Based on Jewish laws, traditions and customs, a Jewish funeral usually takes place within one day following the date of death and these are solemn and reflective services followed by a gathering at the mourner’s home, which marks the beginning of shiva. The first seven days following the funeral is known as shiva, and the mourners generally stay at home and receive guests to help them pray and reflect upon their loss. Judaism allows for a deep mourning period during which celebration of life and beautification of your self and your surroundings are considered distractions from the religious healing process.

Jewish Funeral Overview

A Jewish funeral usually occurs within 24 hours after the death; however, in the modern world, there is allowance and acceptance to delay the burial for mourners to travel and for appropriate arrangements to be made. The funeral is a private time for the family and the religion provides that there is no public viewing of the body. The traditions, rituals and customs for Jewish burials provide that the body is buried in a plain and unordained wooden casket. According to Jewish law, the body is washed and not embalmed.

The casket is usually closed and the funeral service conducted by a rabbi is usually short, reflective and solemn. A eulogy is delivered, and family members and close friends often read psalms, prayers, and share stories in their own way. Jewish funeral services can take place at the synagogue, funeral home or graveside at the cemetery.

At the graveside of a Jewish funeral, it is a common tradition, along with a sign of respect and love to the deceased, for the mourners and friends to participate in the actual burial. Today, many people place a few shovels of soil onto the casket to symbolically follow this tradition. To bury a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotionally painful act, but the traditions and customs of participating in the burial are considered psychologically beneficial. The act of shoveling soil onto the casket helps provide closure and give a physical connection of saying goodbye to their loved one for a final time. It also helps with the realization that the death occurred and allows for the grieving process to truly begin.

Traditions & Customs for Jewish Funeral Services

A traditional Jewish burial and funeral are prevalent among the Orthodox and Conservative sects with modifications under Reform Judaism and Reconstructionists. A Jewish funeral service generally incorporates many rituals and customs that are set forth in the Torah according to Jewish law.

General Structure of a Jewish Funeral Service

Depending on the level of observance of the deceased individual, the mourning family, and/or the person presiding over the funeral (e.g., Rabbi, Cantor, family member or funeral director), along with local customs, varying levels of traditions may be followed during a funeral service. However, there are certain rituals that will be conducted at each Jewish funeral.

Set forth below are elements of a Jewish funeral service conducted in a memorial chapel (non-graveside service)

Attending a Jewish Funeral: Family & Mourners

The Mourners Congregate: It is common for the mourners and the immediate family gather in a private/separate room before the funeral service. In general, the mourners do not engage with or greet the comforters and supporters prior to the burial. The guests are ushered to a chapel where the funeral service will take place awaiting the mourning family's entrance.

Keriah (Tearing of a Black Ribbon):  Keriah is the tearing of a garment or ribbon (black) worn by a mourner during the funeral and shiva mourning period which traditionally is seven (7) days. Generally, prior to the funeral service the rabbi or individual presiding over the funeral places a ribbon on the outside of each mourner. In some instances the placement and tearing of the ribbon may be done publicly, but most often this is performed before the family enters the service.

After placing the ribbon, it is torn, while a prayers is said by the mourner:

Baruch atah Adonai, Dayan Ha-Emet.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Truthful Judge.

The other family members and loved ones may recite a passage from the book of Job:

Adonai natan, Adonai lakach, yehi shem Adonai m'vorach.
God has given, God has taken away, blessed be the name of God.

Jewish Funeral Service: Family, Friends, & Community

Entering the Chapel: After all of the extended family, friends, comforters and supporters are in their seats there is a mourners procession where the family enters and is seated. The first row (and second if needed) of seating is often reserved for the mourners and family.

Initial Remarks and Prayers: In general, a Jewish funeral service opens with the reading or singing of poems and Psalms. The funeral service is a compilation of select Psalms deemed appropriate to the life of the deceased. Most commonly, Psalm 23 is recited. The silent prayer usually is next with the eulogy to follow.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He has me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside the still waters.
He revives my soul;
He guides me on paths of righteousness for His glory.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no harm,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff do comfort me.
You set a table in sight of my enemies;
You anoint my head with rich oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall abide in the house of the Lord for ever.


