Transporting the deceased to the funeral home
Generally, the Chevra Kadisha transports the deceased from the hospital or home to the funeral. Some communities have the custom of beginning the funeral procession from the deceased’s home or another significant place in his/ her life. Those accompanying the deceased gather there and follow the body on foot for a short time, and then drive the rest of the way to the funeral home and cemetery. Any deviations from the standard funeral procedure cost may incur a charge from the Chevra Kadisha. In many communities, it is customary to break an earthenware vessel just outside the threshold of the house, as a symbol of the fragility of human life.
At the funeral home
The funeral home is where people assemble to eulogize the deceased and to begin the funeral procession.
Assembling prior to the eulogies. The body is removed from the hearse, and some funeral attendees carry the bier into the funeral home. This is considered an honor, so the pallbearers are replaced every few seconds, allowing as many people as possible to accord this honor.
Family and close friends gather in the funeral parlor near the podium from which the eulogies will be delivered. Kohanim, who are forbidden from standing under the same roof as the deceased unless he is immediate family, generally have an outdoor shelter that overlooks the main funeral chapel. In some places, there is a private room in which you will be able to spend a few moments with and take leave from the deceased. The Chevra Kadisha will leave you alone with the deceased upon request. The deceased’s face is generally uncovered only in the presence of a family member, who is asked to identify the deceased and confirm that the correct person is being buried. In most places, the requests of other mourners who seek to be present for this will be honored.
The Rending Ritual – Kri’ah
Before the eulogies begin, the body is brought into an inner room in the funeral home, and immediate family (parents, spouse, children, and siblings) approach, one by one, to perform the ritual of kri’ah (rending their garments). Kri’ah is likely to be very difficult for the mourners since it is done in the presence of the body.
The rending ritual is a Jewish custom in which the mourners tear their clothing as a symbol of the tear in their souls caused by anguish over their relative’s passing. The biblical precedent for this custom is Jacob’s rending of his clothes in mourning over Joseph, his son, whom he presumed dead (Genesis 37:34).
According to tradition, the rent garment is worn by the mourner for the duration of the shiva, and is not changed. If the rip is too big, it can be minimized with a safety pin. After shiva, the garment is generally thrown away. The tear must be significant, as it is a sign of mourning, and made with a knife, not scissors. Usually, a member of the Chevra Kadisha starts the tear, and then the mourner extends it by pulling the torn flap downward. Upon request, a friend or family member can start the tear instead. Kri’ah, of course, is only performed with your assent, and will be omitted, if you oppose it.
The tear is made in the outer garment above the chest, on the left side (location of the heart) for parents, and on the right side for other relatives.The mourner stands (if possible) during the kri’ah, and afterwards recites a blessing declaring God to be the true Judge and accepting His verdict:
“בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה , אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, דַּיַּן הָאֱמֶת” – “Barukh Ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu Melekh Ha-olam Dayan ha-emet.”
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Word, the True Judge”
If the death occurred on a festival, and shiva was postponed until its conclusion, kri’ah is also delayed until then. There are some people, however, who have the custom to perform kri’ah for a parent even on one of the intermediate days of a festival.
After kri’ah, the bier is carried into the main sanctuary of the funeral home, both men and women are buried solely in shrouds. The deceased is placed on a special stone table designated for this purpose. This is the first time that the body is brought before the public.
The deceased’s friends and relatives now eulogize him – they praise him and his lifework, relate stories about his life, and express grief over his passing. Either one or several people – males or females, relatives, friends, teachers, or commanders – may deliver the eulogies (most funeral homes permit eulogies by women). Though no rules govern the length of the eulogy, there may be other funerals scheduled for the same funeral home. One should also be considerate of the friends and family attending the funeral (and often standing for the duration of the service). Some people have the custom of reciting the Tziduk Ha-din prayer at this point, though it is more common to recite it only after burial.
It is customary to refrain from eulogies at times of year that are characterized by rejoicing (Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, Purim, the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot, the entire months of Nissan and Tishrei, and the first thirteen days of the month of Sivan). On these days, one instead delivers brief ‘departing words’ to the deceased that for all practical purposes do not differ from a eulogy. If theChevra Kadisha does not allow you to deliver these ‘departing words’ in the funeral home, you can instead say them afterwards, by the graveside.
After the eulogies, the officiant recites a mishna (Avot 3:1) that addresses the chasm between life and death. The mourners then recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for the deceased. Women who wish to recite Kaddish should bring their own text, because the Chevra Kadishawill generally not give their texts to women. If there is nobody else to recite Kaddish (it is often customary for one whose parents are both alive not to say Kaddish for a deceased relative), a member of the Chevra Kadisha will recite it.
יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא.
בְּעָלְמָא דִּי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵה
נוסח אחיד ונוסח עדות המזרח מוסיפים: וְיַצְמַח פֻּרְקָנֵה, וִיקָרֵב מְשִׁיחֵהּ [אמן]
בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן.
קהל: אָמֵן. יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא
יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא
יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם וְיִתְנַשֵּׂא וְיִתְהַדָּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה וְיִתְהַלָּל שְׁמֵהּ דְּקֻדְשָׁא, בְּרִיךְ הוּא
לְעֵלָּא מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא, תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא, דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
נוסח אשכנז ונוסח אחיד:
יְהֵא שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא, וְחַיִּים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
נוסח עדות המזרח:
יְהֵא שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא, חַיִּים וְשָׂבָע וִישׁוּעָה וְנֶחָמָה וְשֵׁיזָבָא וּרְפוּאָה וּגְאֻלָּה וּסְלִיחָה וְכַפָּרָה וְרֵיוַח וְהַצָּלָה, לָנוּ וּלְכָל עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן.
עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו, הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
Yitgadal ve-yitkadash shemeih rabba
Be-alma di v’ra khir’uteih
Unified and Mizrahi versions add: ve-yatzmah purkaneih vi-y’karev meshiheih
U-v’chayei de-khol beit yisra’el
Ba-agala u-vizman kariv;
[Cong.: Amen. Yehei shemeih rabba mevarakh
Le-alam u-l’almei almaya.]
Yehei shemeih rabba mevarakh
Le-alam u-l’almei almaya.
shemei de-Kudshah b’rikh hu
Le-eyla min kol birkhata ve-shirata, tushbehata ve-nehemata
De-amiran be-alma. Ve-imru Amen.
Ashkenaz and Unified versions:
Yehei shelama rabba min shemaya ve-hayim aleinu ve-al kol yisra’el. Ve-imru amen.
Mizrahi version: Yehei shelama rabba min shemaya, hayim ve-sava vi-yshu’a ve-nehama, ve-shezava u-refu’ah, u-ge’ula u-seliha ve-khapara, ve-revah ve-hatzala, lanu u-lekhol amo Yisra’el. Ve-imru amen.
Oseh shalom bi-mromav, Hu ya-aseh shalom aleinu, ve-al kol Yisra’el. Ve-imru Amen.
May His great name grow exalted and sanctified
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship
Unified and Mizrahi versions add: and cause His salvation to sprout, and bring near His Messiah [Cong,: Amen]
in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire family of Israel, swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen
[Cong.: Amen. May His great name be blessed forever and ever]
May His great name be blessed forever and ever
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the name of the holy one, Blessed is He
beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now respond: Amen.
Ashkenaz and Unified versions: May there be abundant peace from heaven and life, upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.
Mizrahi version: May there be abundant peace from heaven, life, prosperity, salvation, consolation, recovery, redemption, forgiveness, atonement, wealth, and salvation, upon us and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.
He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.
Walking to the grave
Upon leaving the funeral chapel, some communities have the custom of breaking an earthenware vessel, symbolizing life’s fragility, and casting coins as a sign of the deceased’s departure from the material world.
Carrying the bier
A member of the Chevra Kadisha will therefore announce, before moving the deceased from the funeral home to the hearse, and then from the hearse to the grave site, “Friends and relatives are asked to come assist in carrying the bier.”
Carrying the bier (along with accompanying the bier to the grave and covering the grave with earth) is considered a way of according respect to the deceased, and therefore many will participate.
The Procession to the grave
Often, the cemetery is within walking distance from the funeral chapel. When it is not, however, a caravan of cars follows the hearse from the funeral home to the cemetery. Upon arriving at the cemetery, a member of the Chevra Kadisha will announce the location of the grave and that the procession will continue on foot. The procession then follows the hearse.
Though one accords the deceased respect by accompanying his bier to the grave, and more people is a sign of greater respect, the custom in certain places (most notably, Jerusalem) is that the direct descendants of the deceased do not follow his bier, but remain behind in the funeral chapel. Nevertheless, descendants who wish to attend at the gravesite may go ahead of the bier (instead of following it with the rest of the procession). That is, in the Jerusalem rite, direct offspring walk first in the procession, followed by the bier, which is in turn followed by the rest of the people accompanying the deceased.
Participation of Kohanim
According to Jewish tradition, kohanim may not come within four amot (two meters) of a grave. They stand back on designated paths, which are the cemetery’s main paths. If the deceased himself was a kohen (the Chevra Kadisha will have been informed of this), he will likely be buried in a special section for kohanim, located adjacent to these paths, in order to enable relatives who are kohanim to easily attend the burial and memorial services.
