Elaine Alter
D: 2018-08-09
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Alter, Elaine
Esther Fraser
D: 2018-08-08
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Fraser, Esther
Celia Goldsmith
D: 2018-08-02
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Goldsmith, Celia
Norman Norvat
D: 2018-07-30
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Norvat, Norman
David Hopard
D: 2018-07-28
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Hopard, David
Sabina Zaidman
D: 2018-07-26
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Zaidman, Sabina
Lynn Goldstein
D: 2018-07-21
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Goldstein, Lynn
Milton Pedowitz
D: 2018-07-08
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Pedowitz, Milton
Suzanne Nires
D: 2018-07-06
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Nires, Suzanne
Evelyn Pedowitz
D: 2018-07-06
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Pedowitz, Evelyn
Stanley Zaglin
D: 2018-06-28
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Zaglin, Stanley
Steven Jacobson
D: 2018-06-28
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Jacobson, Steven
Edith Landes
D: 2018-06-25
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Landes, Edith
Betty Wilson
D: 2018-06-25
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Wilson, Betty
Shirely Beheshti
D: 2018-06-19
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Beheshti, Shirely
Lily Imparato
D: 2018-06-19
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Imparato, Lily
Edith Colin
D: 2018-06-18
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Colin, Edith
Elliott Brody
D: 2018-06-18
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Brody, Elliott
Sara Benson
D: 2018-06-17
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Benson, Sara
Pearl Bromberg
D: 2018-06-12
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Bromberg, Pearl
Seymour Zaglin
D: 2018-06-11
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Zaglin, Seymour


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The Jewish Funeral Ceremony

We believe it's safe to say that almost any Jewish funeral–whether Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform–is characterized by simplicity and solemnity. However, as with anything in life, there's diversity in the interpretation and application of Jewish funeral customs. This means one Jewish funeral ceremony can look very different from another; yet, both would honor the same traditional motivations:to show respect for the dead, and to comfort the living.

The ceremony described below can be seen to exist at one end of the spectrum of tradition, that of the Orthodox Jewish funeral. So, as you read, remember the Jewish funeral ceremony you attend may not exactly conform to these observations. For example, while Orthodox funeral ceremonies have neither music nor flowers; this is not necessarily true for other Jewish funeral ceremonies.

What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral

Jewish funeral services are held in one of three locations: the synagogue, our funeral home, or at the graveside. Usually fairly brief, a Jewish funeral ceremony includes the recitation of psalms; followed by a eulogy, or Hesped, and concludes with the traditional closing memorial prayer known as the El Moley Rachamim.

And, depending on the wishes of the family (usually defined by the specific Jewish movement to which they belong, Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox), you may witness any or all of the following activities and behaviors at a Jewish funeral service:

  • The immediate family of the deceased, the mourners, may choose to gather in a separate room from the guests; only joining the others just prior to the beginning of the service. Remember this is not always the case; some families in mourning opt to be present as guests arrive.
  • The tradition of K'riah, which is the tearing of mourner's clothing, can be either the actual rending of the clothing (at the Orthodox end of the ceremonial spectrum); or the use of a K'riahribbon, worn by the mourners (at the Reform side of the spectrum). Both are intended to denote their status as bereaved family members. Traditionally, mourners stand during the K'riah ceremony, to symbolize a sense of strength in the adversity of their grief. Whether a K'riah ribbon is used, or the garments themselves are cut; the place of the cut (or ribbon) can be as important as the act itself. (When mourning the loss of a parent, the cut or placement of the ribbon is made on the left side; symbolic of the close heart-driven connection between the deceased parent and their child. When the funeral is for someone other than a parent, the K'riah occurs on the right side.) As this is done, the mourners commonly recite a blessing and/or a scripture passage.
  • Once all are seated, the Jewish funeral ceremony commonly continues with prayer, read or chanted aloud by the officiant or Rabbi.
  • A Hesped, or eulogy, may be read; which may afford mourning family members an opportunity to stand and share their thoughts and feelings with the audience.
  • At the close of the Jewish funeral service, a final prayer, the El Moley Rachamim; is recited. Attendees are usually asked to stand during this time.Commonly, just after the recitation of the El Moley Rachamim, the family will follow behind the casket to begin the funeral procession.
  • The procession of the casket to the waiting hearse may involve pall bearers selected by the family when making funeral arrangements. And the traditional restriction, where noavelym, or mourners, can serve as a pall bearer may or may not apply.
  • As accompanying the deceased to their place of interment is seen as a very important commandment, or mitzvah; there can be, but not always, a very long procession of vehicles escorting the hearse to the cemetery.

