What to Wear to a Jewish Funeral

Image: A group of people dressed for a funeral walk across the cemetery. (Photo: Tony Alter, some rights reserved.

The most-read post on this blog is “10 Tips for Attending a Jewish Funeral.” A lot of people find that entry by Googling “what to wear to a Jewish funeral” – so I thought it might be helpful for me to expand on the subject.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is not your clothing, but your presence. It is better to show up in clothing that is a little bit “off” than to stay away.

THE BASIC PRINCIPLE IS RESPECT. We attend a funeral to show respect for the dead and to comfort the family. Therefore it’s important that our clothes show that respect: be clean, be tidy, and avoid anything flashy or attention-getting. This is not a fashion show, not a club, but a funeral.

THE IDEAL FUNERAL OUTFIT for men or women is subdued in color, appropriate to the weather, and low-key in general. Think “subdued business clothing.” Many people will wear black; other dark clothes are fine. Save the red jacket for another time, unless it is the only one you’ve got.

SHOES should be comfortable. If you are going to graveside, remember that you’ll be walking on plushy grass. Stiletto heels are stupid and dangerous in a cemetery. However, your favorite Nikes are a bit too casual unless your only other shoes have 4″ heels.

MODESTY is another way of showing respect. If the funeral is Orthodox, everyone should dress in clothing that covers at least shoulders and knees. Men should wear a head covering or accept a kippah (skullcap) if offered. It may be the custom for adult women to cover their heads as well. If you do not own a nice hat, carry a scarf so that you can put it on if you see that all the other women have their heads covered.  For an Orthodox funeral, women will be wearing below-the-knee skirts.

A funeral is not a place to wear a sun dress, your shortest miniskirt, or shorts for either gender.

IN VERY HOT CLIMATES (say, Las Vegas in August) you may want to wear a hat that will give you shade and carry a bottle of water. Again the basic principle is that you don’t want to draw attention, so stay hydrated and shaded so that you don’t require EMT’s.

CELL PHONES should be SILENT.  If you are a physician on call, set your phone or pager to vibrate. Otherwise, just turn it off and leave it alone for the service.

A TIP: Death comes periodically in every circle of friends, and often does not give advance warning. Figure out ahead of time what combination of clothes in your closet would be OK for a funeral. If you don’t have anything that would “do” for a funeral, it may be time to add something to your wardrobe. Accompanying the dead and comforting the mourner are important mitzvot, and when the time comes for you to go to a funeral, you don’t want to be worrying about your outfit.

Finally, remember: showing up is the main thing. If the only way you can get there is in your bunny slippers, show up in bunny slippers.

Still have questions? You can add to the usefulness of this entry by asking your questions in the Comments below.


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

24 thoughts on “What to Wear to a Jewish Funeral”

  1. I wish I would’ve read this before my first Jewish funeral but it’s too late so I’m scrambling now. Everywhere else I read that women should wear a dress or a skirt. I do not have one that covers my knees completely and I don’t want to disrespect. I’d rather wear dress pants anyway since it is the middle of winter. Your article suggests me showing up is more important than what I have on.
    Is it okay for a female to wear dress pants or should I wear the dress/skirt that is just touching my knees?

    1. Depends on the synagogue. For an Orthodox funeral, a skirt that covers the knees is important. For Conservative or Reform, I’d say go on in slacks as long as they are modest (not skin tight or something.)

  2. Rabbi Adar:

    What happens if a religious (not Orthodox) woman dies & her only child, a son (she long a widow) is, temporarily “lost” so is both unaware of his mother’s passing, & obviously not present to release her body to the mortuary (she died in a board & care home, early Saturday morning) Can her granddaughter (who is slightly under the age of majority) commence with the funeral arrangements? Neither the granddaughter nor her younger brother is Bot /Bar Mitzvah or a member of a synagogue?
    There is a pre-planned arrangement & plot, unfortunately, the board & care home won’t give the information to the granddaughter because she is under the age of majority, was born after her father Anglicized his first & last name so the board & care home is unsure of her relationship to the deceased.(though given a little time to dig up papers,she could provide proof, except time is of the essence as Sunday rolls around)
    K’vod hamet may not be possible until she finds her father, how does she postpone the burial so her grandmother is not ‘humiliated.?” Is there a 1-800-4a rabbi? What about shomerim? and the uncooperative b & c home?
    Grandmother’s siblings, nieces, nephews do not know where her plot is or have knowledge of the pre-planned arrangements.
    There is a major chasm between grandma’s family and her father. It was forged by religious differences, (plus resentment over the son’s name change) language (grandma never learned enough English & her grandchildren don;t speak Yiddish or Russian, so communication was always ‘iffy,” geography, & socio-economic ‘issues.’

