Options for Funerals and Memorial Services
The type of service you choose is a very personal decision. We value the fact that individual beliefs and traditions vary widely, and we are committed to honoring yours.
A funeral service, memorial service, or committal/graveside service can be held whether you have chosen a traditional burial or cremation.
There are three primary types of services: funeral services, memorial services, and graveside and committal services.
Funerals are usually conducted soon after a death—before the burial or cremation—and with the body present.
Where Is a Funeral Held?
Funerals may be held in the chapel at Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco; in your synagogue, depending on its policies; or in a chapel at the cemetery.
Who Leads a Funeral?
Anyone may officiate at a Jewish funeral, including a rabbi, cantor, friend, or member of the family. At Sinai, spiritual leaders of other faiths may not conduct services at Sinai or at most Jewish cemeteries. They may, however, participate in a lay role as long as there are no references to other deities.
What Happens at a Funeral?
During a funeral, family and friends are often invited to deliver eulogies about the person who died, reflecting on his or her life. Funerals typically include readings of Psalms (including 15, 23, 24, 29, and 90) as well as readings from Jewish poetry, though any meaningful readings may be shared. At the end of the service, the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim (“God is filled with mercy”) is often chanted. This prayer asks a merciful God to care for the soul under sheltering wings of peace. The rabbi will also share information on where and when your family will observe shiva.
At the end, the family may attend the burial alone, or everyone at the funeral may join. Note that the Jewish prayer of mourning, the Kaddish, is typically recited graveside—at the burial—rather than during the funeral.
There are a number of Jewish holidays on which Jewish funerals do not take place. In addition, most cemeteries are closed on national and secular holidays. If scheduling services or burial is affected by these holidays, we will explain this during the arrangement conference.
Are There Any Restrictions at a Funeral?
While you generally have wide latitude in how funerals are led, only Jewish religious symbols can be displayed during the service.
Memorial services have become a popular way to honor the life of a loved one. They may be held soon after or sometime after the death—to enable family and friends from out of town to attend, to hold it at a place of special meaning, or to have some distance from the immediacy of the death or burial.
Sinai hosts many memorial services, and while they can be less formal than a traditional funeral, you can include many of the same elements as a traditional funeral. People can give eulogies, there can be music, prayers and psalms can be recited, a rabbi can lead the service, and there can be informal socializing.
Some people choose to limit attendance at funerals to family and close friends, and then hold a memorial service for a wider circle of friends and acquaintances immediately preceding burial, immediately following burial, or at a later time.
Memorial services can be held in any of Sinai’s chapels, at synagogues, or at other venues of your choosing.
Graveside and Committal Services
A committal service is usually a graveside service held before the casket or urn is lowered into the ground, but it can also be held before cremated remains are scattered (for example, on a boat if the remains are scattered at sea).
A committal service can be held instead of a more traditional funeral service, or it can follow a traditional funeral or memorial service. A service held exclusively at the cemetery can include the same elements as a service in the funeral home or temple, such as the delivery of the eulogy, psalms, and prayers: the El Malei Rachamim, which expresses our faith in the immortality of the soul, and the Kaddish.
You can also choose to hold private graveside services just for the family and invited friends, followed by a public memorial service held at a chapel, place of worship, or other meaningful location.