As a sign of honor to the departed, Jewish customs require that the funeral happens as soon as possible. Burials allow the body to decompose naturally. Accompanying the dead in the final journey is a sign of kindness to the deceased.
A Jewish burial ceremony observes an array of traditions, customs and rituals. As such, it can be a unique experience for non-Jews attending the occasion for the first time. If you are looking to attend one soon, understanding what to expect at the funeral should be the first step. This way, you will blend in with the culture and limit the probabilities of offending anyone. Here's what you should expect:
Funeral time and preparation
The burial may happen on the same day of death or the following day as this is a symbol of honor to the dead. Postponement only happens if there are immediate relatives who live abroad and can’t arrive on time. Also, the funeral cannot be slated for the next day if there happens to be a holiday or Shabbat. As such, you'll need to prepare yourself to attend because the news usually comes on short notice and there's never enough time to prepare.
Funeral dressing code and punctuality
Jewish customs require that you dress appropriately when attending the funeral. Proper dressing is a sign of dignity and respect for the family and the occasion. Men can wear a nice suit with a shirt while women should dress in a modest skirt. Also, for men, the head has to be covered. Be sure to arrive early, as the funeral starts at the exact time. Your tip here is to arrive probably half an hour earlier.
Plain wood is the material used for the casket and includes no metals (nails or even metal handles). Wooden pegs are used in assembling the casket. Surprisingly, Jewish traditions dictate that the dead should be buried without a coffin. But local laws usually do not allow this, so Jewish traditions require that the coffin be very simple because the “dead do not appreciate the fine furniture.”
As a family or friend of the bereaved, Jewish traditions allow you to accompany the family members to the cemetery if the funeral and burial happen in the locality. All those who decide to participate have to follow the regulations by the funeral director regarding the traffic and how to drive in a funeral cortege.
Jewish traditions do not allow the use of the flowers during burials. The traditions require that the ceremonies remain as simple as possible and that it's better for friends to make contributions instead.
Participate where needed
When attending a Jewish burial, be sure to take part where necessary. For instance, according to Jewish customs, it’s an act of kindness that can never be repaid to assist in filling the grave with earth, commonly referred to as “mitzvah.”
Comforting the mourners
Expressing our condolences and comforting the mourners is an act of “nichum avalim.” Your presence at the funeral service is proof enough of your comfort. Care for the mourners and condolences should be made at their home.
Being in attendance is a sign of respect for the dead and comfort for the mourners. However, knowing what to expect at the funeral will make it easy to follow.