What are the Jewish funeral and mourning practices?


Jewish funerals tend to be short and simple. Their length is usually determined more by the rabbi's eulogy (which can also be delivered by friends or members of the family) than by the liturgy. Often funerals take place in funeral homes and synagogues, as well as the graveside. However, it is not uncommon for some funerals to take place only at graveside. The funeral itself is generally marked by the reading of psalms (including the familiar Psalm 23 "the Lord is my Shepherd"), El Moleh Rachamim ("God, full of compassion"), and the Kaddish memorial prayer.

While mourning practices vary somewhat from community to community, they generally include an intensive seven day period (knows as "Sitting Shiva," the Hebrew word for seven) with the most intense period of mourning during the first three days after the burial (which is to take place within the first twenty-four hours in most cases); then the first thirty days after death is known as "sheloshim." During this period, mourners return to work, which serves as one step in the mourning process. There are many things that mourners do not engage in for those thirty days, such as bathing for pleasure, wearing makeup, or shaving. Under traditional practice, no entertainment is allowed for a full year. Finally, more limited mourning practices, which include the recital of the Kaddish memorial prayer three times daily, take place during the first eleven months. On the anniversary of the death of the individual (and on that day in years to come), the individual is remembered with memorial prayers and the lighting of a candle. This is generally referred to as yahrzeit (or anos among Sephardim).

--Can my non-Jewish spouse be buried in the same cemetery as me?

Cemetery policies are usually determined by the organization that sponsors them. Each state has different laws that regulate the operation of cemeteries. In the past, non-Jewish family members were not permitted to be buried in most cemeteries sponsored by Jewish organizations and synagogues. Thus, family members usually opted for secular cemeteries (either privately owned or owned by communities). Increasing numbers of synagogues and organizations -- in recognition of interfaith marriage and a welcoming stance on behalf of these synagogues and organizations -- have begun to permit the burial of non-Jewish spouses in Jewish cemeteries. In some cases, special sections are designated for the purpose.