Jewish Funeral Customs: Saying goodbye to a loved one
The Jewish faith has many traditions surrounding death—something that can be a bit of a maze to navigate in what is naturally an emotional situation. Saying goodbye to a loved one is a combination of Jewish funeral customs and the wishes of the family—as well as any desires that might have been expressed by the deceased before they passed.
No matter what type of end-of-life service is to be performed, there are various rituals to be followed.
Understanding Jewish Funeral Customs
- Jewish funeral customs in the immediate post-death days
- The funeral service
Jewish funeral customs in the immediate post-death days
The very first ritual to do on hearing that a loved one has passed is the “kriah”. This involves making a tear in your clothing and is a symbol of grief and loss.
In the next few hours (or day or so before the funeral) there are various traditions for washing and preparing the body. This is known as “taharah”. The deceased is not left alone at any point, with close family members remaining with the body to ensure that the funeral preparations are carried out and to protect and guard it before the service.
The funeral service
The funeral service will involve many rituals. This includes the tearing of a black ribbon, known as ”keriah”, reciting a traditional prayer, called the Mourner’s Kaddish, and—in the case of a burial—all mourners throwing a handful of earth onto the casket.
After the service, the family usually hosts a reception. This takes place either at the home of the deceased or at the synagogue.
The first thing that’s done following the funeral is to light a candle. This represents the first day of mourning and will remain lit for the next week.
This first week, or seven days, is known as “shiva”. It’s an official period of mourning during which family and friends are invited to come to the family home to pay their respects. There are other important rituals that the family will adhere to:
- Personal grooming is not allowed.
- Couples should refrain from intimacy.
- Mirrors within the home are covered.
- The Mourner’s Kaddish is recited daily.
- Some denominations (such as Orthodox Jews) won’t leave the house during this period.
After shiva, there is a further 30-day mourning period. This is known as “shloshim”. During this time, the family begins to resume their normal daily routine. However, daily hymns and prayers may still be sung/said. Some people might also refrain from attending social gatherings during this time.
When a child loses a parent, this period sometimes lasts up to a year, and is known as “avelut”.
On the anniversary of the person’s death, a remembrance candle is lit and allowed to burn for 24 hours. This is known as “yahrzeit”. Some people might also fast and a donation to a chosen charity is often made.
Of course, every family celebrates the life and loss of a loved one in different ways. While tradition still surrounds many end-of-life rituals, breaking from these is becoming more common. This is especially relevant if cremation is chosen over a burial. While still not normal across all Jewish denominations, cremations are accounting for more and more funeral services each year.
Got Questions about Jewish Funeral Customs? Contact the Jewish Cremation Society
Without a doubt, if cremation is an option, you’ll likely have many questions about how this can be done while satisfying traditional burial rituals.
The Jewish Cremation Society is here to help. We offer impartial, confidential information about both cremation and burial services. We also put you in touch with local providers who can assist you further.