What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral
A Jewish burial observes an array of traditions, customs, rituals and law and can be a unique experience for anyone attending for the first time. You are welcome to attend, your presence is appreciated and a gift to the mourners. Please follow any specific directions that our funeral directors may give for your safety and the dignity of the deceased. Here’s a few things to note:
Funeral dress code and punctuality
Dress appropriately when attending the funeral, it is a sign of respect and dignity for the family and the more solemn occasion. Men: suit or collared shirt; Women: skirt, blouse, dress or nice pants. No jeans or t-shirts please. Men may be asked to wear a head covering (kippah or yarmulke).
Please arrive on time or even earlier as the service will begin on time. If in the chapel at the cemetery, there may be standing room only.
Casket AND BURIAL
As a sign to honor the deceased, Jewish customs require that the funeral and burial happen as soon as possible. Judaism does not embalm and does not have an open casket or wake. In other religions, an open casket or viewing of the body may be important to give a sense of closure to the mourners. In Judaism it is considered to violate the modesty of the deceased. “We can look but they cannot look back.”
Jewish funerals are in alignment with the principles of a “green burial”-- no embalming, the body is dressed in shroud from natural fabric, no metal in the casket–all so that we may return to the earth. Some Jews believe that decomposition is the final step in the soul separating from the body.
The casket is very simple and not ornate. According to Jewish Law, it can not be made on the Sabbath. The entire casket must be made of biodegradable materials, (oak, pine, poplar, redwood, mahogany) this means no metal anywhere including hinges and screws or ornate designs. (all people are equal in death). Because the deceased must touch the earth, many caskets have holes drilled in the bottom to allow dirt from the gravesite to enter the casket. Even with this done, especially in the US, dirt from Israel is placed in the coffin before burial by the Sacred Burial Society.
At most Jewish funerals, you will see the request– "in lieu of flowers please make a donation to a specific charity or religious organization that the deceased may have supported." This is because, Jews believe that flowers while a beautiful gift for the living, mean nothing to the dead. The body is temporary, the soul is eternal. The body like a flower, blossoms and then fades away, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives forever. Tzedakah or the giving to charity is a way to honor the deceased. Charity is a key principle in Judaism, in fact the Bible says that “charity is equal in importance to all other commandments combined.”
Participate where needed
One of the greatest acts of loving kindness in Judaism is to do something for someone, which cannot be repaid, or where someone cannot say thank you. This last act is covering the grave with a shovel or a few handfulls of dirt. Please participate when asked, you will fulfill the Mitzvah (good deed) of helping the loved one return to from where they came.
Comforting the mourners
Your presence is appreciated, taking care of the mourners and providing comfort to them is an act of “nichum aveilim”. Continued care and comfort is done at the mourners home after the burial. Once again you are welcome to join the family. The officiant will make an announcement at the end of the service as to dates and times of the Shiva Minyan, a service at the loved one's home, where prayers and comfort are continued and the grieving process begins as the family is joined by community and friends.