Customs and Rituals

How do Jews deal ritually with death?

Most Jews do not observe the custom of the wake, either at the mortuary or in the private home, since embalming is not customary. Cremation is not ordinarily done. Family members prepare the body and burial ideally occurs within a day of death. Sitting shivah (literally, “seven”) refers to a seven-day period of mourning for a family member. Friends and relatives visit the home of the deceased to extend their sympathy and pray with the family. Every period of seven days naturally includes a Sabbath, but on that day mourners refrain from manifesting their grief outwardly. Groups called the hevra kaddisha (“holy brotherhood”) provide burial services. The custom of observing the anniversary or yahrzeit of a relative’s death involves visiting the grave and reciting the Mourners’ Kaddish, a prayer in praise of the Holy One whose dominion is everlasting.


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