The customs and rituals associated with the death and burial of a loved one can provide comfort and structure during the difficult times of change and loss. Judaism is steeped with tradition and formula to give the bereaved support and assurance during the early moments in the grieving process.

Based on laws in Judaism, traditions and customs, a Jewish funeral usually takes place within one day following the date of death and these are solemn and reflective services followed by a gathering at the mourner’s home, which marks the beginning of shiva. The first seven days following the funeral is known as shiva, and the mourners generally stay at home and receive guests to help them pray and reflect upon their loss. Judaism allows for a deep mourning period during which celebration of life and beautification of yourself and your surroundings are considered distractions from the religious healing process.

Once Death Occurs

A Jewish funeral usually occurs within 24 hours after the death; however, in the modern world, there is allowance and acceptance to delay the burial for mourners to travel and for appropriate arrangements to be made. The funeral is a private time for the family and the religion provides that there is no public viewing of the body. The traditions, rituals and customs for Jewish burials provide that the body is buried in a plain wooden casket. According to Jewish law, the body is washed and not embalmed.

The casket is usually closed and the funeral service conducted by a rabbi is usually short, reflective and solemn. A eulogy is delivered, and family members and close friends often read psalms, prayers, and share stories in their own way. Jewish funeral services can take place at the synagogue, funeral home or graveside at the cemetery.

At the graveside of a Jewish funeral, it is a common tradition, along with a sign of respect and love to the deceased, for the mourners and friends to participate in the actual burial. Today, many people place a few shovels of soil onto the casket to symbolically follow this tradition. To bury a loved one is an incredibly difficult and emotionally painful act, but the traditions and customs of participating in the burial are considered psychologically beneficial. The act of shoveling soil onto the casket helps provide closure and give a physical connection of saying goodbye to their loved one for a final time. It also helps with the realization that the death occurred and allows for the grieving process to truly begin.

After the Funeral

After a Jewish funeral takes place, the immediate family (i.e., spouse, parents, children and siblings) are considered the mourners. The immediate family begins ‘sitting shiva.’ Shiva means “seven,” and is a seven-day mourning period that is observed. The family remains at home, in a shiva house; prayers, including the Mourners Kaddish, are recited; and traditional mourning practices, customs and rituals are followed. During the Jewish shiva, the community, extended family, friends and colleagues visit a shiva home during designated times to make a shiva call. This is an appropriate way to pay your respect and support the bereaved. The bereaved (i.e., immediate family who are mourners) continue the traditional mourning period beyond the seven-day shiva and continue certain traditions for between 30 days and up to a full year after the death of a Jewish family member.

The Unveiling: A Tradition in Judaism

Within the first year after the passing of a loved one, mourners and their family gather at the gravesite for a ceremony called the unveiling, or the placing of the tombstone. At this event, a grave marker is put into place and the monument is formally dedicated. There are a variety of specific customs that revolve around the gravesite to honor the person who is now deceased. During this ceremony, it is not necessary for rabbis or cantors to be involved. It is a spiritual time for the family to comfort each other and remember their loved one.

The Ceremony

The ceremony typically has a certain order of events. First, there are readings from the book of Psalms; other prayers may be recited as well. Next, there is a eulogy from either the rabbi or a family member. At that point, the Moleh, or Memorial Prayer, takes place. Finally, the Kaddish is recited, and the cloth or veil that has covered the headstone is removed. While the events cited above are typical, the unveiling can include additional sections to make this a personal reflection of the person whom has passed way.

When Does the Unveiling Take Place?

The ceremony can take place anytime between the end of shiva and the Yahrzeit. However, it should be held sometime during the first year after someone has died. Some people hold it close to the Sheloshim, which is the 30th day after the person died.

It is usually planned for a time when close family can attend. However, there are days that are generally not religiously appropriate for visiting the cemetery, such as scheduling the unveiling on days of celebration and festive periods or holidays such as Rosh Chodesh or Sukkot, which tend to take place in the fall or spring.

It is important to note that the actual date set for the unveiling is flexible, and often the family selects a time that fits best with personal circumstances.

Who Attends the Unveiling?

These gatherings are generally smaller and more intimate than funerals. However, the family members are typically welcome to invite the attendees who they feel will provide the level of support and comfort that they seek. There is no strict regulation on who can attend.

Excerpted with permission from Get more information about Jewish mourning and sympathy here.