How are Jewish Funerals Different Than Other Funerals?

For friends and relatives not raised in the Jewish faith, Jewish funeral customs may come as somewhat of a surprise. Although the funeral differs from funerals associated with many other faiths, Jews focus on honoring the deceased and acknowledging the recent loss experienced by immediate family members who are in mourning. The service is simple, relatively quick and always soon after death. Jewish law dictates many of the customs seen and often synagogues complete most of the funeral arrangements for their Jewish members in order to ease the burden on the family.

Unlike many other funerals, Jewish law dictates the timing of the burial, clothing worn by the deceased, type of casket used and type of funeral. Traditionally flowers are not included in a Jewish funeral service and the entire service is kept simple to symbolize that all persons are equal in death. Other examples of simplicity dictated by Jewish law are the use of a plain pine box instead of a more elaborate casket, simple white burial shrouds worn by the deceased and neither cremation nor embalming are permitted. Due to the strong Jewish tradition which takes place during a funeral, having a funeral director who is Jewish is crucial to ensure that tradition, law and meaning are exercised during the funeral, especially in situations where the deceased member did not belong to a synagogue. A list of Jewish funeral homes and Jewish funeral directors of America is available online, in phone books, at many hospitals and at local synagogues. The funeral director can help inform you of local funeral homes which will ensure Jewish law and tradition are incorporated.

From the moment of death, a Jewish body is never left alone until after burial. Ritual washing is performed by Jewish members of the same sex as the deceased. If the deceased died as the result of an injury which resulted in their clothes becoming soaked with blood, the ritual washing is not performed as the blood is considered sacred.

During the funeral service, a deceased man's prayer shawl is torn rendering it ineffective and the garments of immediate family members are torn to symbolize their loss. Psalms are recited followed by a eulogy, memorial prayer and then the deceased is taken out by males followed by the mourning family members. As a sign of respect, anyone who attends the funeral service but not the burial will walk a short distance behind the hearse to symbolically escort the deceased. Once at the cemetery, the procession will halt seven times to recite Psalm 91 and once the coffin is placed in the ground, close family members and friends throw handfuls of dirt over it. Mourning family members symbolically wash their hands prior to leaving the cemetery.

Though different from many other religions, the traditions practiced by Jews at funeral services honor their dead. They are filled with customs which allow Jews to feel at peace with the knowledge they are all the same in death.


07 Apr 2011

By Funeral Home Resource Team