There are stages to mourning in the Jewish faith - and defined rituals to follow.  

Depending on your faith, your funeral planning process may look a bit different. It may also look different based on the community you live in.  

There are Jewish funeral homes, but they may not be common in every community. Tap into your connections, such as other Jewish families, the local synagogue or the Jewish Federation for resources.  

Planning a Jewish Funeral  

For any funeral, regardless of religion, planning ahead is essential.  

Funeral planning is smoothest when your loved one has voiced what they want for their funeral and pre-planned alongside you. Of course, this isn’t always a possibility in every situation.  

It may be even more difficult in the case of a couple where one side of the family is Jewish and the other is not. There are many traditions followed by Jewish families that may seem totally unfamiliar to a family used to Christian or secular traditions. For example, there are no viewings in Jewish funerals.  

If you are pre-planning a funeral for yourself or a loved one, look for funeral providers who specialize in Jewish traditions. They will be able to adhere to any traditions you wish to incorporate, with the experience to help you through the process.  

Here are some questions to ask yourself when pre-planning:   

  • Is there a particular rabbi you would like at your service? A synagogue you’d like your service held? 
  • If you don’t prefer a rabbi to oversee the funeral, who would you like to oversee it? 
  • Is there a funeral home you prefer, or one that is known for accommodating Jewish traditions?  
  • Any personal touches you want included?  
  • How long do you intend on sitting shiva? How should work arrangements be made? 
  • How strictly do you want your family to follow Jewish funeral and mourning rituals? 
  • Will there be any non-Jewish traditions incorporated?   

Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism  

There are varying degrees to which the Jewish faith is observed. These degrees translate to different denominations of Judaism.  

Those are:  

Reform Judaism: This is also known as Liberal Judaism. It’s the most modern and least observant denomination.  

Conservative Judaism: This is in the middle of Reform and Orthodox.  

Orthodox Judaism: This is the strictest adherence to the Jewish faith and observance of Jewish law.  

Depending on how your family identifies, it will likely greatly impact how you plan a funeral. We’ve outlined various traditions below, ranging from those followed in Reform and Orthodox families.  

Stages of Mourning  

In Judaism, there are distinct phases of mourning, though not every stage may be observed by every family. It all depends on your faith. Here are the phases:  


In this phase, the funeral is planned. Mourners, also known as onen, are focused solely on arranging the burial.  


Typically, funerals happen shortly after death. Ideally, within 24 hours.  


Shiva, preceded by the funeral and a “meal of consolation” prepared by the family, takes place the first week after the funeral. Shiva itself translates to “seven” meaning, seven days of mourning.  


The next stage is called sheloshim, which means 30. This represents a 30-day period, including shiva. Mourners return to work during this period, but still avoid events like concerts and parties. When this period ends, there is often a special prayer service to remember the deceased.  

Shnat Ha-Evel 

Also known as “the first year of mourning”, this is an 11-month period for those mourners who have lost a parent. Typically, they say the mourner’s kaddish daily.  

Jewish Funeral Rituals  

Jewish funeral rituals often start even before the funeral takes place. There are rules to uphold at various phases of the burial, funeral and mourning process.  

Before the Funeral 

Out of respect, the body isn’t left alone from death until the time of the funeral. During this time, people sit with the body. It’s also typical for mourners to avoid activities outside of funeral planning. This time frame is short, as most burials take place within 24 hours after death.  

Prior to the burial, the body is ritually washed. Once washed, the deceased is wrapped in a white linen shroud. If they had a prayer shawl, you can decide to bury them with it.  

Be sure to have discussions with those who will perform the eulogy, or eulogies if there are more than one. And, appoint pall-bearers to carry the coffin.  

Burials should not take place on Jewish holidays or on the Sabbath. And, it is not typical in Jewish funerals to hold viewings of the body.  

During the Funeral  

Just like it’s not typical to hold a viewing, open casket funerals are also avoided.  

According to The Talmud, it is forbidden to look on the face of a dead person out of respect for them.  

The funeral service typically includes some readings from Jewish texts and saying the El Maleh Rahamim (God Full of Compassion) prayer. Eulogies are also typically performed.  

Flowers are not common at Jewish funerals, with mourners encouraged to donate to a charity in their place.  

After the Funeral  

After the funeral, many families welcome visitors for a traditional meal, known as the “meal of consolation.” This is the first meal eaten by the family after the funeral. 

Generally, the menu consists of basic, rounded foods that symbolize the circle of life. It’s intended as a comfort to mourners. Food nourishes the body and spirit, with the knowledge that a community is behind you with their support. Mourners are not expected to make arrangements or plan the meal - that is for the extended community to offer their support.  

After the burial and meal, shiva begins.  

Understanding Shiva  

Shiva is perhaps one of the most widely known Jewish funeral traditions.  

Shiva represents a withdrawal from the outside world to mourn your lost loved one. Typically held in the deceased’s home, it’s a time for grieving and reflecting with family. Shiva is seven days long, but is not observed on the Sabbath (Friday at sundown through Saturday at sundown). It is also not observed on holidays.  

Depending on your family’s observance of the Jewish faith, shiva may only last for one to three days. Your loved one may also outline their wishes for shiva before their death.  

During shiva, mourners do not work. That means making preparations to step away from work and live free of distraction throughout the shiva period. This also means avoiding outside forms of entertainment.  

Other shiva rituals include covering mirrors, to avoid focusing on one’s appearance in a time of mourning, sitting in a low chair and burning a candle throughout the seven-day period.  

Where to Start  

At the end of the day, you know your family best. If you’re charged with making funeral arrangements for a loved one, chances are, you are one of the people who knew them best.  

You can decide how to incorporate your faith into the funerary and mourning process. Identify what your loved one would have wanted and what makes the most sense for your family and community.