jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Funeral Services - לוויה

Escorting the Dead

Pallbearers. After the memorial service everyone joins the funeral procession escorting the deceased to the grave for burial. No one should exit the building in front of the deceased, except those who must do so in order to carry the bier. The coffin may be carried on the shoulders or by hand, or wheeled by pallbearers on a special cart.

The pallbearers may be selected from the family or friends. It is considered a special honor to be a pallbearer. Their task is so important that both carrying the bier and those waiting to replace them are exempt from the Mitzvah / מצווה of reciting Shema Israel / שמע ישראל.

Only Jewish men are permitted to be pallbearers — Jacob was carried only by his sons even though there were plenty of Egyptian dignitaries at his funeral (Genesis 50:12,13). For this reason, it is very appropriate that the sons of the deceased should serve as pallbearers. However, the custom in some communities is that the direct descendants of a male deceased do not carry the bier and some do not even accompany him to burial. If their presence is required to help with the burial, they proceed directly to the cemetery and wait there for the deceased to arrive. In some Sephardic communities, sons go to bury their mother, but their father stays behind.

Funeral Procession Customs. In some communities, especially among Sephardim, it is customary to scatter some coins and to break a clay vessel before starting the funeral procession to symbolize the departure from the material world and fragility of life.

After scattering the coins some recite the verse “And to the sons of the concubines Abraham gave gifts / ולבני הפילגשים אשר לאברהם נתן אברהם מתנת” (Genesis 25:6) seven times. The reference to “the sons of the concubines” alludes to evil spirits who might come with claims against the deceased. The coins are therefore offered to satisfy them. After breaking the vessel, the custom is to say, paraphrasing Psalms 124:7, “The vessel is broken, but we escaped / הפח נשבר ואנחנו נמלטנו” and continue “Let there be no loss within the boundary of Israel / ולא יהיה עוד שבר בגבול ישראל”.

Some have a custom to start with the verse from Psalms 85:14“Righteousness shall go before him, and he will set his footsteps on the path [paved with his good deeds] / צדק לפניו יהלך וישם לדרך פעמיו” and then continue with the previously mentioned Mishnah / משנה in Tractate Avot 3:1. After the Mishnah, the second part of Tzidduk HaDin / צידוק הדין is usually recited, followed by the Mourner's Kaddish / קדיש יתום.

Again, this is not a universal custom and many do not recite the above prayers, while others recite them only after entering the cemetery.