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Jewish Cemetery, Burial and Mourning Customs

Jewish Cemetery Etiquette

The following is an excerpt from Author Maurice Lamm’s highly respected book, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.

The subject of proper conduct at the cemetery is generally neglected. The consequence of this neglect is, frequently, gross impropriety and a super-abundance of superstition. There are two basic principles that can serve as a guide to correct Jewish etiquette on a cemetery. These are:

Kalut Rosh (“Levity”)

The holiness of the cemetery is equivalent to the holiness of the sanctuary. Our actions within its confines must be consonant with the high degree of this holiness. Also, because the graves in the cemetery are places from which we may derive no benefit at all, we are restricted from lounging in the area. Kalut rosh is a spirit of levity and undignified behavior. Under the category of the prohibition of kalut rosh, the following points must be observed, and should be followed not only at the gravesite, but within the boundaries of the entire cemetery.

Lo’eg Larash (“Slighting of the Dead”)

As noted previously, indulging in pleasurable activities, even religious observances, that the deceased or any of the other occupants of the graves once enjoyed participating in, but now cannot, represents a “slighting of the dead.” Thus:

Memorial Gifts

Those who wish to honor the dead, or their survivors, may do so in a genuinely religious spirit. They may bring a token of their esteem with them during shiva or send it through the mails.It is not in keeping with the traditional spirit for this memorial gift to be flowers or fruits. It is more significant and more useful to contribute a sacred article for synagogue or school use. This might include Bibles, prayer books, scholarly works, Torahs and Torah ornaments, etc. These will usually be acknowledged by the synagogue or school immediately so that the mourners will be notified of the gift during shiva. Donating to charities at the time of the funeral is an ancient Jewish custom. The custom has three roots in our tradition:

It is in the spirit of dignity, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, to make such contributions as memorials to the dead, rather than to bring outright gifts to the mourners. Naturally, if the deceased felt close to a specific charity, such as a medical research program, it might be wise to contribute to that fund. The memorial gift may be selected by the giver or left to the discretion of the mourners.