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Frequently Asked Questions About Jewish Funeral Customs

We understand that Jewish funeral customs may be unfamiliar to many people, and we are here to help answer any questions you may have. If you would like to learn more please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Learn About Jewish Funeral Customs For Family Members

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What information will I need to provide when a loved one passes?

In order to complete legally required documents and maintain a thorough record to assist you, Mount Sinai requires certain vital information, such as your loved one’s Social Security number, parents’ names and birthplaces, and more. To streamline this process, we offer the Mount Sinai Memorial Record and Guide, a comprehensive resource that is included in our free Advance Planning Portfolio. The Record and Guide can be filled out at any time, well ahead of when it’s needed, and can be revised as needed to ensure that your Jewish funeral planning is seamless.


How will we select a time and date for the funeral?

We understand that families today are often spread across the country, which is why we work closely with your family and clergy to coordinate a funeral service at a time that works best for everyone. Although Jewish funeral customs call for a prompt burial, we’re flexible and can accommodate different schedules. While we don’t conduct funerals on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath, we can typically schedule services within two to three days. As an added convenience, we’ll post the service details on our website and provide you with a link to easily share with family and friends.


Who will officiate at the funeral?

Most often a Rabbi or a Cantor will officiate the funeral, supported by one of our Mount Sinai Service Directors.

Our service directors will handle all of the logistics, so you can focus on what matters most. Whether you have an established relationship with a Rabbi or not, we’re here to help. If needed, we can introduce you to a Rabbi or Cantor who aligns with your beliefs, ensuring that your service is both meaningful and personal.


I was advised to contact the Chevra Kadisha instead of Mount Sinai. Should we still call you first?

Call Mount Sinai for any of your Chevra Kadisha inquires!

According to traditional Jewish practices, the Chevra Kadisha is an organization traditionally composed of volunteers who ensure that the bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to Halacha (Jewish law).

We offer this service to the entire Jewish community in order to make a traditional Jewish burial accessible for everyone. Our Chevra Kadisha takes care of everything from arranging transportation to Mount Sinai, the shmira (guarding of your loved one), the tahara (ritual purification), dressing of your loved one in a tachrichim, and the selection of a casket. In addition, to offer assistance and comfort to our most traditional families, we will always help facilitate communications with various local Chevra Kadisha volunteer organizations throughout Los Angeles.

Please note that although there is a privately-owned mortuary in Los Angeles named ‘Chevra Kadisha Mortuary,’ that they are not a volunteer society.

For more information about the Chevra Kadisha services offered by Mount Sinai, please click here.


What types of caskets can be used?

According to Jewish tradition, a casket must be made of wood and free of any metal hardware. While a plain pine box is common among traditional families, caskets made from various woods like poplar, oak, cherry, maple, or mahogany are also available. The casket can be left natural or stained, polished or unpolished, and can come in different shapes.

If you’d like to explore additional materials for your casket, our Memorial Counselor would be happy to discuss the options with you.


How should my loved one be clothed?

Jewish tradition upholds the idea that all people are equal, and this is reflected in the practice of using Tachrichim, or simple white burial garments, as a burial custom. Over time, this tradition has evolved to allow families to bury their loved ones in clothing of their choice, while still maintaining the sense of equality and dignity. This flexibility allows for a personal and meaningful funeral experience while honoring the Jewish tradition of equal treatment for all.


Who can be a pallbearer?

The Jewish tradition of pallbearers is a beautiful and meaningful custom, where the closest friends and family members are chosen to escort the deceased to the gravesite. In addition to active pallbearers, there may also be honorary pallbearers who do not carry the casket but follow close behind. In the most traditional practice, the pallbearers stop seven times during the journey to the gravesite, symbolizing their reluctance to part ways with their loved one.


Is it appropriate to play music or show a video during the service?

Music can be a powerful way to express emotions and honor your loved one’s memory during the funeral service. You’re welcome to bring your own music, or our Scores of Memory CD is available, along with other appropriate selections. Our memorial chapels are also equipped with DVD players and large screens for video footage, allowing your guests to easily share in the experience.


Do you have to be Jewish to be buried at Mount Sinai?

We welcome interfaith families. If you have a Jewish partner or are part of an interfaith couple, we will make sure that your loved ones are taken care of. It’s important to us that you feel comfortable and respected.  Please note, however, that non-Jewish symbols cannot be displayed anywhere on our property.


What happens during the actual service?

A  Jewish funeral service is typically brief and simple, providing comfort by creating time and space for the mourners and the community to recall memories of the deceased and to express their sorrow. The service may be held in a chapel at the memorial park, in the synagogue, or at the gravesite.

