. (Avelut – the mourning period.)
  • Shloshim: Thirty-day mourning period following the burial (includes Shiva).
  • Shanah: Year of Mourning following the death of a parent, (Kaddish recited for eleven months).
  • Yahrzeit: Anniversary of the Hebrew date of death.
  • Yizkor: Memorial recited four times per year: Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Passover, and Shavuot.

For additional resources regarding ritual observance, please contact one of our Chicago family service counselors at (847) 255-3520.


Observing a Shiva in Your Home More Detail

Children, siblings, parents, and spouses of the deceased have a religious obligation to observe Shiva. The Shiva begins immediately after the burial and lasts for seven days.

What follows are traditional customs related to observing Shiva in the home:

Washing hands

A pitcher of water, a basin, and towel are placed outside the front door for use upon returning from the cemetery. Washing hands symbolizes separating ourselves from the spiritual impurity of death.

Meal of condolence
The traditional meal following the burial is called the Seudat Havra’ah or “meal of consolation”. This meal usually includes hard-boiled eggs which serve to symbolize the cyclical nature of life. The meal is to be arranged by friends or family.

Prayer services
During Shiva, it is typical to hold services at the mourners’ home. A minyan (a quorum of ten) should be present at each service so the mourners can say Kaddish.

Covering mirrors
Mirrors often are covered in a Shiva house. Covering mirrors represents the mourners’ focus on spiritual rather than physical reflection.

Shiva candle
A candle that is lit upon return from the cemetery and burns for the length of Shiva.

For additional information about observing a Shiva in your home, please contact one of our family service counselors at (847) 255-3520.


Attending a Funeral or Shiva More Detail

Funeral / Burial

Jewish law considers attending a funeral and burial to be a mitzvah or “religious obligation.” Family and friends attending a funeral should avoid ostentatious dress or behavior.

Assisting in the Burial

It is a religious privilege and duty to assist in the burial. K’vurah is the custom of placing at least 3 measures of earth into the graveside.

Visiting a Shiva House

It is a mitzvah to visit a house of mourning during Shiva. We visit to offer friendship and sympathy to the mourner. It is customary to say to the mourners: Ha-Makom ye-nachem etchem be-toch she’ar avelay Tziyon vi-Yerushala’yim. May the Lord comfort you together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Who observes Shiva?

Children, siblings, parents, and spouse.

When does Shiva begin?

Immediately after the burial for seven days.

What is the Meal of Condolence?

The first meal eaten upon return from the cemetery, prepared by friends.

What should I do when making a Shiva call?

  • Give the mourner a hug
  • Listen carefully to what the mourner says
  • Share a personal memory about the person who died
  • Participate in the minyan
  • Be mindful of an appropriate level of decorum

For additional information about attending a funeral or Shiva, please contact one of our family service counselors at (847) 255-3520.


Jewish Funeral Practices

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