Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This is a special edition of our series that highlights how different cultures and religions care for their dead. With Hanukkah approaching, we wanted to look at Jewish funeral traditions.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Jewish Funeral Service
A Jewish funeral is different than many other religions’ funeral traditions. It’s a sad occasion for mourning rather than a celebration of life. Unlike many funerals, a Jewish funeral doesn’t have flowers or music. Many Jewish people believe that flowers’ life cycles shouldn’t end to make floral arrangements.
There’s also no embalming or viewing of the body. The deceased’s family washes and dresses the body in white burial clothing. Then, someone watches over the body until the funeral, which is usually within 24 hours of the death.
At the funeral, mourners wear somber clothing and tear an outer garment or ribbon to symbolize pain and grief. They may say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer at the funeral, but it isn’t said at the gravesite.
There is no cremation or above-ground burials; all burials are in-ground in a wooden casket. You shouldn’t delay the burial and should have it as soon as possible. During the burial, many mourners help shovel dirt into the grave. A burial Kaddish prayer may be said after the burial.
Shiva Mourning Period
Shiva is a week-long mourning period for the deceased’s family. The saying goes that the family can withdraw from the community, but the community can’t withdraw from the family. They should visit the family — called making a Shiva call — to pray together and offer support. If they can’t visit, they may send a donation or sympathy card.
After Shiva, family members may continue to mourn for a month to a year. During this time, loved ones may send the family a fruit basket or kosher foods. Or, in Israel, it’s common to plant a tree to memorialize and honor a loved one.
Remembrance During Hanukkah
During Hanukkah, there are several tributes families can do to honor a loved one:
- Light a menorah or Yahrzeit memorial candle in their honor
- Make a charitable donation in their name
- Recite a blessing or prayer
- Dedicate a plaque in their name
- Create an online memorial