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The Burial

The Burial

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The Seven "Rests"

The casket is carried from the hearse to the gravesite by Jewish men, usually by the Chevra Kaddisha, with the decedent's feet facing the front. It is customary that direct descendants of the deceased do not touch or carry the casket.

During the procession, Psalm 91 is recited seven times. Beginning from a short distance from the grave (approximately thirty feet), it is customary to halt the procession every few feet and repeat the Psalm, pausing at certain words in the final verse and reciting again from the top.

On days when Tachnun (supplications of forgiveness) is not recited, and when burying a woman, the stops are not made, but the Psalm is still recited seven times. According to Kabbalah, the stops serve to drive away any harmful spiritual influences. These influences are not present on days when Tachnun is not recited, nor affect women.

Psalm 91

Hebrew and Transliteration:

Translation:

You who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Omnipotent,
I say [to you] of the Lord who is my refuge and my stronghold, my G-d in Whom I trust,
that He will save you from the ensnaring trap, from the destructive pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions and you will find refuge under His wings; His truth is a shield and an armor.
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
the pestilence that prowls in the darkness, nor the destruction that ravages at noon.
A thousand may fall, at your [left] side, and ten thousand at your right, but it shall not reach you.
You need only look with your eyes, and you will see the retribution of the wicked.
Because you [have said,] "The Lord is my shelter," and you have made the Most High your haven,
no evil will befall you, no plague will come near your tent.
[See above for the seven rests]
For He will instruct His angels in your behalf, to guard you in all your ways.

Placing the Casket into the Grave

If one has not yet performed the Kriah (obligatory rending of the garments by mourners), do so now.

Before the casket is lowered into the grave, it is fitting to part with the deceased and, if one has not done so earlier at the memorial service, ask for forgiveness (and to forgive) for any pain or hard feelings that might have come between them.

Following the recitation of certain Psalms and prayers, the casket is laid in the grave by the Chevra Kaddisha. It is set in the direction so that the deceased's head rests where the tombstone will be erected, and the feet are positioned to the front of the grave. It is then covered with earth and the grave is filled until a small mound is formed on top. This is followed by the recitation of "Tziduk Hadin," and the Mourner's Kaddish.

In cemeteries that have an automatic casket lowering device, it is important that only a Jew operate the mechanism that allows the casket to descend into the grave.

It is imperative that the casket rest on the actual ground and not in any vault (i.e. cement, metal, etc.), some even remove the bottom board of the casket once it is laid in the grave. If one has no choice (i.e. local law), one should shovel earth into the vault before placing the casket onto it. Also, the lid of the casket (and vault) should be kept slightly ajar with a pebble or twig.

Closing the Grave

The Chevra Kaddisha sprinkles earth from the Land of Israel into the grave, as the land is holy. All the men present then fill the grave with earth, beginning by covering the upper part of the casket. The men can take turns, but the shovel must not be passed directly from one person to the next. Instead, it is placed face down on the ground, and the next person takes it, to show that this is not "regular" work.

Some have the custom that members of the Chevra Kaddisha begin the filling of the grave by scooping earth in their hands and delicately placing it on the casket until it is completely covered, followed by everyone else with shovels.

As one fills the grave with earth, recite the following verse three times:


He, being compassionate, pardons iniquity, and does not destroy; time and again He turns away His anger, and does not arouse all His wrath.

It is highly preferable for Jewish men to fill in the grave. In the case where there are not enough men for this task, the casket must be at least completely covered with earth before allowing cemetery workers to finish the job.

Tziduk Hadin & Psalm 49

Once the grave is completely filled with earth and the top is in the shape of a small mound, a marker is placed on the grave with the name of the deceased and date of passing. The prayer of "Tziduk Hadin" is then recited. With this deeply meaningful prayer the mourners declare their acceptance of G-d's decree and pray to G-d to have mercy upon those who are living.

(If Tachnun is not recited on that day, we omit "Tziduk Hadin," and proceed directly with Psalm 49. This also applies for a burial on late Friday afternoon, or on Erev Yom Tov -- a day leading into a Jewish holiday.)

Hebrew and Transliteration:

Translation:

The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice; a G-d of faithfulness and without iniquity, righteous and just is He.

