Article courtesy of

Although every service differs based on a family’s religious beliefs, Jewish funeral services are often centered around traditions and the immediate family members of the deceased. 

It is important for funeral directors to have an understanding of Jewish traditions to help navigate a family through the funeral process. 

Here is an overview of the traditional Jewish funeral service, along with the role directors can play in facilitating these traditions. 

Arrival at a Jewish Funeral Service

It is common for a Jewish funeral to be held within 72 hours of a person’s death; therefore, the family of the deceased often relies on the funeral director to help get everything done in a timely manner. 

Jewish funeral services may begin at a funeral home, cemetery, or synagogue. Upon entering, funeral directors often remind attendees to silence their phones. Attendees may find a registration book to sign and a line to greet the family. The greeting is often brief and subdued, and serves as a way to offer love and support. It is also now common for a stream to begin at this time, which allows remote attendees to watch and listen to the service virtually. If needed, additional instructions may be provided to guide those who are not physically in attendance.  

Attendees may also find a service folder, which contains information regarding not only the service but also the burial and shiva. This program allows the family to communicate whether the burial service is open to everyone or if it’s for family members only. It is also an opportunity to invite the community to shiva.

The Service

A Jewish funeral service often begins with the tearing of clothing (the Kriah) and the short accompanying prayer. Next, a rabbi or officiant will welcome guests and perhaps recite prayers. In some cases, the custom is not to eulogize, so the officiant will instead speak about the good qualities of the departed. In others, family and friends may be called to eulogize the departed. 

Following kind words or memories, there may be a few brief prayers. Additionally, the officiant may make announcements regarding the burial or shiva. If the service is performed inside, the next observance is “levaya” or the accompanying of the deceased to his or her final resting place. If the service is taking place graveside, the interment begins.

The Interment

Participating in the burial is considered an honor. Attendees are invited to do so by shoveling soil onto the casket, a sign of returning the deceased to the earth from which he or she and all his or her descendants came. It is customary not to pass the shovel between people. Instead when one person is finished, he or she places the shovel back into the earth and the next person takes it from there. 

During the interment, one of the most well-known prayers in Judaism is recited, the Mourner’s Kaddish. In this Hebrew prayer, death and dying are never mentioned, and instead it is a reaffirmation of the greatness of G-d. The Mourner’s Kaddish is often included in the service folder to help attendees participate. 

After the Service

After the service has ended, the focus turns from honoring the deceased to comforting the bereaved. As people disperse from the cemetery, it is common to hear attendees say that they hope to meet next at happy occasions. After the funeral, it is customary to wash hands prior to entering the shiva home. Many funeral homes and cemeteries have faucets and cups immediately outside to help facilitate the hand washing. Traditionally, one does not dry their hands after this washing. The shiva – the seven day mourning period – begins after the burial.

Funeral services can vary greatly depending on the religious identity of the family in mourning or the traditions the family holds close. However, understanding the most common observances, and talking with the family to identify which traditions are important to them, will help to create a meaningful Jewish funeral service for all parties involved. 

This is the final installment in a three-part series by Read the first article in the series, “What to Know about Jewish Mourning and Shiva” by clicking here.  Read the second article in the series, “How Funeral Directors Can Support a Family During Shiva” by clicking here. Thank you to the team at for sharing this important information!  

Follow on LinkedIn.

Follow on Twitter.

Follow on Facebook.

Leave a Message

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Comment *
Full Name *
Email Address *

Related Posts

Visit regularly to get the latest insights on the profession.

Learn from the past, look to the future and optimize business operations with the insights on