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Jewish Death and Funeral Rituals and Traditions

Jewish Death and Funeral Rituals and Traditions

While there are four different sects of Judaism, there are some shared customs that apply to mourning and the death of a loved one. A Jewish funeral service is usually held as soon as possible after death; 24 hours later is the preferred timing. Often only family members attend actual burials; friends and guests are invited to join the family for a memorial or funeral service or during the seven-day mourning period known as shiva.

Things to know:

  • Jewish funerals have closed caskets; no viewing is usual in Jewish funerals, and cremation is not permitted except among Reform Jews
  • Men are expected to cover their heads, and yarmulkes are usually available at the synagogue or temple where the funeral is held
  • Modest, dark clothing for both men and women is appropriate; no uncovered arms, short skirts or open-toed shoes
  • No symbols of other religions should be worn or displayed, including cross necklaces or other jewelry
  • Only audio recording is permitted; no cameras or video devices are appropriate
  • Charitable donations made in the deceased’s name are appropriate; flowers are not appropriate at either the funeral or shiva

After the funeral, family members sit shiva at the home of the bereaved, and all other activities are suspended for seven days. Shiva is meant to allow the family to recover and prepare for their return to work and daily life. The family’s first meal after the funeral (“seudat havrach”) is usually prepared by a close friend or neighbor as shiva begins. Things to know about shiva:

  • Shiva is open to all and is an acceptable setting to grieve and show sadness
  • Friends are encouraged to stop in to share memories of the deceased
  • Visits are customarily about 30 minutes in length, both to show respect for the deceased and also allow others to spend time with the family
  • Immediate family members sit on low seats used only by them; other chairs are provided for visitors
  • Dark colors are generally worn, and shiva is an acceptable place to grieve and show sadness for their loss
  • Food is a very acceptable gift at shiva, but flowers are not


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