The Rock, perfect in all His works. Who can say to Him 'What have You done?' He rules below and above, He brings death and restores life, brings down to the grave and raises up from there.

The Rock, perfect in all His deeds. Who can say to Him, 'What do You do?' You Who says and fulfills, do undeserved kindness with us, and in the merit of him [Isaac] who was bound [on the altar] like a lamb, hearken and grant our request.

Righteous One in all His ways, O Rock Who is perfect, slow to anger and abundant in mercy, take pity and spare both parents and children, for to You, O Lord, pertain forgiveness and mercy.

Righteous are You, Lord, to bring death and to restore life, for in Your hands are entrusted all spirits. Far be it from You to erase our memory. Look towards us with mercy, for Yours, O Lord, are mercy and forgiveness.

A man, whether he be a year old, or whether he lives a thousand years, what does it profit him? For is it not as if he has never been? Blessed be the True Judge, Who brings death and restores life.

Blessed be He, for His judgment is true, as He scans everything with His eye, and He rewards man according to his account and his judgment. Let all give praise to His Name.

We know, Lord, that Your judgment is right. You are righteous when You speak and pure when You judge, and none shall question Your judgments. Righteous are You, Lord, and Your judgments are just.

You are the True Judge, Who judges with righteousness and truth. Blessed is the True Judge, for all of His judgments are righteous and true.

The soul of every living creature is in Your hand, righteousness fills Your right and left hand. Have mercy on the remnant of the flock under Your hand, and say to the angel of death, ‘Hold back your hand!'

You are great in counsel and mighty in action, Your eyes are watching all the ways of man, to give man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.

That is to say that the Lord is Just; He is my Strength, and there is no injustice in Him.

The Lord has given and the Lord has taken. May the Name of the Lord be blessed.

He, being compassionate, pardons iniquity, and does not destroy; time and again He turns away His anger, and does not arouse all His wrath.

After the Tziduk Hadin prayer, Psalm 49 is recited:

Hebrew and Transliteration:

Translation:

For the Conductor, by the sons of Korach, a Psalm.
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all you inhabitants of the world; sons of common folk and sons of nobility, rich and poor alike.
My mouth speaks wisdom, and the thoughts of my heart are understanding.
I incline my ear to the parable; I will unravel my riddle upon the harp.
Why am I afraid in times of trouble? [Because] the sins I trod upon surround me.
There are those who rely on their wealth, who boast of their great riches.
Yet a man cannot redeem his brother, nor pay his ransom to G-d.
The redemption of their soul is too costly, and forever unattainable.
Can one live forever, never to see the grave?
Though he sees that wise men die, that the fool and the senseless both perish, leaving their wealth to others -
[nevertheless,] in their inner thoughts their houses will last forever, their dwellings for generation after generation; they have proclaimed their names throughout the lands.
But man will not repose in glory; he is likened to the silenced animals.
This is their way - their folly remains with them, and their descendants approve of their talk, Selah.
Like sheep, they are destined for the grave; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright will dominate them at morning; their form will rot in the grave, away from its abode.
But G-d will redeem my soul from the hands of the grave, for He will take me, Selah.
Do not fear when a man grows rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
for when he dies he will take nothing, his glory will not descend after him.
For he [alone] praises himself in his lifetime; but [all] will praise you if you better yourself.
He will come to the generation of his forefathers; they shall not see light for all eternity.
Man [can live] in glory but does not understand; he is likened to the silenced animals.

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Discussion (4)
July 20, 2009
Hebrew or English
It is best to recite the Psalms in Hebrew, one can translate them as well if necessary.
Chani Benjaminson, chabad.org
July 18, 2009
Is the psalm typically recited in Hebrew, or in an English-speaking country would it be acceptable to recite it in English?
Jamie
Plymouth, MN/USA
April 20, 2007
Author's Response:
I am not sure when this custom began, but suffice it to say it was recited at Jewish burials from time immemorial.
Zalman Goldstein
April 20, 2007
Question
The use of reciting the psalm 91 in the Hebrew burial is very ancient or not?
Dario Bazec
Trieste, Italy
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