    This is not theoretical, it happened to me when I was 19 (“majority” was 21 until the following year when a new law passed) There were no cell phones, beepers only …doesn’t matter he didn’t have one, no internet to find answers & libraries weren’t open on Sunday. It was traumatic, my father was out of work & traveled (with my mom) across country knocking on the doors of companies who were VERY INTERESTED IN HIRING HIM UNTIL HE NEEDED A JOB. He only called “to check in” every few days & that weekend he was between “appointments” & so close to New York City (mom had never been there) they’d probably stay in ‘the city’ for the next few days. No hotel/motel ever mentioned.
    It was convoluted & messy & I know I had to do a lot of things (try to find an atty on the weekend in 1971) but I can’t recall the specific details. The reason I need them now is I forgot I still had 2 college finals that week & no showed. I dropped out of college 3 months later & I’m back, in fact, I technically ‘graduated’ last week. My final grades were not in & what happened in 1971 still haunts my grade point average & I can’t get into grad school unless they are ‘withdrawn’ from my record.
    I’m in the process of petitioning, but I can only give my university an objective narrative containing the sequence of events I HAD TO FOLLOW TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT, without emotion or superfluous embellishment……& I am majorly A.D.D. & 64 yrs old.

    I can’t find info on “what to do when the immediate family cannot be reached” just that the burial could be postponed, but how? For how long? I know I did find papers that proved we were related so the brd & care gave the info so mortuary could tend to her body., but my mind is blank RE: the details. It was a total fluke that I found my father. I also remember dragging my maternal grandfather, a 2nd generation atheist, but his last name & DNA still made him Jewish. Being rich & obnoxious often bullied people into ‘bending to his will
    However, that only took us so far.
    I know I’m asking a lot, and it is FOR A TOTALLY SELFISH REASON, my future. I’m all googled – out if you could give me an idea where to look for the specifics RE: burial postponement conditions & time frame. I would really appreciate it.
    Thank you.
    Leah Chava Cohan
    (Non-Anglicized name)

    1. Leah, First of all, mazal tov on your graduation!

      Specifics about burial postponement: the following CCAR Reform responsa deals with postponement of a funeral, but for different reasons than yours: https://ccarnet.org/responsa/carr-146-147/

      Now, as for dealing with the university, I would think that your mother’s death at the time would be sufficient reason to get those grades removed from the record. Failing that, a letter from a sympathetic mentor or teacher explaining that your mother died and it was a very traumatic time might help with the grad school application.

      I hope you will let me know how this turns out. Good luck!

  3. Your info was very useful & appreciated. My Dr & friend for over 30 years has lost her father, who will have a service tomorrow at a local funeral home. It is the same one that Christians, like my family use, and the obit makes no mention of burial. I assume he has already been buried or the burial is private. But the obit makes no mention of the family receiving either before or after the service. I have not seen my friend in over dozen years. One site do no offer simple condolences. Let the family member speak. I do not want offend anyone in their grief. If there is an akward lull, would it be a breach of edicate for me to open with how much I enjoyed her sharing all the lovely stories of her father with me through the years? Could I include that I never realized how much our farthers had in common? Or is that shallow? I do not know if they are orthodox, so I will had already planned on a scarf just in case, but that is an excellent tip for young people. Thank you for your time! Nothing is worse than losing than a family member & I do appreciate you taking the time to help this methodist gal be respectful of her friend’s grief!

  4. Sharing a memory of the deceased is a wonderful gift to mourners. Awkward as it may feel at first, it is also perfectly fine to go and simply BE there. Your presence means more than anything.

    I hope all goes well for you.

    1. Thank you for your guidance & taking time to reply! It is greatly appreciated! I live in a small southern town so we are not very culturally diverse here. That’s why I needed expert advice. 🙂

  5. is there a specific shoes to wear? the family of the deceased said we cannot wear leather shoes or open toes sandals. is sneakers or running shoes okay? as for the dress does it have to be black dress and shoes? can we go for white? thank you! the funeral is tomorrow and me and my colleagues doesn’t know what to wear.

    1. I would take them literally: no leather, no open toes. If you have some canvas or plastic shoes, those are good. Sneakers are OK (but watch out for leather.) Color does not matter.

      Good for you, going and trying to meet the dress code!

    1. No flowers. A card or note is welcome. A donation to a charity in memory of the deceased is a traditional gift. Often families will designate a charity for this purpose.

  6. My patients family invited me to their home after the funeral for prayer. Is there anything I should know or keep in mind? I feel so honored to be included.

    1. Hi, Nicole! You’ve been invited to shivah, which is a traditional part of Jewish mourning. We generally bury our dead as soon as possible, to care respectfully for the body, and then, when they are safely in the ground, we care for the mourners via a process called shivah. It’s a time (as much as a week) when mourners are at home and friends visit. The idea is for them to not be left to themselves – Jews tend to want community when we are troubled. For some specific “how to’s” about a shiva visit, see “Five Tips for Shiva Visits” at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2012/11/17/shiva/.

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