Questions & Answers About Jewish Funerals

This article, in question-and-answer format, addresses common questions about Jewish funeral customs.

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Why can't a kohen attend a funeral?

Those Jews who trace their ancestry back to Aaron, the first Jewish priest (kohen), brother of Moses, traditionally did not come into contact with any dead body. In the Israelite religion, such contact rendered the priests "impure" and disqualified them from their priestly duties. To this day in traditional practice, kohanim do not enter a funeral home or a cemetery in order to avoid being in proximity to the dead. Of course, exceptions are made when the kohen must bury one of the seven immediate relatives. Many Jews who are kohanimwill attend a funeral; others will enter a cemetery but will not come close to the grave. In any of these cases, you may attend a funeral where some Jews stand just outside the chapel. They are most likely kohanim.

How do I let my friends know that donations to a favorite charity in memory of the deceased would be appreciated?

There are three ways to get this information to the community:
1) a line in the obituary,
2) an announcement during the funeral service, or
3) a card containing this request given to attendees at the funeral.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and the president of Synagogue 3000.