Jewish people hold funerals very shortly after a person has died - often within 24 hours.
The different kinds of Judaism
There are many different beliefs within the Jewish faith
Judaism is very diverse. There are four main groups, and then different groups within those. Each group worships differently, and so their funerals may be different too.
We've broken down the different types of Judaism below. If you want to go straight to Jewish funeral practices, you can skip to the next section.
Modern Orthodox Jews follow the Torah (the Jewish holy book) and take part in Jewish prayers and rituals. Men and women worship separately, but are not strict in their faith. Haredi Orthodox Jews are stricter. They usually live in Orthodox-only communities. Haredi men often devote their lives to studying Jewish texts. They wear black and white, and often grow the hair at their temples into long curls. Haredi women dress modestly and cover their hair with a wig or scarf.
Conservative or 'Masorti' Jews have a close relationship with science. They believe in adjusting their beliefs as we make new scientific discoveries. They take the Torah less literally. For example, they do not believe the Torah was physically handed down to earth by God. They view the stories in the Torah as metaphors rather than facts.
Progressive Jews are sometimes called 'reform' or 'liberal' Jews. Like Conservative Jews, Progressive Jews do not take the Torah literally. Unlike Orthodox Jews, men and women worship together. Progressive Jews also accept gay marriage.
The way Jews practice their faith varies depending on where they or their family originally come from. Many Jews in Britain are 'Ashkenazi', which means their ancestors come from Germany, Russia, or Eastern Europe. 'Sephardi' Jews are a Jewish group who originally come from Spain or Portugal. 'Mizrachi' Jews have roots in the Middle East.
What to expect at a Jewish funeral
Traditional Jewish funerals happen shortly after the person's death
The Torah says that burial should take place the day a person dies. Jews believe that holding the funeral within 24 hours shows respect. But some Jews might hold funerals later than this depending on the type of Judaism they practice, and how strict they are.
Jewish people prefer burial, as it keeps the body whole. But some groups like Progressive Jews accept cremation.
Arrange a direct cremation
If you’d prefer to arrange a direct cremation, you can have a memorial at any time, anywhere you wish, perhaps at home or your loved one’s favourite pub.
Jewish funerals usually take place at a synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish place of worship. The synagogue or its graveyard are the most common places for Jewish funerals, but crematorium funerals are becoming more common.
A rabbi is a Jewish priest or minister. Rabbis often lead Jewish funerals, but any member of the community can lead them if they choose. The person leading the service will start the ceremony with a eulogy.
They'll then read some prayers such as the Memorial Prayer ('El Maleh Rachamim') and the Mourner's Blessing ('Mourner's Kaddish'). Guests often say 'amen' at the end of the prayers - you can either join in or stay silent. The rabbi or family member will then lead the singing of some hymns. Again, mourners will join in, but it's okay to stay quiet if you do not know the words.
After the hymns and readings, close friends, family members, or funeral coordinators will carry the coffin to the grave. It's traditional for the family to throw a handful of earth onto the coffin.
Mourners usually follow on to a gathering or wake after the funeral.
Jewish family members sometimes wear a black ribbon
This is called a 'keriah'. At the start of the funeral, family members will cut or tear their keriah. They might also tear the collar of their shirt or dress. This is a symbol of the 'tear' in our hearts, or the pain we feel when we lose a loved one.
If you are not an immediate family member, the family will not expect you to wear a keriah.
Etiquette at Jewish funerals
The dress code depends on the type of Judaism
Both men and women should dress modestly at Orthodox Jewish funerals. This means wearing:
Long skirts, dresses, or trousers
Tops that cover the shoulders and arms
Formal suit jackets for men
Headcoverings like a hat or scarf for women.
Men wear skull caps or 'kippahs' at most Jewish funerals. Orthodox Jews wear large black kippahs. In the Conservative tradition, kippahs are usually smaller and crocheted. The synagogue may provide kippahs for guests who do not have their own.
The dress code is less strict at Progressive and Conservative Jewish funerals. Guests usually wear smart clothes that are black or other dark colours. You will not usually need to cover your head if you're not a practising Jew. You can ask family or friends of the person who's died if you're unsure.
It is not usually appropriate to bring flowers
Some Jews believe that it's wrong to cut short the lifecycle of flowers. It is not traditional in any kind of Judaism to bring flowers to a funeral. Mourning families usually prefer you to donate a small amount of money. Sometimes they choose a charity for you to donate to.
It's also okay to send food items like:
However, you'll need to make sure any food you bring to a Jewish funeral or wake is 'kosher'. Jewish people (especially Orthodox Jews) have several strict rules about what they can and cannot eat. Some of these rules include not mixing meat and dairy, and only eating meat from split-hooved animals like cows and sheep. Animals that do not have split hooves like pigs are not kosher, so Jews cannot eat them.