According to the History channel, “Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, dating back nearly 4,000 years. Followers of Judaism believe in one God revealing himself through ancient prophets.” Jewish culture includes a mourning period known as shiva and other comforting traditions. Let’s look at Jewish funeral customs within this faith tradition. 

What Is Shiva?

Shiva is the seven days beginning with burial and a gathering of family and loved ones at home. Judaism reflects upon the loss of life by spending time with each other in traditional prayers and taking a break from everyday life. Those acquainted with the culture may say things such as, “Ruth went to sit shiva with her sister’s family.” Sitting shiva is about staying in a reflective somber place of recognition that mourning the loss of life is a part of life.

“It is considered a great mitzvah (commandment) of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. The mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may, in fact, completely ignore their visitors.” (1)

Visitors often bring food for the mourning family and loved ones sitting shiva. They may serve the mourning family by cleaning or cooking. The mourning family may avoid showers, wearing leather, working, attending celebrations, cooking, or cleaning during Shiva. Loved ones commonly say, “I wish you a long life” to a mourning family for comfort.

In the Jewish tradition, mourners and loved ones do not send flowers to the funeral home or the home of the shiva. Instead, a visit to sit shiva with the family along with a gift of food is considered appropriate.

How Is The Body Prepared?

In the Jewish faith, the family generally plans for the funeral within 24 hours of death if possible. However, these traditions may change in our modern times due to family and friends traveling from far away. 

According to Wikipedia, Traditional burial clothing (tachrichim) adorns the body with a sash wrapped around the clothing and tied in the form of the Hebrew letter shin. Shin represents one of the names of God. Loved ones wrap the body in the prayer shawl and sheet. Mourners place soil from Eretz Israel, if available, over various parts of the body and sprinkle it in the casket.

In many Jewish funerals, especially in the land of Israel, the tallit wrapped body goes directly into the ground.

The Funeral

Only close friends and family attend a Jewish funeral. A rabbi gives careful and somber reflections about life. According to Shiva.com, “After the eulogy, family members and close friends often read psalms, prayers, and share stories in their own way. Jewish funeral services often take place at the synagogue, funeral home or graveside at the cemetery.”

When mourners hear of the death, if Jewish, they may say, “Baruch atah Adonai, Dayan Ha-Emet” or “Blessed are You, Adonai, Truthful Judge.”

What is Keriah?

Mourners in the Jewish faith often wear a black ribbon during shiva. Before the funeral service, the mourners tear the black ribbon and say a prayer. In some Orthodox beliefs, the mourners tear their actual clothing.

The funeral consists of many scripture recitations from the Torah. One familiar passage is from the book of Job: “God has given, God has taken away, blessed be the name of God.” (2)

Family and friends may give eulogies to remember the deceased’s life and help the tears flow. They mourn deeply and openly as part of the shiva tradition.

The Burial

In the Jewish faith, mourners come forward after the casket is lowered into the ground to drop dirt upon the casket or body. The symbolism of letting the person go helps the feelings of loss deepen.

According to Wikipedia, “One custom is for all people present at the funeral to take a spade or shovel, held pointing down instead of up, to show the antithesis of death to life… This literal participation in the burial is considered a particularly good mitzvah. This is because the deceased can offer no repayment or gratitude and thus it is a pure gesture.”

The rabbi and loved ones recite more scripture and prayers as part of the burial ceremony. Scripture recited after the burial may include: “From heaven above may you be comforted.” The basis of a Jewish funeral is Judaism’s rich heritage of religious law, culture, and tradition. It’s interwoven through every funeral ritual and scripture reading.

We Can Help

At Renaissance Funeral Home, we understand that your culture plays a part in your death rituals. No matter your background or religion, we are here to comfort and help you through the difficult parts of your grief journey. We bring our utmost respect for your religious traditions and want to help you create memorable and inspiring services to honor your loved one. Contact us today and find out how we can help you plan and begin working through your loss.