The basic elements of a traditional service include the chanting of psalms and of El Malei Rachamim, followed by recitation of a hesped, a eulogy honoring the deceased. Many times, family members or close friends give a short speech about departed. Selected family members and friends may act as pallbearers to carry the casket, with others following. At the end of the service, all mourners recite the Kaddish prayer together.


How is the burial conducted?

Mount Sinai respects the wishes of every family in regard to completion of the burial. Historically, the mourners and family members have participated in shoveling earth over the casket, if they chose to do so. One tradition is to use the back of the shovel, to show our unwillingness to perform this final act of separation. Another tradition is for each mourner to plant the shovel back in the mound of earth rather than hand the shovel to the next person. Other families request that the Mount Sinai staff complete this act. Regardless of what you choose, we are here to support you in whatever way makes you most comfortable.


What happens immediately after the funeral?

After the service, Mount Sinai will provide your family a kit containing the 7 day shiva candles, minyan prayer books and yarmulkes for the shiva house as well as the remembrance cards filled out by your guests and thank you cards.


What is the traditional observance in the week following the funeral?

Upon leaving the gravesite, the immediate family commences the seven day shiva period; they “sit shiva”.  During this period meals are usually brought in for the family to allow them to focus on mourning.  Family and friends typically pay what is called a “shiva call” to visit the family to bring food, company, comfort and a sympathetic ear.  There is often a brief religious service each morning and/or evening.  Each family chooses whether, how, and for how long, they will observe shiva.  Again, it is the presence of friends and family at this time that is the most crucial to healing.


Can I make Jewish funeral plans before the time of need?

Planning a Jewish funeral ahead of time is truly a gift that you provide to your family which spares them from having to make difficult decisions during an extremely emotional time. Our Advance Planning representatives are always available to answer any questions you may have.


Can someone who has a tattoo be buried at Mount Sinai?

There is nothing in Jewish law which prohibits a person who has a tattoo from being buried at Mount Sinai or any Jewish cemetery. We hear this question often due to today’s popularity of tattoos as well as how this subject is often mentioned in pop culture. In fact, we refer to it as the “Jewish Cemetery Tattoo Myth” and in 2002, Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman eloquently answered this question for us.

Here is an interesting excerpt from Rabbi Ben Zion Bergman’s letter which provides an overview of the Jewish Tattoo Myth…

“Although the Torah does indeed forbid inscribing a tattoo on one’s body (Leviticus 19:28) this in no way impinges upon one’s eligibility, right or privilege to be buried with fellow Jews in sanctified ground. The Torah also forbids eating pork and other forbidden foods, but I am sure that there are many buried in Mt. Sinai and other Jewish cemeteries who did not adhere strictly to the Jewish dietary laws. The prohibition against tattoos is no more stringent or severe than the dietary prohibitions.”


Can a person be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they died by suicide?

The answer is yes. In earlier times, this ancient prohibition against doing so was based upon the conception of suicide as the conscious and willful taking of one’s life. Today, however, we recognize that many people who struggle with mental health issues may feel as if they have no other option, and may not be acting with full control or clarity and that it is virtually by definition, an irrational, non-willful act.

Therefore, even if all evidence points to suicide and even if that evidence satisfies the authorities as to the cause of death, our custom is to bury these individuals with compassion and dignity, and engage in mourning rituals as appropriate.


Can same sex couples be buried at Mount Sinai?

Yes, we welcome all members of the LGBTQIA community. In the spirit of inclusivity, all married couples can be buried together. If you are Jewish or are married to someone of the Jewish faith, we will take good care of you and your family.


What is a Yahrzeit date and how do I find it?

Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word meaning anniversary of a death. It is the yearly acknowledgement of a loved one’s passing traditionally observed on the Hebrew date, not the Gregorian date. Jews observe yahrzeit each year by reciting kaddish at synagogue and by lighting a special candle that burns for 24 hours.  The candle/lamp is lit at sundown the evening before the civil date.  To compute a yahrzeit date there are many online tools available including Digital Yahrzeit where you can register to receive annual email notifications of the upcoming Yahrzeit observances.


I want to visit my loved one’s resting place. What may I leave on the tablet and surrounding area to honor their memory?

We know that visiting loved ones in our cemetery is a meaningful experience and important part of honoring the legacy of our loved ones. However, in order to keep the park safe, clean, and beautiful for all visitors, we ask that everyone follow a few guidelines.

We welcome fresh cut flowers, Jerusalem Stones, and a flag or windmill under 18″ in height.

