Glossary of Common Terms
Listed below are several terms associated with Jewish funeral and burial tradition. Some of the practices or terms you may come in contact with are:
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
K'reeah - The rending of the mourners' outer garments, a symbol of their anguish and grief. The Rabbinic Assembly Law Committee decided that a black ribbon can become part of the garment and is torn if the family does not wish to tear their own clothing.
Some or all of these practices may be incorporated into any funeral out of respect for the beliefs of the deceased, even when the surviving members of the family are less rigorous in their personal religious observances. Other terms you may come into contact with include:
Kever - The grave
Kittel - A hand-sewn white linen shroud in which the deceased members of the Jewish faith are dressed
Kvurah B’kara - 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 - Commandment
Oron - Tradition calls for the casket to be simple; to be made of wood with no nails or other metal parts; and to have several holes in the bottom to allow the body's natural return to dust.
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 - The thirty days following burial (including shiva)
Shiva - The traditional seven-day mourning period immediately following burial, observed by the bereaved
Shemira - As a sign of respect, the body is guarded or watched from the moment of death until after burial. A family member, a Chevra Kadisha member, or a Shomer arranged by the funeral chapel recites psalms (Tehillim) while watching over the deceased.
Shomer - A watcher; one who sits with the body until burial. The shomer traditionally recites psalms.
Tachrichim - 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 - The body of the deceased is washed thoroughly by members of a sacred burial society (Chevra Kadisha), which will prepare the body for burial. Men prepare men and women prepare women. They wash the body with warm water from head to foot and, although they may turn the body as necessary to clean it entirely, including all orifices, they never place it face down. Prayers and psalms are recited during the washing.
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, calculated using the Hebrew calendar
Yarmulke/Kippah - The skull cap worn by the men at synagogue/temple services and funeral services
Yizkor - A memorial prayer