Funeral etiquette

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (stljewishlight.com/chaplain).

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

Is there a manual for funeral etiquette? When did funerals and shiva homes become venues for social gatherings? I encourage the grieving family to remain in their cars until we are almost ready to start the service. Some families choose to escort the coffin to the grave. Others have the coffin waiting at the grave. Either way, it is not appropriate for people to rush the family expressing their condolences as they are walking towards the open grave. Allow then to be with their thoughts and emotions. Allow them to hold hands with one another as they carefully walk step by step preparing to bury their loved one. These steps may be the most difficult they have ever taken.

Following the shoveling of earth, if the family decides to participate in this mitzvah, do not come up and start talking. The thud of earth coming into contact with the coffin or vault may be the most jolting sound they have ever experienced. 

And the chatter I hear around me makes me wonder if I am not at a social gathering. At a recent funeral, after speaking with the funeral director and family, who had decided to mingle prior to the service, I was approached by several individuals who were excited to give me the wonderful updates on their children. I loved the good news, but not at that time or place.

My friends, this goes for the shiva as well. We are here to comfort the mourners. Perhaps we go to be a part of the evening service. Certainly, we did not go to gossip or make idle chatter. Please, share your exciting news with me through a telephone call, email or face to face appointment. 

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The 21st manual is started. Please add to it as you deem appropriate – just not at the cemetery.