Introduction to the Funeral Service

The Halachas of a Jewish Funeral are vast and go back thousands of years. That said, the focus of a Jewish Funeral, put simply, is on honoring of the deceased as they enter into the next world. There are several ways in which this is done. Notably, recitation of psalms, studying mishnayos, reciting a eulogy, carrying the coffin, following the coffin are just some of the ways that the deceased is honored. While it is the time to let a mourner be a mourner and participate in his or her grievance, it is also a time to pay tribute to his or her departed. This is done by highlighting the deceased’s positive qualities, and positive impact that he or she placed in this world or on people.

The funeral service is laser focused on ascribing dignity for the deceased. Specifically, We highlight the deceased’s positive character traits, accomplishments and impact.

Type of Coffin – Only wooden coffins are used, and with no metal (including nails). As such, this facilitates the body to eventually meld into the ground. With metal coffins or metal materials, the body is separated from the earth. (Igros Moshe YD 3:143 – Rabbinic sage Moshe Feinstein said that perhaps the Rambam considers a body in a wooden coffin in the ground as if it is in the ground.)

Family Members that Mourn – A person has the din (status of a mourner) after losing a child, sibling spouse or parent. Please see our Shiva section for more details.

Appropriate Funeral Gifts — The following are appropriate memorial gifts behalf of the deceased:

  • Contribute prayer books to local synagogue
  • Contribute money to local synagogue or Yeshiva
  • Donate money to needy families
  • Donate to a specific charity
  • Donate mishnayos

Funeral Behavior Mocking the Dead Now that the deceased has entered the next world, “The World of Truthâ€, the true value of mitzvahs becomes blatantly clear to the deceased. In fact, our Holy Torah tells us that the deceased craves to do more mitzvahs, and thinks, “if only I could do more…†That said, participating in mitzvahs in front of the dead is considered “mocking of the dead†and is prohibited within six feet of any grave. This includes wearing tefilin, tzitzis, outwardly (YD 367:4). One who is wearing Tzitzis should tuck them in upon entering the cemetery.

Service Attendees

Primary family members, friends and community members are the primary attendees. A bride and groom are not obligated. We postpone Aveilus over their close relatives (YD 342:1) to attend the service within the first seven days of marriage. Also, mourners are only mourners if it is on behalf of their seven closest relatives: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter and husband/wife.

Escorting the Deceased to the Cemetery

It is of significant importance that the dead is properly escorted to his grave. Our sages tell us that this is a true, selfless act of kindness (Rashi Bereishis 47:29, from Bereishis Rabah 96:5). One who sees the body being escorted, should walk at least four amos with the body, to properly honor the body (YD 361:3). Also, one engaged in learning torah, should even interrupt in order to escort the body (YD 361:1, Rema). Clearly escorting the dead is of paramount importance, and a true opportunity to ascribe dignity to the dead (escorting the deceased is a positive mitzvah, “you should love your neighbor like yourselfâ€)

Location of Funeral Service

For thousands of years, according to our Holy Torah, Jewish Funeral services have been conducted mainly in either the cemetery or the home of the deceased. And, in rare cases, with respect to community leaders, services could be conducted in the local synagogue (YD 344:20).

That said, today, people typically use the funeral hall, as it fits their needs (e.g., ability to accommodate people, layout etc).

If none of the aforementioned locations are available, then the eulogy should be conducted in the cemetery.

Disclaimer

The articles are not meant to be halachic rulings, so please contact a posek regarding your situation. Our website is intended to be a helpful guide, but for everything contained in the articles, or to the extent that we inadvertantly made a mistake on one of the articles, please contact your local Orthodox Rabbi regarding it.