There are some practices in Judaism that are always observed upon death, however there are many details and variations that depend upon the different branches of Judaism. This is a general overview of Jewish practices and traditions.
- Funerals take place very promptly, usually within 24 hours - and no more than three days - after death.
- Orthodox Jews have a burial. Refom and Liberal Jews can be cremated and their ashes are interred in a Jewish burial ground.
- Funerals cannot take place on the Shabbat, Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, or on the first and last days of festivals such as Shavuot, Pesach and Sukkot.
- The service takes place at a synagogue, crematorium or cemetery.
- The dress code is smart, dark-coloured, sombre clothing; men must wear skull caps and women usually cover their heads.
- Jewish funerals are kept as simple as possible. There are no flowers, the coffin is made of plain unadorned wood, and embalming and the use of cosmetics on the deceased is forbidden.
- During the service, psalms are chanted and the traditional memorial prayer, Eyl Malei Rahamim is recited. There may also be a eulogy (hesped) to the deceased.
- At a burial, known as k'vurah, the bereaved may throw earth on to the coffin. The back of the spade is used to fill the grave with earth.
Mourning or Avelut
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.