Are you attending a Jewish funeral for the first time? Would you like to have an idea of what to expect? While the customs of the different streams of Judaism are often unique, there are some central concepts common to all of the Jewish faith.
Order of the Service – Chapel
This is a typical order for a Jewish funeral service.
Gathering of Mourners
The deceased’s family members gather in a separate room and do not enter until just before the service begins.
While the family is gathered separately, the officiant will pin a black ribbon on their clothing. It is done as a physical expression of grief, as a symbol of the tear in the family fabric due to the death of a loved one, and as an indication that it is now the responsibility of the community to look after them.
Procession of Mourners
After all those attending the funeral are seated, the mourners enter the service and sit in the seats reserved at the front of the chapel.
The funeral begins with a reading or chanting of a Biblical passage, typically from the book of Psalms and followed by a silent prayer.
The officiant usually meets with family members prior to the service to learn more about the deceased’s life story and then delivers the hespeid during the funeral. The hespeid is meant to honor the deceased while also comforting the mourners.
El Malei Rachamim
The congregation stands as this prayer is chanted. The prayer includes the deceased’s Hebrew name and says that the individual is now sheltered under the wings of God’s presence.
Recession of Family Members
Following the El Malei Rachamim, the family members leave the chapel and return to a small side room in order to prepare for the funeral procession.
After the family members have left, the pallbearers escort the casket to the funeral car. While this occurs, the congregation traditionally recites from the Psalms. According to traditional Jewish customs, mourners can’t act as pallbearers.
Funeral Procession to the Cemetery
The attendees planning to attend the graveside ceremony form a line of cars in the funeral procession.
Order of Service – Graveside
Again, exact traditions often vary, but the following includes the common, basic customs. The graveside service tends to be quite brief.
Procession of Casket from Hearse to Graveside
After all the mourners and other attendees have gathered, the pallbearers walk the coffin from the hearse to the graveside. In some services, the procession will stop seven times along the way to acknowledge that this is difficult and there is no hurry to end.
Lowering of Casket
The timing of the lowering of the casket varies. It can be lowered during the recital of prayers or after the prayers are finished.
A short series of prayers are recited, which talk about love and mortality. The El Malei Rachamim may be recited again.
This is a doxology or prayer extolling God. The mourners recite the Kaddish for the first time at the graveside and traditionally recite it every day for the following 11 months as well.
Placing Earth into the Grave
This practice varies, with some completely covering the casket, while others only symbolically place earth in the grave. Earth from Israel is often sprinkled over the casket as well.
Following the graveside service, the mourners return to a home where Shiva is observed.
The deceased is not left alone between the time of death and the funeral as a sign of respect.
The burial typically takes place soon after the death, traditionally with 24 hours.
Burials never occur on the Sabbath or holidays.
Members of the “chevra kadish,” or holy society, who are always on call, ritually wash the deceased before burial. The body is then clothed in a white linen shroud as well as a prayer shawl for the men.
Whatever the custom, whether Jewish or other, a funeral is meant to honor the deceased and the family.