Jews have death and funeral rites which are specific to our faith. As with all religious groups, death is considered a serious and major event as it marks the end of one’s life. When a death occurs in a Jewish family, the very first person who must be contacted is the rabbi or another synagogue head. Traditionally, the synagogue will be responsible for making the arrangements, but if the deceased is far away, recommendations can be made for rabbis that can perform the funeral.
Jewish Funeral & Burial Customs
Burials among the Jews are completed rapidly, in adherence to “k’vod hamet,” or honor for the dead. Burials are only postponed in cases where family members will not be able to arrive on schedule, or there isn’t sufficient time to complete the burial before holidays such as Shabbat. Even then, burials are traditionally not postponed for longer than a day, as it is considered insulting to the deceased.
A funeral plot must be purchased and a funeral parlor will need to be contacted so the body can be transferred and the funeral scheduled. One thing which makes Jewish burials distinct from non-Jewish burials is the fact that Jews do not place heavy emphasis on elaborate or costly coffins. For them, a simple pine box is all that is required. Neither embalming nor cremations are permissible under Halakha or Jewish law. Despite this, there are some rabbis who may officiate at a funeral where embalming or cremation takes place.
Additional Jewish Burial Rituals
Many Jewish communities provide the services of “Chevra Kaddisha” or sacred burial. This service involves the preparation of the deceased to be buried. The body of a deceased male must be attended to only by other males, while the body of a deceased female must be attended to only by women. The body will be cleansed in water which is warm from the head down to the toes and the body may be turned to clean both sides as well as every orifice. However, the body must never be laid facing downward.
Once the body has been cleansed, it will be covered in a “tachrichim,” which is a white colored shroud. This shroud is kept very basic for everyone to emphasize that there is no difference between the poor and rich in death. To the Jews an individual’s blood is holy both in life and death. To them, a body must not be left unattended from the point of death until it is buried.
This practice among the Jews is referred to as “shemira” which means to guard; it is another way of honoring the deceased. Those that tend to the body from the moment of death until burial may recite the Tehillim, which is a psalm. Jewish funerals, unlike their weddings and bar mitzvahs, are not elaborate, and are held only briefly. Before the funeral begins, close family members will rip their clothing to represent the loss they have sustained.