For the last three years our Religious School has conducted a Geniza Burial (burial of worn out books and papers on
religious topics). We have used this as an opportunity to teach our children the rituals and practices pertaining to a Jewish Funeral and a Jewish Cemetery. At a recent funeral one of our Religious School parents suggested that the adults of the congregation would benefit from a similar educational process.
The following guide is a guide to Jewish Funeral Practices according to the customs of Temple Israel Portsmouth and the professional practices of Rabbi David Rafael Senter.
Jewish Funerals: What to Expect What to do
When does the funeral occur? Jewish Tradition calls for immediate burial, generally within 24 hours. This is extended in circumstances when a delay is considered Kavod Hamet (respect for the deceased) to delay. This includes but is not limited to gathering first degree relatives. Most employers will be understanding and will allow time off for a funeral. If your employer requires a letter stating your attendance at a funeral, please feel free to contact me at
the Temple Office. Please indicate the date and time of the funeral, location (if not Temple Israel) and your relation to the deceased.
What should I wear? In many other communities formal attire is suggested for funerals. Here at Temple Israel we
suggest that dress in a manor you would find appropriate for an important business meeting.
What should I bring? Your presence is the most important gift that you can give the family. The family may designate a charity for memorial donations. The charity will be
designated on the front of the service booklet.
What time should I arrive?
Most families receive condolence visitors prior to the funeral in the Shmoozatorium. If you would like to visit with the family prior to the funeral please enter through the Court Street entrance up to a half hour prior to the service. If you are
attending the service only please enter through the Sanctuary entrance on State Street. Guest registers will be at both doors.
What Do I Say? The traditional greetings for mourners is “HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion vee’Yerushalayim”. May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and
Where should I sit? The first two rows in the center aisle are reserved for family. All other seating is open. Feel free to take a seat anywhere else you feel comfortable.
Where is the casket? The casket is generally positioned just in front of the Bimah (raised pulpit). It is covered with a black pall (cloth that covers a casket or coffin at funerals). This is used to cover any embellishments to the casket. Tradition
teaches us that everyone is treated equally in death regardless of their financial circumstance.
What will the funeral service consist of?
The Rabbi will begin the service with Psalms and prayers. Some will be chanted in Hebrew others will be led responsively in English.
How do I participate in the service? Service booklets are provided help you participate in the service. Page numbers will be announced.
Who will speak? This will vary based on the wishes of the family. Speakers may include
family, friends, colleagues, and the Rabbi.
When do I leave? At the end of the funeral the Rabbi will ask everyone to rise as the casket is
escorted from the sanctuary. The immediate family will follow the casket. Once the family has been escorted from the sanctuary, you may exit through the front doors. Handicap accessible egress is available in the front left corner of the sanctuary.
Should I go to the cemetery? Traditionally, the main component of the funeral is the burial service. You are encouraged to attend the burial service at the cemetery. The funeral procession forms on both State Street and Washington Street. If you are going to the cemetery please turn on your flashing hazard lights.
What will the burial service consist of?
The casket will be escorted graveside. The Rabbi will chant prayers as the casket is escorted and lowered. A memorial prayer is chanted and then friends and family are invited to participate in the burial by placing earth in the grave. Those who participate do so with the shovel backwards. This allows us to demonstrate that we feel inside out and backwards about saying goodbye. After participating in the burial, the shovel is placed back into the pile of earth. The shovel is not handed from person to person. Tradition realizes that not everyone is ready to say goodbye in such a physical manor. The service ends with the recital of the Mourners Kaddish. An affirmation of faith recited by first degree relatives.
When do I leave the cemetery? At the end of the burial service the Rabbi will ask everyone to form two rows creating a path for the immediate family to exit. As they pass, we offer consolation with the traditional formula “HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion vee’Yerushalayim”. May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Can I visit other graves at the cemetery? Tradition teaches us that it is insensitive to visit other graves in the presence of mourners. It is recommended that you wait until the family has left the cemetery before you visit other graves.
Washing your hands after the Cemetery. Tradition teaches us to cleanse our hands after attending to the dead. You may do this as you leave the cemetery, at the Shiva house (House of Mourning) or before you enter your own home.
Where do I go after the Cemetery? The rabbi will announce where and when the family will be receiving Shiva (condolence call).
May God bless us with the opportunity to keep this knowledge in the realm of theoretical with a lack of practical application.
With Torah blessings,
Rabbi David Rafael