Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Israeli funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Game of Thrones funeral traditions and Palaun funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Religious and Death Beliefs
Judaism is by far the most common religion in Israel with 74.2% of the population, as of 2019. For this reason, we’ll focus on Jewish Israeli funeral traditions, although some traditions may depend on the specific Jewish subgroup. As for death beliefs, pregnant women don’t usually attend the funeral, because they believe evil spirits can hurt the baby.
Preparation of the Body
For the preparation of the body, there are several important steps to follow. First, they remove the white sheet and wash the body. Next, they purify the body with water and dry and dress the body in traditional burial clothing. Then, they get the casket ready, place the body inside, and close it.
Israeli Funeral Service
An Israeli funeral service is the day following the death, if possible. It’s usually a closed wooden casket, and a rabbi conducts the funeral held at a synagogue, funeral home, or cemetery.
For the burial, funeral attendees may help shovel soil into the grave. The burial is as soon as possible, usually the day of the death to two days later. Jerusalem is a popular burial location, but it’s running out of space. It also tends to be expensive, so some people choose Beit Shemesh as another popular burial location. If the burial of a Jewish Israeli person is outside of Israel, they may sprinkle Israel soil onto the casket.
After a death and Israeli funeral, there is a seven-day mourning period, also known as sitting shiva. During this time, the immediate family doesn’t leave the family member’s home. If they have errands or other tasks, they’ll have others take care of them for them. However, family and friends can still visit the mourners, pay their respects, and bring food. During the mourning period, everyone wears black clothing and no makeup, sits on low stools, and reads prayers. After the seven-day mourning period, there is a 23-day-long mourning period.
Traditionally, mourners tore their clothes, but today, they may just rip the lapels on their shirts. On the seventh day of the mourning period, 30th day after the death, and one year after the death, everyone visits the gravesite and says readings. They also place a stone on the gravesite in memory of the deceased. In Israel, the 30th day is typically when the gravestone is first seen.
After these 30 days, there are mourning rituals for the 11 months after the death of a parent. These rituals may include daily prayers, not attending social gatherings, and not buying new clothes.