How Is a Jewish Funeral Service Different From Other Funeral Services?
How is a Jewish funeral service different from other funeral services?
Jewish funeral services are generally held very soon after a death occurs -- often on the same day, but within 24 hours if possible -- at a chapel, the gravesite, or both. A closed wooden casket containing the deceased is usually present, draped in a simple cloth. There's no public or private viewing of the body.
Traditionally, there are no flowers or very few arrangements displayed, and no music is played.
Prior to or after the services, the primary mourners -- which typically include the deceased's husband or wife, mother, father, sister, brother, and children -- perform the ritual of k'riah, the rending of the garment to symbolize the tear in the mourner's heart. Traditionally the clothing is torn, but many people now use a black ribbon attached to the outside of the clothing. The ribbon is worn, or the clothing cut, on the left side of a person who is mourning the death of a parent; for all other relatives, the ribbon or cut is on the right side.
The brief funeral service differs only slightly among the three sects of the Jewish faith: The Orthodox sect uses more of the Hebrew language, the Conservative uses only half, while the Reform uses no Hebrew at all except when reciting the Kaddish prayer.
If the service is held at the gravesite, mourners typically conclude by symbolically filling the grave. The rabbi or other officiant begins the ritual, followed by family members, then other mourners. Participants take a shovel, holding it with the convex side facing up to emphasize that it is not a normal activity, then throw three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave. As each person finishes, he or she puts the shovel back in the ground rather than handing it to the next person, to symbolically avoid passing grief to other mourners.
When the funeral rites have ended, it's customary for the mourners to gather and share a meal, often at the home of a close relative. Those who were close to the deceased often eat a hard-boiled egg, lentils, or other round-shaped foods to symbolize that life is a cycle.
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