Jewish ritual strives toward kadosh, or holiness. Ironically, that term also translates to “separateness.” Jewish observances are designed to show reverence for those who die, concern for the welfare of those who mourn, and reinforce the daily holiness of our actions. While other religious traditions also incorporate these strivings, Jewish practices are very different from Christian observances.
In morning prayers, Jews are reminded of these actions to help bring holiness into the world. Devout Jews recite daily this prayer from the siddur (prayer book), “These are the obligations without measure, whose reward too is without measure, in this world and in the world to come: To honor father and mother; to do deeds of loving kindness; to attend the house of study daily; to welcome the stranger; to visit the sick; to comfort the mourner; to rejoice with bride and groom; and to make peace when there is strife.” Instead of comforting the mourner, one translation of this prayer dictates “following the departed to their last home.”
Many Jews are surprised to learn there is a Jewish final confessional prayer that the dying may say, or someone may say on the person’s behalf. In Hebrew, it is called Viddui. In English, one version goes like this:
“I acknowledge before the source of all that life and death are not in my hands. Just as I did not choose to be born, so I do not choose to die. May it come to pass that I may be healed, but if death is my fate, then I accept it with dignity and the loving calm of one who knows the ways of all things.
May my death be honorable and my life be a healing memory for those who know me. May my loved ones think well of me and my memory bring them joy. From all I may have hurt, I ask forgiveness, upon all who have hurt me, I bestow forgiveness. As a wave returns to the ocean, so I return to the source from which I came.
Shema, Israel, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Echad – Hear, oh Israel, that which we call God is oneness itself. Blessed is the way of God, the way of life and death, of coming and going, of meeting and loving, now and forever. As I am blessed with the one, so now I am blessed with the other. Shalom, Shalom, Shalom.”
(Usually translated as peace, Shalom can also mean fulfillment or wholeness and serves as a salutation for greeting or parting.)
Jewish law calls for a burial to take place within 24 hours of a person’s death, unless there is a compelling reason for delay. This is based on two biblical commandments, both found in Deuteronomy 21:23: “Thou shalt bury him the same day,” and “His body shall not remain all night.”
However, burials cannot take place on the Sabbath (Saturday) or a Jewish holiday. A funeral can be delayed to accommodate the arrival of very close relatives, but never more than three days. Delaying burial is considered disrespectful to both the dead person and the family, who cannot mourn while their dead lie before them.
View this YouTube video talk with more information on Jewish funeral traditions.