What to Expect at the Cemetery

Commonly, the graveside service is fairly short. Once all guests have gathered together near the open grave, the procession of the casket from the hearse to the place of burial happens. Orthodox tradition can mean the pall bearers are asked to pause a number of times–usually seven–during this processional; but as mentioned, existing diversity in Jewish practices produces a spectrum of behaviors.

Just as in the Jewish funeral service, prayers are a big part of the graveside service. Sometimes they are recited prior to the lowering of the casket; other times these sacred words are spoken during the lowering process. Much of the remaining time is spent in prayer; and the El Moley Rachamim is commonly recited a second time.

The mourners may recite the Kaddish for the first time in their bereavement here at the graveside service. And, depending on the Jewish movement to which they belong, they may recite the Kaddish every day for the next eleven months.

Individually, guests and mourners may now place earth into the grave. Again, the exact way this symbolic action occurs differs widely, depending not only on the specified funeral tradition, as well as existing cemetery regulations.

Once the graveside service is over, the mourners will return to their cars. Sometimes, depending on the family and the traditional guidelines they've chosen to follow; the guests will form two parallel lines facing each other, and the mourners would pass between them as they walk to their vehicles. As they walk by, guests commonly recite a traditional blessing.

Attending a Jewish Funeral

Whether you are of Jewish heritage or not, it's easy to see that since Jewish funeral traditions ask that the burial of the deceased occurs (preferably) within 24 hours of death, you will sometimes have very little advance notice regarding the funeral. This means that you may have to make hasty preparations to attend.  If you do intend to be a part of the Jewish funeral, these basic guidelines may help you to get ready on short notice; however remember, not all Jewish funeral ceremonies are the same (which means you need to be responsive to the specifics of the situation):

  • Dress conservatively and comfortably. It is customary for men to wear a kippah, or yarmulke, during the funeral and burial.
  • Bring a pen and a sheet of paper. You may need to write down important information provided in post-funeral announcements regarding the cemetery and Shiva locations.
  • Jewish funerals usually begin on time, so do your best to arrive early. Being just 15 minutes early will help you to avoid disrupting the service.
  • Follow directions as to where to sit. You may also be asked to sign a guest book or attendance card.
  • It may be appropriate for guests to greet the mourners prior to the start of the service.
  • Use a hushed voice. This may seem simplistic, but when speaking among those at the gathering refrain from loud speech. Limit your conversations to the reason you are there: paying your respects to the deceased.
  • While this is true for all social situations, we suggest that you participate only as much as you are comfortable. It doesn't matter who, when, or where you are, a good rule of thumb is this: if you are unsure of what to do, take the example of those around you.
  • Listen closely for the announcement of the Shiva location. Note it, and the times when the secluded mourners will be receiving visitors, on the sheet of paper you brought especially for this purpose. There may also be an announcement regarding the preferred charity for memorial donations.
  • If you are going to the cemetery to participate in the burial, follow the guidance provided by the funeral director. Whether the funeral took place on the grounds of the Jewish cemetery, or miles away at the synagogue or funeral home, there may be a processional. If you are going to be involved, be sure to listen close to any directions provided by those in charge.

How We Can Help

It is the goal of Sherman's Flatbush Memorial Chapel, Inc. to provide any assistance you may need to fulfill your personal commitment to attend the Jewish funeral service of someone in your community. You may wish to read more about Jewish funeral etiquette, or would like to discover the subtleties of Jewish burial practices; but if you are preparing to attend a Jewish funeral ceremony and have additional questions about Jewish funeral traditions, please call us directly at (718) 377-7300.

Online Sources:

Black, Joe, "What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral," Reform Judaism, accessed 2014.  

Klug, Alcalay Lisa, "Jewish Funeral Customs: Saying Goodbye to a Loved One," The Jewish Federations of North America, accessed 2014.

Wolfson, Ron, "Going to a Jewish Funeral," My Jewish Learning, accessed 2014.