Jewish burial is a sacred commandment of the Torah. While specific requirements make the interment of a Jewish person different from those of a non-Jew, there is no prohibition against someone who is not Jewish attending and participating in the funeral and burial; there is, however, appropriate conduct the non-Jew should know.
Men and women who attend a Jewish funeral should dress in solemn colors. Men should wear a suit and tie, and cover their heads with a kepot or yarmulke at the funeral home or synagogue where services are held and at the cemetery. Women should wear a skirt or dress, and while they are not required to cover their heads, a scarf or small doily can be worn. The head coverings for both men and women are generally available at the funeral home or synagogue where the funeral is held.
Expression of Condolences
For non-Jews attending a Jewish funeral, the services in both the funeral home or synagogue and at the cemetery are solely about showing respect to the deceased. Funeral attendees must speak in low tones because the casket with the deceased is already in the room in which the service is held. It is not appropriate to express condolences to the immediate family until the interment is complete.
Decorum at the Cemetery
A procession to the cemetery takes places after the funeral service. During the procession to the burial site, those who attend maintain solemnity as an indication of their respect for the deceased. Once at the grave, attendees stand solemnly around it and the chairs in which the immediate family sits. The family should not be greeted and condolences should not be offered at this time.
Participation in the Burial
Even if a non-Jew does not understand the prayers said because they are in Hebrew, it is proper to say "Amen" when others do. At the end of the interment, family and friends cover the coffin with dirt, either by scooping some in their hands or using a shovel. Non-Jews are encouraged to participate in this final ritual of respect. If a shovel is used, it should be placed on the ground after throwing the dirt, since it is forbidden to pass it to another person. Following interment, the attendees will form a double line through which the mourners pass. It is only then that the family are considered mourners and a short condolence is appropriate.
- The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning; Maurice Lamm
- David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images