Stopping to recite verses and Kaddish
On the way to the grave, the procession stops several times to recite selected verses. The Chevra Kadisha officiant leads the recitation of verses, and Kaddish is recited by the mourners themselves. Psalm 91, which talks of faith in the face of fear of death, is recited. At a funeral for a woman, the 31st chapter in Proverbs, praising the woman of valor (“Eshet Hayil”) is also recited.
As the funeral procession reaches the gravesite, a member of the Chevra Kadisha climbs into the grave to make final preparations for interring the deceased. Some communities have the custom of encircling the deceased seven times while reciting various verses. The members of the Chevra Kadisha then lower the body from the bier into the grave, feet first and facing up. They lay the body down on its back with its hands at its sides. In Israel, it is customary that no objects or possessions be buried with the deceased, not even the tallit that shrouded the deceased during his/ her final journey.
Lowering the body into the grave
As they lower the body into the grave, the Chevra Kadisha undertakers customarily say “may s/he rest in peace” (“y/tanu’ah be-shalom al mishkavo/ah”). After the body is placed in its grave, the Chevra Kadisha undertakers place concrete blocks above the body, supported by a concrete frame that had already been prepared. These blocks do not touch the deceased, but together with the walls, form a sealed concrete chamber. This process is called “setimat ha-golal” (sealing the tomb). An undertaker then covers the blocks with a bit of earth and recites the following verse three times:
“וְהוּא רַחוּם יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן וְלֹא יַשְׁחִית וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ וְלֹא יָעִיר כָּל חֲמָתוֹ”
“But He, being merciful, will forgive iniquity and not destroy; He restrains His wrath, and does not pour out his full fury.” (Psalms 78:38)
Covering the grave with earth
Those present fill the grave with the earth that the Chevra Kadisha has set aside for this purpose. Since this act shows respect for the dead, as many people as possible take a turn shoveling a token amount of earth onto the grave. In many places, the Chevra Kadishawill discourage women from participating in this part of the burial. Because of the sensitivity of this moment, the shovel is placed on the floor after each person’s turn rather than passed from hand to hand. When the grave is completely covered, a marker is placed on it with the name of the deceased.
Tziduk Ha-din: Justifying God’s Verdict
After the grave has been covered, a member of the Chevra Kadisha recites several Psalms and verses, generally recites the the Tziduk Ha-din prayer, and then recites Psalm 16, expressing man’s reliance upon God in times of distress.
The Tziduk Hadin, which originated in the talmudic era, emphasizes man’s temporality in contrast with God’s eternity. On festive days, when eulogies are not delivered, Tziduk Ha-din is also omitted.
The Great Kaddish
Now the mourners stand near the grave and recite Kaddish Hagadol (the Great Kaddish, also known as Kaddish De-it’hadeta). ThisKaddish, recited only at a grave, differs from the mourner’s kaddish in its particular emphasis on salvation, renewal, and the resuscitation of the dead.
Azkara and Ashkava
The burial ceremony ends with the Azkara or Ashkava prayer, recited by a Chevra Kadisha member, a friend, or a relative. These prayers express hope that the deceased’s soul will attain peace, and they encourage giving charity in the deceased’s honor.
At the end of the burial ceremony, in certain communities, the Chevra Kadisha turns to the deceased and requests his/ her forgiveness for any unintentional slights to his honor.
Leaving the grave
As the people leave the graveside, they place grass or a rock on the grave, saying, “זכור כי עפר אנחנו”, “Remember that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14). This practice is customary not only at the burial, but every time one visits the grave – a grave covered with rocks signifies that many people have visited the grave, an honor for the deceased. It also emphasizes the finitude of man’s existence – emerging from and returning to dust. Though it wasn’t originally a Jewish custom to place wreaths and candles on a grave, many people have adopted this practice of according respect to the dead.
Mourners who brought non-leather shoes generally remove their leather shoes and put on the other shoes, as is the custom of mourners. If burial took place just a short time before sunset, and the mourners want the day of burial to count as the first day of shiva, they remove their shoes and sit for a few minutes at the gravesite, while friends come over to comfort them.
Before leaving the grave, those present form two parallel rows of comforters facing each other and the mourners remove their shoes and walk between these rows. The comforters say to them:
In Ashkenazic communities:
“המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים”
May the Lord comfort you among all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
In Sephardi communities:
“מן השמים תנוחמו”
Be comforted from heaven.
In some communities, males form rows to comfort the male mourners, and females form rows to comfort the females. This formal act of comforting clearly does not come to replace personal contact with the mourners and efforts to console them that will take place during the week of shiva.