Jewish Burial Customs
By Carole Galassi
There are three mainstream Jewish sects - Orthodox,
Conservative, and Reform. Each sect has its own rules
for the funeral or memorial service.The most formal and
conservative is the Orthodox Jewish Burial ritual, while
the Reform sect is considered to be the most liberal of
the three. Usually the funeral service is considered to
be the beginning of ceremonies rather than the end.
The funeral burial customs vary for the three Jewish
sects. The Orthodox sect uses more of the Hebrew
language, Conservative uses only half while the Reform
uses no Hebrew at all with the except of saying the
Kaddish. The underlying funeral format however, is the
same for each sect. The funeral ceremony affirms the
life that was lived and prayers that praise life.
Scripture readings and eulogies are given by the family
or rabbi. The Kaddish is the traditional prayer of death
which is spoken only by immediate family members of the
deceased. The Kaddish prayer of death is different from
the rabbi's traditional liturgical prayer at the funeral
All sects have the tradition of going to the home of the
deceased after the funeral. There is a traditional seven
days of the period of mourning called "shiva." While the
bereaved family is in the home during the seven day
mourning period, the funeral attendees visit the home to
offer their condolences. The emphasis is on people
sharing feelings and memories rather than religious
In many of the Jewish funeral services for many of the
Jewish congregations, part of the funeral service is
celebrated at the home of the deceased. In the more
conservative sects, only the closest family friends
visit the deceased home on the first day of shiva. Some
may attend the funeral services everyday for the entire
year as a means to remember the deceased.
Often the memorial headstone is not revealed until
months after the funeral. The family and friends gather
together and on the anniversary of the death, the name
of the deceased is read aloud in the synagogue.
The afterlife Jewish belief is different from
Christianity. If the deceased has had a long life and
many accomplishments, this is reason for celebration.
There is no concept of a joyful afterlife and for Jews,
death is a somber event. The Jewish sects do not
celebrate death with dancing or drinking over a person's
departure to heaven.
There is practically no opportunities to personalize an
Orthodox Jewish Burial Service. In the Reform sect, it
is up to the rabbi to decide whether or not you may add
to the service. Some rabbis do not allow songs, music,
or dance at the funeral or memorial service. These may
be permitted in a separate service thirty days after
death. The more traditional services are held in a
synagogue but liberal sects hold the service at any
number of locations.