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Reciting specific prayers is a vital part of Jewish funeral and memorial traditions. Most Jewish funerals and memorials include the following two prayers:
Kel Maleh Rachamim (Prayer of Mercy)
The Kel Maleh Rachamim is a plea that the soul of the loved one be granted proper rest. Its recitation is a central part of a Jewish funeral or memorial service. It’s also recited or sung at grave visitations and anniversaries of a death.
The prayer varies slightly for men and women and for specific kinds of people, such as children or members of the armed forces. One English translation of the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer reads:
G-d, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest upon the Divine Presence’s wings, within the range of the holy, pure and glorious, whose shining resemble the sky’s, to the soul of [name of the person], [son/daughter] of [name of the person’s father] for a charity was given to the memory of [his/her] soul.
Therefore, the Master of Mercy will protect [him/her] forever, from behind the hiding of his wings, and will tie [his/her] soul with the rope of life. The Everlasting is [his/her] heritage, and [he/she] shall rest peacefully upon [his/her] lying place, and let us say: Amen.
The Mourner’s Kaddish
is usually recited by a group of at least 10 people at the end of a minyan service. A minyan is a Jewish prayer service for mourners held daily during shiva. Spouses, children, parents and siblings of the deceased loved one will recite the Kaddish before or during the funeral service and many times following the death. Children who've lost a parent will recite the Kaddish regularly for 11 months leading up to the .
A common translation of the original Hebrew into English reads as follows:
Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
Quotes from the Torah and Jewish teachings
In addition to formal prayers, it’s common for Jewish funeral rites to integrate other writings, including psalms, quotes from the Torah about death and more.
As an expression of grief and the pain of loss, Psalm 90 is often added to prayers during a period of mourning or a memorial service. A translation into English reads:
O G-d, You have been our refuge in every generation.
Before the mountains came into being, before You brought forth the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity You are God.
You return us to dust; Your decree: “Return, you mortals!”
For in Your sight a thousand years are as yesterday when it has passed, as a watch in the night.
You engulf us in sleep; we are like grass that renews itself; at daybreak it flourishes anew; at dusk it withers and dries up.
The span of our life is threescore years and ten, or, given strength, fourscore years; but the best of those years have trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness.
Teach us, therefore, so to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom,
Turn to us, O G-d! Show mercy to Your servants. Satisfy us at daybreak with Your steadfast love
That we may sing for joy all our days.
Let Your deeds be seen by Your servants, Your glory by their children. May Your favor, O G-d, be upon us.
Establish the work of our hands that it may long endure.
Considered the most beloved of all the Psalms, what may have been a pilgrim's song can be translated to English thusly:
The L-rd is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the L-rd for ever.
One of 15 Psalms grouped together as Song of Ascents, Psalm 121 has been set to music in several languages. One English translation reads:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the L-rd, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The L-rd is thy keeper: the L-rd is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The L-rd shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The L-rd shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Frequently recited as part of a Jewish funeral, this prayer of encouragement guides mourners to live mindfully and with intention.
O Shepherd of Israel, Who dost neither slumber nor sleep, we are the people of Thy pasture and the sheep of Thy hand. Enfold us safely in Thy love. And if in our grief and loneliness and moments of desolation, we should stray from following Thee, O leave us not, faithful Shepherd, but draw us near unto Thee.
As we face the great mystery of death which called away this our dear friend from our earthly abode, we feel our frailty, our weakness. We do not understand the brevity of life: we cannot understand why such pain and anguish of heart and mind are visited upon those we love.
Make us not despair, Eternal Father; we are called by Thy Name, we are Thine, Thou hast set thoughts of Thee in our hearts, though we; creatures of flesh and blood, can but dimly apprehend Thy purposes. Teach us not to neglect the task of today because we cannot see its eternal effect. O teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom; to lengthen our brief life by intensity of living; to fill swift hours with worthy deeds.
Besides the still waters, through the green pastures, and in the valley where dark shadows lie, be Thou our strength and shield, and may we find Thy rod and Thy staff a stay and comfort to us in the days that lie ahead. Amen.
May their memory be a blessing
Derived from chapter 10, verse 7 of the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible, “May their memory be a blessing” is commonly said to honor someone who has died or express sympathies to that person's family. It’s sometimes translated into English as “of blessed memory.” It may be written in Hebrew as zikhrono livrakha or zikhrona livrakha.
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