Israel’s Health Ministry guidelines for burying loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic are evolving with the public health situation. For free, up-to-date information on burial procedures, number of funeral attendees, burials from abroad, and more, contact the ITIM Assistance Center.
Jewish funerals are divided into three parts: the rending of the families’ clothes, eulogies, and burial. Family and friends usually gather in funeral halls near cemeteries to pay respects to the deceased, offer eulogies, and comfort the bereaved. They then accompany the body to the gravesite for burial.
In Israel, Jewish funerals follow the same outline, but vary from other parts of the world in certain customs. In most Israeli funerals, there is no coffin (the body is buried in shrouds directly in the earth.) It is not customary to wrap the deceased in a tallit (prayer shawl), as is done in other Jewish communities. (If the family requests, the deceased can be wrapped in a tallit during the funeral, but it will generally be removed before burial.) Customs around the installation of headstones vary in Israel: some people unveil headstones 30 days after funerals, while others wait a year.
Jewish funerals in Israel take place under the auspices of local burial societies, which allocate graves, obtain burial permits, transport and prepare bodies for burial, and carry out burials. When notified of a death, a local burial society will obtain a burial permit from the Health Ministry (though in certain cases, such as when someone passes away at home, families or their representatives must obtain the permit directly), and, in consultation with the family, will set the time for the funeral.
It is customary in Israel to bury the deceased as soon as possible. Some burial societies are insistent on this custom, and arrange funerals late into the night; others are more flexible. Cemeteries are closed on Shabbat, and major holidays (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and the first and last days of Pesach and Shavuot).
Civil funerals—those involving funeral rites that differ from traditional Jewish ceremonies—can be carried out in certain regional cemeteries, and in public civil cemeteries.
Death certificates may be obtained at branch offices of Israel’s Interior Ministry. Request forms can be downloaded on the Interior Ministry website. Death certificates generally are issued within two weeks of the date they are requested.
Due to space limitations, Israeli cemeteries usually have various burial options, including:
Kevurat Sadeh (Ground Burial): in-ground with a headstone
Kevurat Komot (Leveled Burial): multiple burials that appear as an in-ground grave with a headstone
Kevurat Kukhin (Niche Burial): multiple burials within an above-ground structure, with headstones embedded in the front wall
Kevurat Makhpela (Double Burial): paired burial with a joint headstone (for couples)
According to Israeli law, Israel’s National Insurance Institute covers the costs of standard funerals for citizens and residents buried near their homes, and tourists who pass away in Israel. The National Insurance Institute does not cover burial costs for non-Israelis who pass away abroad but wish to be buried in Israel, or for Israelis who have lived outside Israel for many years, and have not kept up with National Insurance Institute payments.
Standard costs covered by the National Insurance Institute include:
- Burial plots (if not pre-purchased, see below)
- Refrigeration of body for up to 24 hours (48 hours if death occurs on Shabbat)
- Transportation of bodies from hospitals or other places of death to local cemeteries by local burial societies
- Washing and preparing bodies for burial
- Temporary gravesite signs
As in the case of traditional Jewish funerals, the National Insurance Institute covers the costs of standard civil funerals, including standard coffins.
Extra costs NOT covered by the Institute include:
- Exclusive plots or plots in “closed” cemeteries
- Ground burial rather than layered or niche burial, if those are standard burial methods in local cemeteries
- Transportation of bodies from locations beyond burial societies’ jurisdictions
- Transportation by private hearse
- Publication of death notices
- Preparation and installation of headstones
Costs for these items are determined by local burial societies, and are available on their websites. Headstone costs vary among manufacturers depending on choice of stone and type of inscription. Burial societies, which are responsible for installing headstones, charge for installation.
Burial plots in either Jewish or civil cemeteries may be pre-purchased. Prices vary by place of residence and type of plot, and are fixed by law. A surcharge may be imposed on those purchasing plots outside their area of residence.
Discounts are available to spouses who wish to purchase plots adjacent to their spouses. Burial societies generally reserve adjacent plots for at least 30 days from the date of the spouse’s funeral, but this should be discussed with the burial society as soon as possible.