Norma Weisberg
B: 1936-04-05
D: 2018-07-04
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Weisberg, Norma
Norma Weisberg
B: 1936-04-05
D: 2018-07-04
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Weisberg, Norma
Morton Backal
B: 1924-04-28
D: 2018-06-15
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Backal, Morton
Arthur Paley
B: 1932-10-24
D: 2018-06-01
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Paley, Arthur
Vera Anzel
B: 1923-05-08
D: 2018-05-26
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Anzel, Vera
Michele Aboaf
B: 1941-05-06
D: 2018-05-24
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Aboaf , Michele
Irene Tucker
B: 1931-07-14
D: 2018-01-21
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Tucker, Irene
Hannah Kent
B: 1929-10-09
D: 2017-12-08
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Kent , Hannah
Stephen Brotter
B: 1948-06-25
D: 2017-12-05
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Brotter, Stephen
Ida Goldberg
B: 1919-10-27
D: 2017-11-14
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Goldberg, Ida
Tatyana Bank
B: 1936-03-25
D: 2017-10-05
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Bank, Tatyana
Sidney Krumholz
B: 1918-04-02
D: 2017-10-04
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Krumholz, Sidney
Lilly Teich
B: 1925-04-24
D: 2017-08-11
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Teich, Lilly


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What Happens at a Jewish Funeral

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

what happens at a jewish funeralCommonly, 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.


As we've said elsewhere, according to traditional Jewish burial customs, interment should take place as soon as possible; preferably within 24 hours after the death. However, there are always exceptions. Perhaps the burial must be delayed because close relatives need ample travel time; or the death occurred on Shabbat or another holy day in the Hebrew calendar.

The custom is to wash and clothe the deceased in a simple linen or muslin shroud, then place the body in a plain wooden casket. At that time, a small bit of Israeli Earth, called eretz Yisroael, will be placed under the head or sprinkled over the face of the deceased. Once the Jewish funeral ceremony is over, a procession to the place of interment will occur.

The Jewish Funeral Process

If you plan to attend this portion of the Jewish funeral service, you will need to know the following things:

  • 1. When you arrive at the cemetery, you will (again) not want to greet the mourners. They will take their seats, and guests will stand behind them. Again, you will wish to participate in the service only as much as you are comfortable.
  • 2. Once the casket is lowered into the grave, it is time for you to follow the family in picking up a handful of dirt and placing it into the grave. You may notice that others do this three times; if this is the case, follow their lead. If a shovel is provided, do not hand it to the next person: just place it back into the pile of dirt.
  • 3. At the close of the interment, join the other guests in forming two rows. In this way the guests create a sheltered walkway for the passage of the mourners.
  • 4. As they walk by, the traditional words of consolation may be offered. Tradition dictates that it be said in Hebrew, but if you feel you may mispronounce the words, Hamakom y'nachem etchem b'toch sh'ar availai tziyon ee yerushalayim, you can speak them in English: "May the Almighty comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Do not approach the mourners; simply recite the words as they pass.  (However, if they approach you, it is acceptable to respond with a gentle hug and kind, comforting words).
  • 5. Take your leave of the cemetery according to tradition. While it is customary that all the women should leave first, followed by the men; you may find less formal structure in a recession from the graveside.
6. Wash your hands after leaving the cemetery. You may find that preparations have been made for you to do so while there; certainly there will be washing accommodations provided at the Shiva home, or you should do it at your own home upon arrival. Here is how it's done: Take a cup of water in your left hand and pour it over the entire right hand–all the way to the wrist. Then, take the cup in your right hand, and pour it over your left hand in exactly the same way. Repeat two times. Place the cup upside down, and do not dry your hands. This is symbolic of the lingering memory of the deceased.


Do You Still Have Questions about the Jewish Funeral Process?

Then it's time to pick up the phone and call us. Everyone at Manhattan Jewish Funeral Home has the experience to provide you with the answers you are looking for. Simply call (212) 473-2228 to reach one of our funeral professionals.


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.

Goldstein, Zalman, "After the Burial," Chabad, 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.