Jewish Funerals

Jewish tradition and laws concerning funerals and mourning

There are many particularities regarding the traditional handling of death in the Jewish faith, including guidelines for ceremonies of memorial and funerals.


Shiva is closely related to the Jewish word for seven, 'Shevah'. Shiva refers to the seven days of mourning accompanying a Jewish funeral. The process of mourning is very structured in Jewish funerals; it involves the seven closest family members (usually the mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister, and the spouse) undergoing a specific ritual of mourning. They mustn't take baths, use perfume, bathe or wear makeup during the seven days. The seven mourners must sit on low stools or on the floor. All mirrors in the mourner's house are covered during Shiva.


In the Jewish tradition, burial takes place as soon as possible, possibly even on the day of death. Burial should never take place any more than two days after death, unless there are extenuating circumstances. There's no wake and no viewing. There are no flowers accepted at a traditional Jewish funeral, as this is seen as immodest. Cremation is also forbidden in the Jewish faith.

The Body

The body is considered very sacred in Jewish faith. Autopsies are strongly discouraged (unless unavoidable). Embalming is never performed as part of a traditional Jewish funeral. Instead, the body may undergo a ritual washing.

The Ceremony

Traditional Jewish ceremonies are usually very simple and brief. They'll begin with the tearing of cloth (in orthodox ceremonies, this is the clothing of the mourners). Psalms are recited, a eulogy is delivered and the Jewish memorial prayer (El Maleh Rachamim) is read. The casket (always very simple) is then carried out of the room.

At the Cemetery

It is traditional to stop seven times during the ceremony to recite Psalm 91. After the coffin has been lowered into the grave, members of the family and a few close friends will cover the coffin with handfuls of dirt. Psalm 91 and El Maleh Rachamim are then repeated by the rabbi.

Non-family members then form two lines and file past the mourners. The traditional condolence goes, "Hamakom y'nachem etchem b'toch sh'ar availai tziyon ee yerushalayim." This translates to "May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem ." Before leaving the cemetery, mourners must wash their hands to represent symbolic cleansing.

After the Ceremony

It's both appropriate and expected that you visit with the mourners (who are 'sitting Shiva'). This usually takes place at the home of a close family member. As at the funeral, sending flowers is usually not considered appropriate, although offerings of food are welcomed as those in mourning do not concern themselves with such matters.

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