Reform Judaism Funeral Service Rituals

The Jewish Reform movement differs from the Orthodox movement in that it rejects any ideas of a bodily resurrection and a physical existence after death. Instead, its practitioners believe in the immortality of all souls that will ultimately return to God. To Reform Jews, a person’s immortality is marked by the memories cherished by the loved ones left behind on earth.

In organized Jewish communities a burial society called a Chevra Kaddisha is responsible for preparing the deceased’s body for burial. Traditionally, Jewish funerals are very simple affairs, and they are usually short. Before the service begins, it is tradition that the immediate relatives of the deceased such as parents, children, siblings and spouse will tear their garments, symbolizing their sorrow and loss. However, Reform Jews do not often follow these same ritual practices. Instead, the rabbi will tear black ribbons, handing them to family members. The family will pin the ribbons to their clothing as a symbolic representation of their mourning. Sometimes the men will cut their necktie.

In the following portion of the ceremony Psalms are read, and then a eulogy and memorial prayer will be given. The simple pine casket is removed from the room by the male family members of the deceased. The mourners exit following the behind the casket, and the rest of the people in attendance at the service remain standing until the mourners have left. In Reform funeral services people will often express condolences to the family before interment.

Those attending the funeral typically recite a traditional condolence of “Hamakom y’nachem etchem b’toch sh’ar availai tziyon ee yerushalayim.” After the body is buried, the family of the deceased will sit Shiva. Although this was traditionally observed for a period of seven days, many Reform Jews now only observe Shiva for three days. Some have even reduced the period of Shiva to one day.

It is not appropriate to give flowers at a Jewish funeral, but it is acceptable to bring food. However, because many Jews practice dietary laws of Judaism, you should not bring non-kosher meals to the home. During Shiva mourners usually share stories and fond memories of the deceased.

Typically, the following customs are practiced: the body must be thoroughly washed and placed in a simple pine coffin, the deceased is buried wearing a white shroud, and the body is guarded by devoted Jews from the moment of death until the body can be buried.

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