You’ve just received the most devastating news; your parent has passed away. As the cornerstone of your family, you want to give your loved one a dignified burial. Whether you’re religious or not, honouring your parent’s wishes of being buried according to Judaism is something you want to be proud of. Whether you're planning or simply attending a Jewish funeral, here's what you need to know.
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Traditions & Customs
When it comes to a Jewish funeral, traditions are more or less the same all around the world. Variations are dependent on your heritage and denomination. The basic principles remain the same as these are based on the Torah. Over the years, some traditional customs have been modified under the Reform Judaism. We discuss the details involved in planning a Jewish funeral.
Dress Attire Etiquette
When it comes to dressing etiquette, these tend to vary according to each gender. Women wear a head covering, black or dark colours accompanied by a respectable dress. Men are required to wear a skullcap, for attire, they must wear suits or formal business attire – all of which must be in black or a dark colour. Immediate family members wear a black button-looking pin with a ribbon hanging from it. As a symbol of grief and anger experienced during the mourning of their loved one, the ribbon will be cut. The tradition is called ‘kriah’ which means tearing. The torn garment is then worn for ‘shiva’ for seven days following the funeral.
No Viewing of the Deceased
Jewish funeral protocol states that there will be no viewing of the deceased’s body. Throughout the proceedings, you may notice that the casket remains closed. Only family and friends may see their departed loved ones.
Jewish funeral service traditions take place at a standard funeral home, synagogue or a gravesite. The typical service can run between 15 to 60 minutes. The service starts with a eulogy read by the rabbi, followed by prayers, psalms, and hymns. Once the service is complete, the family follows the hearse to the grave plot.
Once at the cemetery, the rabbi or cantor will recite a hymn. The coffin is lowered into the ground, the family or friends of the deceased will pour a handful of soil onto the coffin. When it comes to flowers: according to Jewish funeral traditions, these are not allowed during the burial proceedings. Instead, mourners place stones on the headstone, according to the belief that stones will keep the soul down.
Jewish funeral traditions – known as K’vod Hamet state that the deceased must be buried as soon as possible. This can be delayed if appropriate arrangements are made with the family. However, things are different where cremation is concerned. Conservative Judaism opposes cremation. A conservative rabbi may perform a funeral for a person who has already been cremated. However, for Reform Jews cremation has become a common practice. A Reform rabbi will perform a funeral for someone cremated.
Often referred to as “sitting Shiva”, this form of bereavement takes place for seven days after the funeral. The grieving family will stay at home during this time to mourn and pray. The family may not work or participate in their everyday activities. Extended family and friends may visit the family during specified visiting hours. Practices observed during Shiva include sitting on a low stool, remaining indoors, wearing of non-leather shoes, abstention from marital relations, and the prohibition of work and studying Torah.
When it comes to sending condolences to the family or friends, a Shiva basket is a customary condolence gift. The basket is made up of food items that are sent to the home of those sitting Shiva following the funeral. A Shiva basket will include fruit, nuts, assorted chocolates, desserts & baked goods. Other food arrangements include Shiva trays or platters that may be sent to a Shiva following the burial.
The second mourning period lasts for 30 days and includes seven days of Shiva. There are still prohibitions that mourners observe during shloshim/sheloshim which include: not cutting the hair, beard or nails. Mourners are not allowed to wear new clothes or newly washed clothes. No parties or marriage can take place. Mourners are not allowed to receive gifts of any kind.
Jewish families hold annual memorials, which occur on the anniversary of the loved one’s death. This is called ‘yahrzeit’ and it is held the night before the anniversary of the death. A yahrzeit candle is burnt for 24 hours. Hymns and prayers are also recited.
Another memorial is called ‘Yizkor’ and takes place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. The last days of the holidays Passover and Shavuot are also dedicated to remembering those who have passed on. During the memorial prayer service, ‘Yizkor, mourners attend their synagogue in remembrance of their loved ones.
As with any religion, funeral customs and traditions are always adhered to. With so many costs to consider, a funeral insurance policy can take the financial pressure off by helping to cover a lot of the expenses associated with funerals. Get a funeral cover quote today!