Jewish Funeral Customs

If you attend a Jewish funeral you will not ever mistake it for a Christian one. The two are worlds apart as are the religions. First of all Jews do not send flowers. You won’t see flowers at a Jewish funeral or at the Shiva, the 7 day (or sometimes 3 day depending on how observant you are) period of mourning after the burial. Flowers are thought to be impractical. Jews instead will bring food, as the family is not supposed to worry about such mundane things as preparing a meal.

The coffin is not an elaborate affair. In fact many funeral homes and coffin makers would go out of business were it not for Christians. Jewish law requires an observant Jew to be buried in a pine box. No chrome, cherry wood, silk linings. A pine box. Period.

Embalmers would be out of work as well. Embalming is not practiced at a Jewish funeral. A Jewish body is washed and cleaned head to toe, usually by members of the Chevra Kadisha, or holy society of knowledgeable and observant Jews. It is against Jewish law to embalm the body as this is seen as disrespectful to the deceased. Even the make up and hair services employed by many a Christian funeral home are frowned upon by the Jewish faith. If the body is bloodied at the time of death, the blood if left in it’s place. Nor is the body dressed in an appropriate suit or dress. A Jewish body is wrapped in a white shroud.

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The funeral itself is very quick. It is considered a religious obligation for family and friends to attend. The body is taken to the cemetery where it is buried, usually in a plot purchased by the family ahead of time, in a very orderly and unadorned manner. In respecting the deceased, the funeral happens usually within a day of death. If it is a holiday, the Sabbath, or if the relatives are not immediately within the same location, then the burial may be delayed.

The Shiva or mourning period is usually the time when family members and friends get together. Unlike Christian post funeral services which may be a relaxed environment with simple dishes enjoyed immediately after the burial, the Jewish Shiva is a long standing period, and another religious obligation, sometimes lasting up to seven day. Visitors come by the house when they can. Giving time for the family to grieve.

Unlike Christian funerals, the death and all it encompasses seems to be more about supporting those still living. While this is done at the Christian funerals. It is not the emphasis. More time is spent speaking of the departed in terms of his life and what he represented. A Jewish service can forgo those types of pronouncements about someone who is no longer with us.

This can be seen, in some regard, in the way Jewish people react after a bombing in one of there cities. Jewish areas are attacked all the time. Their highest priority after such an attack is to bury the dead and get things back to normal.

A day later, a bombing site will look just like it did before the bomb went off. Christians, on the other hand, can labor over such an occasion. Pausing to remember the memory of the ones who were killed; to address the sorrow with an undetermined respect.

If one were to surmise the difference between the reaction to death in either faith, it could be said that Jews focus on moving on with life, while giving respect to the dead. Christians, on the other hand, focus on the loss. Giving there respects in terms of that focus. The point of a jewish funeral is the family while that of a Christian’s is the departed.

Jewish funerals have many rituals and are guided by laws determined within the Jewish faith. Although some of those laws are not adhered to as strictly as they were in the past they still dictate and justify the Jewish reaction to death, and in return, life.

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