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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 service.

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 teachings.

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.


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