Jewish Funeral Traditions
The Process of a Jewish Funeral
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Jewish funeral customs vary widely, depending upon the movement to which the family belongs–Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. With that said, certainly a Jewish funeral can be very different from what is often expected by guests who are not of the faith; as there may be no music or funeral flowers surround the casket.
Rabbi Maurice Lamm, author of The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, wrote, "The Jewish funeral service is a starkly simple, but emotionally meaningful, farewell to the deceased." He then goes on to say, "In order to render the proper homage to the deceased, tradition serves as a wise and able instructor. The cumulative wisdom of the Jewish people's experience with grief for over 3,000 years is distilled in the laws and customs pertaining to this area of life." And as is common among human beings, collective wisdom relating to the care of the deceased (and the family he or she leaves behind) can be distilled into a wide spectrum of Jewish funeral rituals behaviors. There really is no one "right way" to do things; the guidelines of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements shape Jewish funerals differently. Couple those differences with the unique qualities of every family and there's plenty of room for variation in Jewish funeral ceremonies. We also offer additional information on Jewish mourning customs on our mourning page.
With over three thousand years of Jewish history–and the often very subtle differences between the traditions of the Conservative, Reform and Orthodox movements–it can certainly be a challenge to understand everything about Jewish funeral customs. If we can be of assistance in understanding your role at the Jewish funeral, do not hesitate to call us at (718) 377-7300.
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, "Guide to Jewish Funeral Practice," 2013.
Black, Joe, "What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral," Reform Judaism, accessed 2014.
Lamm, Maurice, "The Jewish Funeral," Chabad, accessed 2014.
Klug, Alcalay Lisa, "Jewish Funeral Customs: Saying Goodbye to a Loved One," The Jewish Federations of North America, accessed 2014.