What to Expect When Attending a Jewish Funeral
- October 6, 2021
Attending a funeral is already an emotionally charged and intimidating experience, let alone also trying to abide by certain etiquette and traditions of the deceased and grieving family during the service. Many times, we may have little to no understanding of what to expect or how to dress depending on the background and traditions of the deceased. As funeral invitations usually come with short notice, we usually don’t have the luxury of the time needed to research proper funeral service etiquettes and protocols for different religions. Most of the time we don’t know what to expect concerning clothing, funeral gifts, what to say, or even what not to say.
Jewish funeral services come with their own list of unique customs and protocols.
The truth is, Jewish funeral etiquette can vary from family to family, and the religious background of the deceased. If you will be attending a Jewish funeral service in the near future, here is what you need to know so you know what to expect and can be best prepared to pay your proper respects.
Jewish Funeral Attire and Clothing Etiquette
Jewish funeral attire is typically modest and conservative, and proper, respectable attire is usually expected at the service. This means it is advised to avoid casual clothing such as jeans or flip flops, and instead opt for more tidy and polished options. Most times, men are expected to wear suits, dress shirts, and a head covering called a kippah or yarmulke. Women are also held to high standards and are usually expected to wear something formal like a dress or long sleeved shirt and long skirt.
Attendees usually wear muted colors such as gray, black, or brown and it is best to avoid any flashy or vibrant colors. As stated above, choose to wear something conservative that doesn’t draw attention to yourself and detract from the somber nature of the event.
While at a Jewish funeral, you’ll likely notice the immediate family members wearing a “kriah” or black ribbon, which means “tearing.” This is part of a custom ceremony held in a private room before the funeral by the immediate family. The Kriah or ribbon is typically cut or torn, symbolizing the family’s pain and grief. We wanted to highlight this specific attribute of Jewish funeral services so as to clear any confusion you may have if you should also come wearing one or not.
Viewing of The Body
When attending a Jewish funeral, you’ll notice the body is never shown and the casket usually remains closed at all times. There is no public viewing of the body. The ceremony always takes place within 24 hours of death, and it is believed that after three days, the soul is no longer present and has fully left the body. The ceremony can take place at a variety of places, including a synagogue, funeral home, or graveside. Also, note that you’ll most likely never attend a Jewish burial on a Sabbath (sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday) or holiday. Mourning is also paused during Sabbath.
A common tradition of Jewish funerals is the use of biodegradable or very simple caskets. Jewish burial caskets are referred to as ‘Aaron’ and represent nothing more than a vessel for the body to be transported to the earth in the most natural way possible. This accounts for why the design is usually very simple, with no embellishments, and is typically entirely made of wood. It’s simple and modest design also helps remind attendees how all people are equal once they arrive at their death as well as the temporal, precious quality of life.
Arrive On Time
When attending a Jewish funeral, you can almost certainly always expect it to start exactly on time, not one minute later or earlier. As a form of respect, try to arrive half an hour to a few minutes before the ceremony.
Washing of The Hands
At the end of the ceremony, once you’re ready to leave or enter the Shiva home—after the ceremony, mourners often return home to sit Shiva for seven days of prayer—it is of Jewish custom to wash the hands when leaving a cemetery. This is often used as a cleansing ritual, meant to serve as a form of purification after being close to a dead corpse.
More Common Jewish Rituals in Respect to Death and Burial of The Body
Here is a quick recap and a shortlist of additional customs to watch out for and be mindful of:
- The body of the deceased is usually washed thoroughly and never shown.
- The body of the deceased is always buried in a simple and biodegradable pinewood coffin.
- The ceremony usually takes place within the first 24 hours of death.
- Right before the funeral, the immediate family tear their garments or a black ribbon as a symbol of their pain and suffering.
- When it comes to what to bring to the funeral ceremony, condolences and sympathy baskets are one of the most frequent ways of expressing one’s compassion and sympathy for a grieving family of the Jewish faith.
Overall, Jewish funerals value simplicity and modesty over everything, keeping things as humble as possible to avoid the embarrassment of the poor. This is a form of respect to any of their attendees and relatives, putting aside any emphasis on flashy or extravagant details.
A Jewish burial, like any other, is a time of grief and expressing one’s sympathy and condolences. You can also usually expect prayers, hymns, religious readings, and sometimes songs to be performed at the service so as to honor the deceased, and mourn the loss of someone who was very loved.
We hope this guide helped you acquire a clearer understanding of what to expect at a Jewish funeral ceremony, so you are prepared to pay your condolences and properly offer your respects. Beyond all logistics and protocols and regardless of our specific traditions and religious beliefs, we all experience deep sorrow and overpowering sadness in regards to losing someone we love. Therefore, ultimately the most important thing you can bring to any funeral service is your caring and compassionate heart.