The Funeral, or Levaya

A Jewish funeral is held as quickly as possible after death and usually includes readings, a eulogy, and a special memorial prayer.

Print this page Print this page

2.      A funeral home. Many communities have a Jewish funeral home that houses the mortuary and a chapel for services.

3.      A synagogue. In some communities, the service begins in the synagogue sanctuary or chapel, and then proceeds to the cemetery. However, some congregations do not allow these services in the sanctuary, unless the deceased is an outstanding member of the community.

4.      The cemetery. In the larger Jewish communities, the cemetery will usually have a chapel for services on site.

5.      At graveside. In some ways the simplest of alternatives, it is absolutely appropriate to conduct the entire service at graveside. Of course, season and likely weather should be taken into consideration when choosing this option. Often, the cemetery will have some tenting for the immediate family, but usually not enough for the entire funeral party.

Is There a Standard Funeral?

Surprisingly, the answer is "No." There is not a single standard for the service, although there are the following basic components:

1.  Readings. Generally, a funeral begins with several readings about death from Jewish sources. Psalm 23 with its famous verses, "Adonai is my Shepherd, I shall not want. God has me lie down in green pastures... God revives my soul for the sake of God's glory... Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me... "

Psalms 15, 24, 90, and 103 are also often recited. At the funeral of a woman, the Eishet Chayil [Woman of Valor] (Proverbs 31) is sometimes included. These readings offer comfort and reflection about the deceased and the survivors.

2.  The eulogy. The eulogy (hesped) is designed to recall the life, characteristics, and accomplishments of the deceased. Most often, it is offered by a rabbi who has been furnished information about the deceased in an earlier meeting with the bereaved. This is seen as a sign of respect and an honor to the deceased and the family. Yet, increasingly, members of the family request the opportunity to speak about the life of the departed. These personal eulogies are often delivered with great emotion and with a degree of insight that is difficult for a third party to achieve. In every case we know of, a eulogy offered by an adult child for a parent, or a brother for a sister, or even a grandchild for a grandparent has been a source of great comfort and honor for the mourners and a tremendously moving experience for the listeners. Some rabbis will welcome this contribution to the funeral (as long as not too many people want to speak), while others would prefer that personal eulogies be given at a shiva minyan [a home prayer service where mourners are able to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer].

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Dr. Ron Wolfson

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