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Jewish Funeral Services

The Obligation to Attend a Funeral

Source of the obligation. According to Maimonides / רמב"ם (Rambam, Hilchot Avel 14:1), the obligation to accompany the deceased to his or her burial is derived from the verse in the Book of Leviticus 19:18“You shall love your fellow man like yourself / ואהבת לריעך כמוך”. It is one of the acts of kindness — Gemilut Chasadim / גמילות חסדים that the famous Mishnah / משנה in Tractate Peah 1:1 lists among the deeds “for which a person receives interest payment in this world while the principal reward remains for him in the world to come / דברים שאדם אוכל מפירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא”.

As we have already discussed, any Jew who finds a Met Mitzvah / מת מצוה - a deceased who has nobody else to take care of his or her burial, is obligated to set aside his regular business, Torah study, performance of other religious duties, and certainly any pleasurable activities and bury the dead. One is obligated to do so even to a complete stranger.

Fullfilling the obligation. Even when others are available to bury the dead, but it is not clear if there will be enough people for a properly attended funeral, one has an obligation to stop work and Torah study to attend the funeral. It is important that a Minyan / מניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen, is present at the cemetery in order to recite Kaddish / קדיש at the graveside.

It is a great Mitzvah / מצוה to accompany the deceased to burial, but one does not have to interrupt work or Torah study when there are enough people already attending the funeral, unless it is a funeral of a major Torah scholar. The exception is when one actually sees the funeral procession. In this case one should join the procession and walk with them at least Arba Amot / ארבע אמות — four cubits to show respect for the deceased and sympathy for the mourners, even if one does not know the deceased. Some rule, however, that it is sufficient to stand in respect as the funeral procession passes. When the funeral procession has gone out of sight the custom is to say paraphrasing Daniel 12:13:

לך/לכי בשלום
ותנוח/ותנוחי על משכבך בשלום
ותעמד/ותעמדי לגורלך
לקץ הימים׃

Go in peace
and rest in peace and
stand up to your destiny
at the end of the days.

Cohen at a funeral. As was already explained, a Cohen / כהן - a priest, does not participate in a funeral, unless it is the funeral of one of his closest relatives. If a Cohen wishes to attend other funerals, he should not enter the chapel, while the casket is there. He may follow the funeral procession at a distance, but may not enter the cemetery.