I noticed at a Jewish funeral that the rabbi called forward family members and friends to fill in the grave with earth. What is the reason for this? Who are the appropriate people to participate?


Burial is the last physical act of kindness that we do for our departed loved ones. We have cared for them in their lifetimes, and now we care for them in their passing by ensuring they have a proper Jewish burial. This obligation rests firstly on the children, then on the rest of the family and friends, and finally upon all fellow Jews. It is a holy task, and an essential part of the Jewish burial ceremony; it should not be left to the gravediggers. The soul of the departed, watching over their own funeral, derives comfort from the fact that they were laid to eternal rest by those who love them.1

There may also be a therapeutic purpose to this custom. Our initial reaction to tragedy is denial or disbelief. It is too much for our senses to handle, so they reject it. By the loved ones themselves actually participating in the burial, the reality of what has happened hits. Although painful, this will allow the process of acceptance, healing and consolation to begin.

Customarily, after filling in a bit of earth, one doesn't hand the spade to the next person, but rather leaves it in the mound of dirt for the next person to take themselves, for we don't want to seem to be "giving over" something that symbolises sadness and tragedy.

May G‑d bring comfort to all who need it, and may we all have only happy occasions to celebrate.