A Jewish funeral is a simple but emotionally meaningful goodbye to the deceased. The service does not attempt to comfort the mourners. The Sages teach us it is pure mockery to try to comfort the mourners while their beloved lies before their eyes. This is why shiva starts after the deceased is buried and laid to rest. The funeral service is there only to honor the deceased, a tribute to him in form of a eulogy and recitation of Psalms.
Like everything in society, funeral etiquette and what is expected of you has evolved over time. As always common sense and good discretion is the best guide to proper funeral etiquette. Here are a few do’s and dont's of funeral etiquette.
- Dress appropriately – Gone are the days of dressing up in all black for a funeral, but jeans and a t-shirt isn’t exactly acceptable either. Wearing what you would wear for a wedding or a job interview would be the most appropriate and no bright and flashy colors.
- Sign the register book – The family will keep the register book as a memento for years. Be sure to include your full name and relationship to the deceased.
- Keep in Touch – You may feel that the family needs their space and time to grieve, but a simple phone call or note after the funeral lets the family know you care. The family will usually have public visiting times at the Shiva, to allow friends and neighbors come and sit with them. It is appropriate to go to the shiva even if the deceased was not a close friend or relative. In their time of need, everyone appreciates knowing the community is with them in their sadness.
- Cover Your Tzitzit - One who is within 4 feet of the deceased should tuck in the strands of his tzitzit as it is לועג לרש - ridiculing the helpless - performing mitzvot in front of those who cannot..
- Bring your cell phone – Your phone ringing will be highly inappropriate and will cause a disturbance, so turn any ringers or notifications off. Even better, leave your phone at home or in your car, a funeral is not the time to be texting or checking your messages.
- Allow your children to be a distraction – From a very young age children are aware of death, and if the funeral is for someone that was close to them (grandparent, aunt, uncle) they should be given the option to attend. However if it is not appropriate for your child to be there, and if you feel they will cause a commotion, leave them with a babysitter.
- Greet people - it is not appropriate to greet people at the funeral. Often, while waiting for the funeral to start, the coffin is already in the chapel and it is not appropriate to talk about mundane things in front of the deceased.