jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Funeral Services - לוויה

Memorial Service

Many Jewish funerals start the memorial service with a recitation from the Book of Psalms. Usually it is Psalm 23“The Lord is my Shepherd”, followed by a selection of verses from various Psalms, usually a collage of verses called “What is Man”, which is based on Psalms 144:3-4, 90:6, 90:12, 37:37, 49:16, 73:26 and Ecclesiastes 12:7.

The selection of verses from the Book of Proverbs 31:10-31 describing an Eshet Chayil / אשת חיל — a woman of valor, is usually read at a funeral for a woman. This is King Solomon’s praise of a God-fearing woman who constantly looked out for the good of her family. Some commentators say that Abraham composed these verses when he eulogized his wife Sarah.

Some communities, especially in Israel, have a custom to start with the Mishnah / משנה in Tractate Avot 3:1.

Other Psalms or selections from the Book of Proverbs that are appropriate for different occasions and personal qualities of the deceased might be added. Recitation from the Book of Psalms is followed by a traditional memorial prayer asking God to shelter the soul of the deceased “under the wings of His Divine presence”.

The memorial prayer is recited while the congregation stands. Ashkenazim call this prayer Kel Maleh Rachamim / קל מלה רחמים, while Sephardim call it Hashkavah / תפילת השכבה. Sometimes, the memorial prayer is also called Azkarah / תפילת אזכרה or Ashkavah / תפילת אשכבה. In some communities, especially among Sephardim, the memorial prayer is recited later, after the burial.

This traditional memorial prayer is discussed in a separate section, since it is recited on other occasions as well. Unlike Kaddish / קדיש, this is a prayer on behalf of the deceased. The mourners pledge Tzedakah / צדקה — charity, in order to add merit to the departed soul so that it would be granted a place in paradise. The memorial prayer is not recited on days of communal rejoicing when eulogizing is not permitted, such as Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש, Jewish Holidays, etc.