The Eulogy: A eulogy is most often delivered by the individual presiding over the memorial service. The messages and history shared is compiled by meeting with the family and/or a direct relationship held with the deceased. In many instances family members and others also prepare and share memories about their loved ones telling personal stories. The words of a eulogy are intended to honor and commemorate loved ones, begin to comfort mourners and establish a legacy for future generations. Eulogy in Hebrew is Hespeid.

Mourning Family Exiting the Chapel: Following the eulogy and concluding prayers, generally the El Malei Rachamim is recited and then the family leaves the chapel, returning to the private room to await the procession to the cemetery.

Casket Removed from Chapel: The funeral director generally makes a series of announcements after the family leaves the chapel relating to the burial, family gathering and shiva. Most notably, the individuals selected to serve as pall bearers (and honorary pall bearers) are named. These individuals assist with escorting the casket to the graveside. In general, the pall bearers may also help to move the casket from the chapel to the hearse. After the announcements the family, friends, and other comforters remain in the chapel until the casket leaves. During this time it is common for Psalms to be recited.

Funeral Procession to the Cemetery: Within Judaism it is a good deed (mitzvah) to attend a funeral service and burial at the cemetery. At the conclusion of the funeral service the funeral director typically makes an announcement regarding the location of the burial and shiva to follow. If attending the burial it is customary to drive in a procession to the cemetery.


Jewish Funeral Service: Graveside

A Jewish cemetery service is generally short in duration. Similar to the funeral service the customs differ between practices, level of observance, geography, synagogue, and/or individuals overseeing the service. The following are customs that may be found:

Bringing the casket to the grave: It is tradition to have the pall bearers help move the casket from the hearse and escort it to the grave. The mourners', family and those in attendance at the cemetery are usually at the area set up for the burial service. Depending on level of observance and practices, the pall bearers may pause seven (7) times between the hearse and the grave.

Reciting prayers and lowering the casket: The duration of time spent at the cemetery is generally brief. After the casket arrives to the grave it is set on a device that holds it in place for either prayers to be recited or immediate lowering. The order of whether prayers are recited or the casket is lowered may vary depending on a number of factors including, local traditions, family preferences, and/or the rabbi, cantor or individual presiding over the ceremony's direction.

Graveside ceremony and prayers: At the cemetery service there are often poems and prayers read that relate to love, family and life.

The Mourners Kaddish: Traditionally, the mourners kaddish is a prayer that praises God. Although called the mourners kaddish, the emphasis is on life and death is not referenced in the prayer itself. In general this prayer is recited at the graveside for the first time by mourners. In addition, depending on level of observance, the mourners kaddish is recited each day for eleven months after the burial, and each year on the anniversary of the passing of the deceased which is called the yahrzeit.

Covering the casket with Earth (dirt): The Jewish burial ceremony has many customs one of which includes the placement of earth on top of the casket after it is lowered into the grave. Upon the conclusion of the burial service the mourners and attendees at the cemetery help to place earth (dirt) into the grave on top of and around the casket either with the front of back side of a shovel. The amount of earth placed on the casket by individuals may vary. Lastly, it is common for the Rabbi or officiant to place soil, rock or dirt from Israel on the casket.

Grief & Bereavement

After a Jewish funeral takes place, the immediate family (i.e., spouse, parents, children and siblings) are considered the mourners. The immediate family begins 'sitting shiva.' Shiva means "seven," and is a seven-day mourning period that is observed. The family remains at home, in a shiva house; prayers, including the Mourners Kaddish, are recited; and traditional mourning practices, customs and rituals are followed. During the Jewish shiva, the community, extended family, friends and colleagues visit a shiva home during designated times to make a shiva call. This is an appropriate way to pay your respect and support the bereaved. The bereaved (i.e., immediate family who are mourners) continue the traditional mourning period beyond the seven-day shiva and observe certain traditions for 30 days and up to a full year after the death of a Jewish family member.