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Jewish Funerals

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Funeral Traditions in Judaism

Jewish funerals should be planned and organised with the help of a religious leader - the Rabbi. In general, Jewish funerals are solemn occasions, marked by conservative dress, an avoidance of music and flowers, and reserved behaviour. In many Jewish communities, the "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 funeral ceremonies and rituals. Though they take place quickly, Jewish funerals require preparation, a service and a mourning period all in accordance with Jewish law and custom.

Upon Death

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 is prohibited. The deceased is placed in a very simple coffin, constructed entirely from timber, with no use of metal or decorative components.

The Funeral Service

Jewish funerals are usually simple, respectful services. Most take place in a synagogue or at the 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 Orthodox 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.

Jewish people are generally buried in Jewish cemeteries, of which there are a large number in the Manchester area. There are also Jewish sections of several municipal cemeteries throughout Manchester, Salford and Bury.

While Orthodox Jews are forbidden from selecting cremation, and must always be buried, Reform Judaism has a more liberal attitude towards the practice of cremation. We advise Jewish families to seek guidance and assistance from their Rabbi before coming to a decision regarding the choice between burial in a traditional Jewish cemetery or cremation.

Mourning Rituals

There are three stages of mourning in Judaism:


After the funeral, the bereaved enter a seven-day period of mourning known as shiva or 'sitting shiva'. This is usual when a close family member - such as a parent or sibling - dies.

During shiva, the bereaved are discouraged from attending work or leaving the house, apart from to visit the synagogue. They will usually wear the same clothing that is often ripped to symbolise grief. Alternatively, a black ribbon may be worn. Mirrors are covered up, leather shoes not worn, bathing is avoided and males do not shave. The bereaved also sit on low chairs to receive guests. As they are forbidden to cook or prepare meals, it is customary for visitors to bring along food for them.


Shloshim is a 30-day period of mourning that allows for the bereaved to gradually return to everyday life, but there are still certain restrictions during this time. Men do not shave or wash their hair and it is forbidden to wear new clothes. Social gatherings or celebratory occasions should not be attended, such as parties, concerts, cinema etc). Shloshim marks the end of mourning except in the case of the death of a parent.

Shneim Asar Chodesh

Those mourning a parent observe a 12-month period of mourning, starting from the death date. Most restrictions are lifted, but large celebratory gatherings (especially those with live music) should be avoided. The Mourners' Kaddish, an integal part of the mourning rituals of Judaism, is recited at synagogue services for eleven months.