Jewish funerals, like all religious funerals, should be planned and organised with the help of the religious leader – the Rabbi. In general Jewish funerals are solemn occasions, marked by conservative dress, an avoidance of music and flowers, and conservative behaviour. In many Jewish communities a Hevra Kadisha, a holy society which supervises funerals, help to comfort the bereaved as well as make sure that all Jewish laws and customs are followed for Jewish funerals. Though they take place quickly, Jewish funerals require preparation, a service and a mourning period all in accordance with Jewish law and custom.
According to Jewish law, funerals should take place as soon as possible after death. Usually this means that within 24 hours is an optimal time frame. Funerals may be delayed, however, for a variety of reasons including that funerals can not be planned or performed on Shabbat, that the body must be transported and/or that relatives must travel from long distances to attend. In the time prior to burial the deceased s body should not be left alone. A Shomer (guardian) looks after the body at this time and recites Psalms. Generally a Shomer is a relative or friend of the deceased, or a member of the deceased s congregation. The deceased s body must be cleaned and shrouded according to Jewish law, and embalming and the use of cosmetics if prohibited. Autopsies are also prohibited unless legally required, in which case a Rabbi may ask to be present when it is performed.
Jewish funerals are usually simple, respectful services. Most take place in a synagogue, funeral home or graveside. During this service Psalms are chanted, the Eyl Malei Rahamim (memorial prayer) is said and a eulogy honouring and celebrating the deceased is given. Viewing of the body is prohibited during Jewish funerals. The casket is carried to the gravesite by pallbearers who stop seven times while family and friends follow. K vurah (burial) then takes place and the Kaddish is recited (though there are some variations so discussing this with a Rabbi is encouraged). Jewish people are generally buried in Jewish cemeteries though non-Jewish spouses need a Rabbi s approval to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Rabbis may not officiate at the funerals of Jewish people who will be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries.
Parents, spouses, children and siblings of the deceased are obligated to mourn for their loved one according to Jewish law. A seven day intensive mourning period known as Shivah begins on the day of burial. During this time going to work and school is discouraged. During this time it is also customary that mirrors be covered, a memorial candle lit, leather shoes to be avoided and males to stop shaving. After the seventh day, Shloshim is observed for thirty days followed by Shanna for twelve months. On each anniversary of the death, the Kaddish is recited.
Preplanning for a Jewish funeral should be carried out with a Rabbi and is encouraged given that these funerals are meant to occur as quickly as possible after the death. At the time of death, the deceased s religion should be made known to the authorities so that they can issue a death certificate as soon as they are able. Rabbis, Hevra Kadisha and local Jewish communities are excellent resources when planning a Jewish funeral.