The Traditional Jewish Funeral, Mourning, Burial at Sea and Cremation
It must be understood that while this information was furnished by reliable sources, there are many different opinions between those of Jewish faith, and any Jew contemplating cremation or burial at sea should seek council with a rabbi or spiritual director who they trust. This essay is describes traditional, or orthodox practices. To read about Reform Jewish Funeral customs, click here.
Judaism, specifies seven immediate family members who are expected to directly observe the mourning period: the mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister, (including half-brother and half-sister), and husband and wife.
Clothing And Mourning
These seven certain members of the family in mourning do not wear leather shoes, put on make up or use perfume, shave, take haircuts, or bathe, and no marital relationships take place. All mirrors in the house where the family is sitting Shiva are covered as mourners are not to be vain. All mourners sit on low stools or the floor.
The word Shevah in Hebrew means seven, and the word Shiva is taken from that to mean seven days of mourning following the funeral.
The mourning period begins with the funeral. It is tradition for the burial to take place as soon as possible, even on the same day of the death, but no more than two nights after the death. Only under certain circumstances, the burial can be delayed. It is considered disrespectful to keep the body from being buried as soon as possible. His soul has returned to G-d, but his body is left to linger in the land of the living. That would be considered a matter of great shame.
Jewish people do not have a wake (where the body is displayed), because Judaism beliefs is that the body should be brought to its resting place as soon as possible. It is not customary to bring flowers because the funeral is to be as simple as possible. Only wood coffins are used in Jewish funerals because Judaism belief is that we do not preserve the body because as the body decays, the soul ascends to Heaven.
Burial Ceremony Traditions
The Rabbi or a representative tears the blouse or shirt of the seven mourners as a sign of mourning. It is called tearing the Kria. For a mother or father, the left side of the shirt is ripped because it is considered a deeper loss for the parent who brought the deceased into the world and are considered closest to you in feelings. For other family members, the right side of the shirt is torn.
Services starts with the Kaddish, a special prayer which is also recited for a parent for 11 months and for other family members for 30 days. Kaddish is usually said by the son. If there are no sons, family members can designate someone else to say Kaddish for the deceased. It is considered a privilege for the deceased soul to have someone say Kaddish for them.
Any Jewish person can be buried in a Jewish cemetery. In certain cases, however, if one marries out of the faith or committed suicide, the person would be buried in a separate part of the cemetery.
Cremation is not allowed in Jewish law because the body was given to us as a gift from G-d who expects us to take care of ourselves and return in the best condition possible.
Autopsies are not allowed according to Jewish Law, nor donation of body organs. A Rabbi must be consulted if an autopsy has to be done or an organ donation is being considered. It is acceptable, however, to donate a kidney during the persons lifetime.
Embalming is not allowed. This process of removing blood, discarding it down the drain and substituting preservative chemicals in the body, is considered desecration of the deceased person and is forbidden by Jewish Law.
During the week of Shiva, any family member and friends come to comfort the mourners, regardless of their religious beliefs. It is customary to bring food, such as uncut fruit or bakery goods from a kosher bakery or store.
At the first meal after the funeral, mourners eat a hard-boiled egg and something round to indicate that life is like a circle and the mourners have no words to describe their loss.
For thirty days, mourners do not attend weddings, bar/bat-mitzvahs or other events that have music. The son or daughter of the deceased do not attend for 12 months. They also do not shave or cut their hair.
Visiting The Cemetery
Customs vary as to when one may visit the grave site. In Israel, it is customary for people to go on the day they finish sitting Shiva. Others may go at the end of the Shloshim (The Thirty Days), others don't go for eleven months.
Visitors can bring live flowers, although a more accepted custom is to put stones on the grave instead. Putting a pebble on the grave is an expression of someone having visited to pay respect for the deceased person.
Customs also vary about the Tombstone Unveiling ceremony. In Israel, many people do it after 30 days, other people do it at the 11th month after the burial. The family Rabbi would be the best person to check with.
Any information can be put on the tombstone. Usual procedure is to place both the English and Hebrew names of the deceased on the tombstone with their fathers name. Some people may also list the birth date and the date that the person passed away. Jewish people who are Cohenim or Leviim also put symbols such as a pair of hands or a wash basin to show that they are a Cohen or a Levi
We observe the Yarzheit (anniversary date of passing) on the day the person passed away according to the Jewish calendar. During the first year after a parent passes away, one joins in the Yizkor services on the three Festivals and Yom Kippur but does not say the prayer. One of the reasons is because Kaddish is said for the person everyday during the first eleven months. Yizkor in Hebrew means remember.
Yizkor is a prayer said in memory of the person. This prayer is said on Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, on the last day of Passover, and Shavuot.