Jewish Funeral Glossary
Listed below are several terms associated with Jewish funeral and burial tradition. For a listing of additional, general funeral and cemetery terms, please see the Glossary within our extensive Library section.
Aron (A-rone) – The burial casket. Jewish burial requires a wooden casket in keeping with the Biblical teaching "For dust art thou and to the dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19)
Cantor – A religious singer, or Chazan, who assists the clergy
Chesed shel Emet – Acts of True Kindness
Chevrah Kadisha – Hebrew meaning “Holy Society”
El Malei Rachamin – A memorial prayer (Northern European tradition)
Hashcabah – A memorial prayer (Iberian tradition)
Hesped – A eulogy or true evaluation of the deceased’s life that is part of the funeral service
Kaddish – A prayer recited for the deceased by the direct mourners for the first time at the conclusion of the interment service
Kavod-Ha-Met – Honoring the Dead
Keriah (Kree-ah) – The practice of rending or cutting a garment, or symbolically wearing a cut black ribbon over the heart, to indicate that one is in mourning. Those observing keriah are generally adult children, father, mother, brother,sister or spouse of the deceased.
Kever – The grave
Kittel – A hand-sewn white linen shroud in which the deceased members of the Jewish faith are dressed
Kvurah B’kara (Kvoo-rah B’kar-kah) – Burial in the ground. Biblical mandate requires burial in the ground, filling the grave completely until a mound is formed. Participation in filling the grave is a religious privilege and duty and an expression of honor for the deceased. Above ground burial is an option you may discuss with the funeral director.
Levaya – The funeral procession (Northern European tradition)
Magen David (Star of David) – A hexagram formed by the combination of two triangles, also called the Jewish Star
Menorah – A candelabrum with a central stem bearing seven candles; the oldest symbol in Judaism
Met – Deceased
Mitzvah – The funeral procession (Iberian tradition)
Mitzvah – Commandment
Rabbi – A teacher or ordained leader in the Jewish faith
Rechitzah – The ceremony of washing the deceased before burial
Sargenes – A hand-sewn white linen shroud in which the deceased members of the Jewish faith are dressed
Shabbat – The Jewish Sabbath; begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday
Sheloshim (sh’losh-sheem) – The thirty days following burial (including shiva)
Shiva (Shee-vah) – The traditional seven-day mourning period immediately following burial, observed by the bereaved
Shemira (Shmee-rah) – The watching of remains. To show respect to the departed, the deceased is never left alone until after burial.
Shomer – A watcher; one who sits with the body until burial. The shomer traditionally recites psalms.
Tachrichim (Takh-ree-kheem) – The burial shroud. A full set of traditional white clothing, preferably made of linen. Includes hat, shirt, pants, jacket, belt and wrapping sheet. This garment symbolizes equality and purity.
Taharah (Ta-ha-rah) – The traditional washing and dressing of the deceased with dignity. Performed by trained members of the Chevra Kadisha (Sacred Society). In accordance with Jewish traditional law, men prepare men, while women prepare women.
Tallith – A prayer shawl worn by men during the morning prayer service
Tehillim – Prayers said before the funeral by a group of friends and the shomer, from the book of Psalms
Yahrzeit – The anniversary of the death
Yarmulke/Kippah – The skull cap worn by the men at synagogue/temple services and funeral services
Yizkor – A memorial prayer