jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Funeral Services - לוויה

Jewish Burial - קבורה

Burial customs. Jewish tradition requires Kevurah BeKarka / קבורה בקרקע — burial in the ground. The grave must be at least ten Tefachim / טפחים — handbreadths deep, and as wide and as long as necessary for the casket. The deceased is buried without any of his or her possessions. If the mourners did not rend their garments, they usually do so before the casket is placed into the grave and covered with earth. However, some people, especially those of Sephardic and Middle Eastern origin, rend their garments upon returning home from the funeral. If a mechanical device is used to lower the casket into the grave, Jewish men should operate it.

While lowering the body into the grave, some have a custom to recite the entire Psalm 91, which tells us that God protects those who trust Him. At the burial of a male, Psalm 91 is followed by a partial recitation of Selichot / סליחות prayers — starting from “God, the King, who sits on the throne of mercy… / … אל מלך יושב על כסא רחמים” until the end of the Thirteen Divine Attributes of Mercy / י"ג מדות. When the casket is lowered into the grave some also add:

for a man

יָבוֹא בְּשָּׁלוֹם עַל מִשְׁכָּבוֹ

May he come to his place in peace

for a woman

תָּבוֹא בְּשָּׁלוֹם עַל מִשְׁכָּבָהּ

May she come to her place in peace

Closing the grave. The Chevra Kadisha / חברה קדישא members put some earth from the Land of Israel into the grave and all the participants start filling the grave with earth. If the deceased is buried without a casket, as is customary in Israel and some other places, a layer of bricks or concrete blocks is usually placed into the grave before filling it with earth. The men should continue to shovel until the grave is completely filled and a small mound is formed on top. At the very minimum, the coffin must be fully covered with earth before allowing non-Jewish cemetery workers to finish the burial. Care should be taken that the shovel is not passed directly from one person to the next. Instead, one man puts it down on the pile of earth, and the next picks it up, to show that this is not “regular work” and to express our wish that death should not be contagious. Some have a custom to throw three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave with the back of a shovel to emphasize the unusual nature of this task.

Filling the grave with earth is called Stimat HaGolel / סתימת הגולל — literally “sealing the grave with a large stone”. This was an ancient practice to mark the grave and also prevent scavengers from disturbing the grave.

While the grave is being filled with earth, it is customary for all present to recite three times aloud in unison the following verse from Psalms 78:38:

Psalms 78:38

וְהוּא רַחוּם
יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן וְלא יַשְׁחִית‏,‏
וְהִרְבָּה לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ‏,‏
וְלא יָעִיר כָּל חֲמָתוֹ׃

And He is merciful,
atones for sin and does not destroy,
frequently turns away His anger
and does not arouse all His wrath.

After that, some say the following verse from the Book of Isaiah 6:7:

Isaiah 6:7

וְסָר עֲוֹנֶךָ
וְחַטָּאתְךָ תְּכֻפָּר׃

Your transgression will depart
and your sin will be atoned

No one should leave until the grave is covered with earth to show respect for the deceased.