Jewish funerals traditionally take place within 24 hours of death; however, there are instances where the funeral may be delayed a day to accommodate out-of-town family members who need to travel long distances to attend.
Customarily, the location of the funeral begins at the synagogue or funeral followed by a procession to the cemetery. Upon entering the synagogue or funeral home, guests will be presented with either a yarmulke, for men, or a veil, for married women, to cover their heads. Both Orthodox men and women traditionally wear black hats.
Viewing, in the Jewish religion, is reserved for close family members and occurs prior to the ceremony. The casket will be closed at all times during the ceremony and funeral to other funeral attendees. To facilitate natural decomposition, per Jewish law, the deceased is not embalmed; this is the reason the person is buried quickly. The casket is simple, untreated wood devoid of any nails. Only in cases where the local law requires embalming is it performed.
Prior to the Jewish Funeral Ceremony
Family members closest to the deceased, namely the parents, children, spouses and siblings will be in another room until the ceremony begins. The family members are distinguished by a black ribbon worn on the chest. They will continue to wear this ribbon for the next week, the week of shiva.
Other mourners may sign a guest book, cover their heads with traditional headwear (if not already adorned prior to arrival) and sit until the ceremony begins. We request mourners keep their voices low. Family members will be seated in the front row once everyone else has been seated. There will not be opportunity to console the family members at this time.
The Jewish Funeral Ceremony
The rabbi or cantor will lead the ceremony beginning with a reading from the Book of Psalms, followed by silent prayer and a eulogy. The ceremony will vary according to the customs of the Jewish community. Some family members may read something they’ve written about the deceased. The ceremony will close with the reading of a Hebrew prayer, El Malei Rachamim. Guests will stand during this portion of the ceremony. At its conclusion, guests will depart while family members return to a private room in preparation for the funeral procession. The family will exit, followed by the pall bearers (who are not family members) carrying the casket to the hearse. At this time, all mourners will depart and line up in their vehicles to drive to the cemetery in procession.
At the Jewish Cemetery
Once the casket has been carried from the hearse to the grave by the pallbearers, a brief service will follow as the casket is lowered into the grave. At the service’s conclusion, the mourners will each place a shovelful of dirt in the grave.
After the Funeral: Shiva
Mourners may pay respect to the family during the period of shiva.