We do not allow:

  • Potted plants of any size
  • Artificial flowers
  • Large rocks, shells, and other material on or around tablets
  • The placement of any décor items on or around tablets
  • Wind chimes or any hanging decorations placed in trees
  • Glass

Information About Jewish Funeral Customs For Service Attendees

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This will be the first Jewish funeral I have attended. Is there anything special I should plan or do?

Your presence is the most important gift you can give to the mourners. It is customary for all males entering the chapel to wear a traditional head covering, called a kippah or yarmulke, which we provide at both the chapel and at graveside. After the burial, you may be asked to be part of two rows of people forming a pathway of comfort for the mourners.


What should I wear to a Jewish funeral?

While it is customary to dress in dark-colored, conservative suits and dresses at a Jewish funeral, we encourage mourners to wear what is comfortable for them, as long as it is respectful to the deceased and other mourners. It is also customary for men to cover their head as a sign of respect. We always have yarmulkes available for those who do not own them.


What is customary to send or bring to a Jewish funeral?

While you may see flowers at Jewish funerals, it is a Jewish funeral custom that families more often request that charitable contributions be made in memory of the deceased to either a specific charity or to one of your choice. This is in keeping with the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah, or charity.


What is customary to bring when visiting a grave at Mount Sinai or another Jewish cemetery?

Placing small stones or pebbles on the grave is the traditional means of marking a visit. Mount Sinai offers bags of soft pebbles imported from Jerusalem to park visitors so that they can leave them behind at graveside. Additionally, many people have adopted the practice of leaving flowers as a sign of love and respect.


I see that some of the mourners wear a torn ribbon affixed to their clothes and some actually cut their clothes. What is the meaning of this?

This ritual, known as k’riah, is the traditional rending of one’s garments to represent loss and mourning.

Often, k’riah is performed symbolically, with the cutting of a ribbon worn by the mourners closest in family connection to the deceased. According to Jewish law, there are seven immediate family members who should rend garments: the spouse, mother, father, son, daughter, brother or sister.


Why do Persian Jewish families ask for rosewater when they visit the cemetery?

This is a Sephardic tradition observed by many Jewish families who come from Iran and Turkey. The rosewater is typically poured over the grave or memorial tablet to represent masking the smell of death. If requested, Mount Sinai offers complimentary rose water to all park visitors.


Why is there a hand washing station near the exit of the cemetery?

It is an ancient custom for everyone to wash their hands when leaving a Jewish cemetery as a symbol of spiritual cleansing.


What is a yahrzeit (memorial) candle?

Yahrzeit candle is a special 24-hour candle which is burned on certain occasions to commemorate the anniversary of someone’s death, usually a family member or someone who was very close to you. Yahrzeit candles are lighted at sundown on the day preceding the anniversary of the person’s death, according to the Hebrew calendar. The candle is lighted at sundown and should remain lighted until it goes out. To learn more about Yahrzeit and to access our Yahrzeit calendar to determine the Hebrew date, click here.

Additionally, Mount Sinai now offers a new service, called Digital Yahrzeit, where one can register to receive annual notifications of upcoming Yahrzeit anniversaries via email (on either the Hebrew or English calendar) so one knows exactly when to light the Yahrzeit candle.  Digital Yahrzeit is a free service which we have made available to the public regardless of where loved ones are buried. To register for Digital Yahrzeit, please click here.


What is the Shiva House?

Upon leaving the gravesite, the immediate family commences the seven day shiva period; they “sit shiva.”  During this period meals are usually brought in for the family to allow them to focus on mourning. Family and friends typically pay what is called a “shiva call” to visit the family to bring food, company, comfort and a sympathetic ear. There is often a brief religious service each morning and/or evening. Each family chooses whether, how, and for how long, they will observe shiva. Again, it is the presence of friends and family at this time that is the most crucial to healing.


Do you have to be Jewish to be buried at Mount Sinai?

If you are Jewish or are married to someone of the Jewish faith and you want to be buried together, we will take good care of you and your family.


What is the meaning of leaving pebbles behind in a Jewish cemetery?

Placing stones on a grave is an ancient Jewish tradition which signifies that someone has recently visited the grave. Stones symbolize permanence of memory and enable visitors to partake in the mitzvah of commemorating the deceased.

Mount Sinai offers all visitors packets of pebbles, imported from Jerusalem, to leave on the grave as a sign of their visit.


Other questions?

You are welcome to contact us through our online contact form or by calling 800-600-0076.


Does Mount Sinai offer Genizah and book burials?

Yes we do. Please click here for more information.

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Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills

5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068

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Park Hours

Our cemeteries are open Sunday through Friday
8:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Closed every Saturday in observance of Shabbat

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