Judaism has very specific customs and traditions when it comes to burying the dead. There are important guidelines and rules that must be adhered to in order to uphold the Jewish faith. Death is hard for every family, so it is essential to understand Jewish customs and traditions in order to be respectful during this difficult time.
Jewish Burial Customs
Jewish tradition states that the recently deceased should not be left unattended or alone. A "watchman" or Shomer is designated to stay with the deceased until the burial. It is important that the deceased be buried as soon as possible. Jewish custom believes that it is more respectful to prepare the body for burial immediately rather than delaying the services. However, there are always exceptions to rules. It could be up to the family to wait if family members live far away; this must be discussed with the rabbi.
Preparing the Body
It is not Jewish custom to view the body of the deceased. Do not expect to attend a service with an open casket. Tradition states that it is bad-mannered to stare at someone incapable of staring back. The only exception to this rule is if the family is asked to identify the body. Jewish custom also does not prefer embalming (unless local law requires it). Long ago, after the death family members gathered to ceremoniously prepare the body. The body was cleansed, anointed with oils and spices, and wrapped in a special linen cloth. Today, the funeral home provides contacts with the Cheyra Kadisha who are trained in preparing the body according to Jewish custom.
The anointing and preparing of the body requires a special blend of essential oils and spices. The common essential oils and spices used include sandalwood, myrrh, spikenard, frankincense, fir balsam, myrtle, pine, cypress and spruce with extra virgin olive oil. These oils have been used for hundreds of years for this primary purpose of preparing and purifying the dead.
A Jewish funeral service lasts approximately half an hour. It includes a recitation of the Psalms, a eulogy and readings. Jewish ritual includes the K'riah (a symbol of their loss and mourning); many of the mourners wear a black ribbon pinned to their clothing. In ancient times, mourners would rip or tear a piece of their clothing to illustrate the rip or tear in their hearts at the loss of their loved one. The black ribbon is symbolic of that custom.