Understanding the Importance of the Jewish Cemetery: Customs and Traditions

For those of the Jewish faith, a cemetery holds a significance that goes beyond a mere burial site. It is seen as a sacred space where the physical body is laid to rest, maintaining a profound connection with the soul. Jewish traditions underscore that the soul’s peace is intertwined with the body resting in these sacred grounds.

Selecting a cemetery is a decision of great importance in Jewish culture. Among California’s oldest active Jewish cemeteries is Beth Olam, located in Los Angeles. Established in the 1920s on the grounds of Hollywood Forever, this cemetery has served many generations of Jewish families.

Let’s explore the importance of these cemeteries and the pivotal burial traditions observed before, throughout, and following the funeral ceremony.

Understanding the Importance of the Jewish Cemetery Customs and Traditions

The Sacred Significance of Jewish Cemeteries in Honoring Eternal Bonds

In many faiths, cemeteries are considered sacred, but Jewish traditions particularly emphasize the sanctity of burial sites. This is done to ensure the soul and spirit of the deceased find eternal peace and rest. Disturbing the resting body in any way is strictly forbidden.

Understanding Jewish Funeral Customs

Jewish funerals are characterized by numerous traditions. The rituals performed before, during, and after the burial largely depend on the religious observance level of the deceased, their grieving family, and the individual leading the funeral. However, there are several key customs and rituals typically observed at Jewish funerals to honor the deceased.


Tahara – The Cleansing of the Body

Jewish laws and traditions stipulate that a funeral usually takes place within one day of a person’s death. A ritual called Tahara must be performed before burial, which involves washing the body.

This ritual is performed by the Chevra Kadisha, a group within the Jewish community responsible for preparing the body. They first undress the body and cover it with a white sheet. The body is then washed twice – once for the physical body and once for the soul – while psalms and prayers are recited. This process purifies the body, akin to the purification of a newborn baby entering the world. After this cleansing ritual, the body is dressed in simple burial shrouds before interment. 

Kevura – The Burial

In tradition, pallbearers pause seven times while carrying the casket to the burial site is a poignant symbol of the reluctance to bid farewell to the deceased. The burial, or Kevura, occurs once the procession reaches its end. 

After the final prayers are recited, it is customary for mourners to each place three shovelfuls of earth onto the casket. This act signifies their shared responsibility in ensuring the deceased’s peaceful journey to the afterlife.

As the funeral concludes, mourners traditionally form two facing lines as they leave. This formation marks the commencement of the mourning period.

Shiva – The Mourning Period

Shiva refers to the initial seven-day mourning period following a funeral. During this time, mourners frequently stay at home, welcoming visitors such as extended family, friends, and community members. They engage in prayer and reflection together. It is customary to refrain from any form of beautification, like grooming, during Shiva as it can be seen as a distraction from the grieving process.

The mourning period extends beyond Shiva for the deceased’s immediate family. They observe specific traditions for at least a month after the funeral. For some families, this mourning period can last up to a year. On the anniversary of the passing, known as Yahrzeit, a memorial candle is often lit to burn for an entire day in remembrance of the deceased. 

Beth Olam at Hollywood Forever

In Jewish tradition, an emphasis is placed on ensuring eternal peace for the departed. It is also about honoring the deceased with a dignified farewell, steeped in historic rites and religious observance.

Beth Olam Jewish cemetery at Hollywood Forever embodies this ethos, offering a sanctuary for the soul’s eternal rest. Dedicated spaces for the Jewish community include:

  • The Hall of Solomon, the oldest mausoleum at Beth Olam
  • The Hall of David, The Garden of David and its external crypts
  • Traditional lawn plots
  • The Garden of Israel, a newly erected, intimately designed mausoleum

Each member of the Hollywood Forever team is committed to providing a compassionate and respectful setting for the Jewish community and their families. For further information on our cemetery services, please feel free to reach out to us.


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