The ceremonies and rites associated with death

Within Judaism, there is the belief that someone who has died deserves almost the same respect and dignity as someone who is living.

Upon death, a person’s eyes must be closed. This is because Jews believe we cannot watch this life and eternal life with God at the same time.

It is important to remember the person as they were alive, and so the body is covered. It is believed that the body is a source of defilement, and so it is put in the ground. The burial happens as soon as possible after death. If the body touches anything other than the ground, whatever it touches becomes impure.

Someone will accompany the body until the time it is buried. They will recite from Psalms as they do so. Each community has a group who prepare the body for burial. This group is known as Hevrah Kadishah (Holy Society). The body is washed according to Jewish law and is placed in white linen shrouds.

A service is held and the casket is lowered into the grave with the head facing east to Jerusalem. Those in attendance will help to fill the grave. Following the service, meals will be brought by family and friends during the period of mourning.

A Star of David – the symbol of the Jewish faith – is often found in Jewish graveyards


There are four parts to this period of mourning:

1. Aninut - this is the time between the death and the burial. The bereaved are excused from the commandments.

2. Shiv’ah - this means ‘seven’ and it is the seven days following the service at the grave. There is a practice of sitting on a low stool and refraining from work. Mirrors are covered and prayers may be held within the house.

3. Sheloshim - this means ‘thirty days’ and includes the seven from the previous part. The bereaved may now bathe and go to work, but all other restrictions are kept.

4. Avelut - the next 11 months. Those who have lost a parent will continue their mourning throughout this period. During this time, the bereaved son will recite the mourners’ Kaddish in the hopes of releasing the deceased from sin.

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