THE JEWISH FUNERAL SERVICE


Many people mark their visits to the cemetery by leaving stones by the grave.
Jewish funerals are marked by brevity and simplicity. A Jewish funeral service may be held entirely at the burial site, or may be held in a chapel or synagogue. The service is often led by a rabbi, but may be led by any Jew well-versed in the prayers and the service.

The traditional Jewish funeral service includes the recitation of Psalms, special memorial prayers and a eulogy. The eulogy is usually delivered by the rabbi, but it also may be delivered by a person chosen in advance by the deceased, or by members of the deceased's family. The eulogy honors the deceased by recalling his or her life, good deeds and achievements. Family members or close friends may also speak and share fond memories and stories.

The casket is always closed at a traditional Jewish funeral service so that the dignity of a person is respected, even in death. Viewing of the body prior to the funeral may be arranged for family members if requested.

After the Jewish funeral service, the mourners accompany the casket to the burial. No one should exit the building in front of the deceased as a sign of respect. The casket will be carried or wheeled out of the chapel on a special wagon with pallbearers walking alongside. At the burial site, the casket is taken from the funeral coach and carried by six or more pallbearers. Tradition has it that no children of the deceased can be pallbearers, and nowadays, members of the immediate family do not act as pallbearers. The honor of carrying the deceased to his or her final resting-place is usually given to family and close friends and is considered to be a mitzvah.

Following the recitation of prayers at graveside, the casket is lowered into the ground by hand or by mechanical device. The rabbi then hands one of the principal mourners a trowel or simply gestures for him or her to pick up the shovel placed beside or in a pile of newly dug earth. Children, parents, siblings, and spouse come forward, taking turns dropping a little of the soil onto the casket using the back of shovel to place dirt on the lowered casket as a sign of reluctance. In some communities, each mourner replaces the shovel back in the earth rather than hand it from one person to the next–a practice probably born of the idea that death is somehow contagious. However, others find it comforting to give the spade to the next person, acknowledging the shared nature of the task.

After the immediate family has symbolically buried their loved one, others may assist in filling in the grave, which is considered a final act of respect and love for the deceased.