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Jewish Funeral Customs

There is a wide divergence in the practices and beliefs of those who identify themselves as Jews. As a chapel which serves all of the Jewish denominations from the most Orthodox to the most liberal, we are dedicated to the principle that we will not attempt to impose any particular ritual or observance on any family nor will we attempt to dissuade any family from any practice that is accepted by any of the denominations. We will make available detailed information about the preferences of particular rabbis or congregations so that any family that is uncertain about observance can feel reassured about their choice of arrangements.


Despite differences in the degree of ritual observance, all Jewish funerals share certain basic characteristics that stem from our common belief in the sanctity and equality of all human life. Because a Jewish funeral has profound religious significance, Jewish funerals avoid ostentation; family and visitors reflect in dress and deportment the solemnity of the occasion; embalming and viewing are avoided; music and flowers are rarely used; and interment takes place as soon as possible after death.

Some or all of these practices may be incorporated into any funeral out of respect for the beliefs of the deceased even though the surviving members of the family are less rigorous in their personal religious observances.


Jewish funerals conducted by more liberal Jewish denominations may differ in one or more respects from the foregoing traditional rituals. For example, the Reform movement does not object to cremation. Other less traditional practices include, burial in the deceased’s own clothing, burial in a mausoleum and a more elaborate funeral service including the use of music. The Useful Links section contains reference to several useful funeral guides that contain detailed information regarding funeral, burial and mourning practices, funeral etiquette and other related information


Plaza will ensure that each family has access to any information that could be helpful in deciding on the arrangements that best suit its needs; that the information is presented in an objective manner without any sales pressure; and that the arrangements selected are carried out with respect and dignity.


When returning from the cemetery a seven-day candle should be lit. One reason for this custom is that the candle and light represent a metaphor for the body and soul. Another reason is that the candle helps to console the soul, which returns to the home where it lived and mourns there for seven days.


Traditional Jewish funerals involve certain ritual observances including:

When visiting a grave it is customary to place a stone on the grave. The visitor positions the stone on the grave using his or her left hand. Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave. It also enables visitors to partake in the mitzvah tradition of commemorating the burial and the deceased. Stones are fitting symbols of the lasting presence of the deceased’s life and memory.


-The body of the deceased is washed thoroughly by members of a sacred burial society (Chevra Kadisha), which will prepare the body for burial. Men prepare men and women prepare women. They wash the body with warm water from head to foot and, although they may turn the body as necessary to clean it entirely, including all orifices, they never place it face down. Prayers and psalms are recited during the washing.


-The deceased is buried wearing a simple white shroud to avoid distinguishing between rich and poor. Men are buried with their prayer shawls (tallism), which are rendered unuseable by cutting off one of the fringes.

-Tradition calls for the casket to be simple; to be made of wood with no nails or other metal parts; and to have several holes in the bottom to allow the body’s natural return to dust.



– If a family member requests, Plaza will provide a shomer (watcher).
This person is a presence in the building, regularly sitting near the deceased reciting psalms (tehillim) to surround the body with spiritual protection in accordance with Halachic guidelines.



– The rending of the mourners’ outer garments, a symbol of their anguish and grief. The Rabbinic Assembly Law Committee decided that a black ribbon can become part of the garment and is torn if the family does not wish to tear their own clothing.

Categories: Etiquette & Customs


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