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Food for a Jewish Funeral

Updated on May 01, 2012
Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny is married to a Conservative rabbi and has extensive experience with living an observant Jewish life.

Every religion and culture has its own method of dealing with the death of a loved one: some delight in flowers; some drink; some celebrate with music. Jews do what we always do—we eat. In Judaism, many occasions are celebrated or commemorated with a seudat mitzvah, Hebrew for a "commanded meal." Often these are festive, such as the meal after a brit milah or a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, but the seudat havra'ah, or meal of consolation, is intended to make life easier for a mourner returning home from a funeral. After that, the mourner sits shiva for seven days, during which time visitors bring food gifts so that the mourners do not have to trouble themselves to cook.

Eggs symbolize the cycle of life.
Eggs symbolize the cycle of life. | Source

The Seudat Havra'ah or "Meal of Consolation"

Following the burial, mourners and close family of the deceased return home for the symbolic meal of consolation or comfort. This meal should be prepared by family or friends to show caring for the mourners in their time of need. The traditional foods at this meal are round, symbolizing the circle of life. Whole hard-boiled eggs are near universal at this meal, and bagels are also very common. In some communities, boiled lentils are also served. Once mourners have partaken of these symbolic foods, they may also eat other food if they are hungry. Common choices are appetizing (smoked fish, cheeses) and spreads.

Food Gifts for Shiva

If you are not among the mourners' close family, you will likely pay a shiva call later in the day or sometime during the week after the funeral. It is customary to bring gifts of food. (Do not bring flowers to a Jewish funeral or house of mourning; cutting flowers kills them, and it is not considered fitting to kill one living thing to commemorate another.)

It is generally appropriate to bring a small gift of kosher baked goods. (Many popular brands and some supermarket bakeries are kosher; check for a circled U or K or a K inside a star on the package.) Unless you are 100% sure that the mourners do not keep a kosher home, do not bring non-kosher food, especially any meal containing meat.

Another safe gift is a fruit salad or fruit platter that is ready to be eaten. (The goal is to make the mourners' life easier, not to make them search for a cutting board.)

If you would like to help provide meals for the mourners, talk to whomever seems to be in charge in the kitchen at the shiva house. The family may have requests or special dietary needs, such as allergies, that you should know about before cooking for them. Meals should be in disposable containers and able to be frozen if the family has more than they need. Some suggestions are:

  • platter of kosher deli sandwiches
  • casseroles (remember not to mix meat and dairy ingredients)
  • meatloaf
  • baked ziti
  • bagels, lox, and cream cheese

Note: At some shiva houses, an elaborate spread of food is offered to all visitors. At other homes, just cake and coffee are served. Take your cue from the mourners, who are likely to offer you something to eat after you have given them your condolences. If they don't, hold back; the food on the table may be the mourners' dinner.

How to Give a Food Gift at a Shiva House

When you arrive at a shiva home bearing a gift of food, bring it straight to the kitchen. Do not give your gift directly to the mourners; you do not want to make them feel obligated to put the gift away and thank you at that moment. Give it to whomever is coordinating the shiva that night, usually one of the family who is not a mourner or a member of the deceased's synagogue. She will decide whether to put your gift out, save it for another night, or set it aside for the family's personal use. Mark whether your gift is meat or dairy so it doesn't get served at the wrong time by accident. You can tape a condolence card to your gift so the mourners can thank you later. After you have taken care of the food, you can proceed to visit with the mourners.

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    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 4 years ago from Ohio

      Another interesting read on your faith. I really enjoy the tradition and symbolism! Well done. Voted up!

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 4 years ago

      This is so interesting, Brainy Bunny!! I have not had close contact with Jewish families, and found the specific details and description of customs fascinating.

      Voted up.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very interesting hub. I like the fact of not bringing flowers. This makes so much sense to me.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 4 years ago from United States

      This is not only useful for those of Jewish heritage, but it actually was interesting for me to learn about your Jewish heritage. Plus I believe you gave some lessons we should do for all people.

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 4 years ago

      I like the symbolism of avoiding cut flowers, too! Are living plants a good choice? Any particular ones?

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 4 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks for sharing this peek into your tradition and religion, a well written and informative hub.....jimmy

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thank you everyone, for reading and commenting.

      Twinstimes2: Thank you. I look forward to reading yours, too.

      Janis: I find it interesting to read about other groups, too. Thanks for reading.

      Just Ask Susan and Janis: The "flower issue" is a common question people have, so I'm glad you found the explanation satisfying. Jews generally don't bring living plants as gifts for a funeral, either, but I think that has more to do with not burdening the mourner in his/her time of grief. Living plants are appropriate house gifts at other times (as are cut flowers), because they bring joy to a house.

      Angela_michelle: Yes, I believe the practice of bringing food to a house of mourning is common across many cultures, but the specifics vary.

      Jimmiethejock: Thank you for reading and commenting. More peeks at my religion and tradition to come!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      How interesting! I knew so little about this tradition and burial is so important isn't it? And so important to get right for everyone.

      Thank you.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      You're welcome, GoodLady. It is important to be respectful of others' traditions, especially surrounding death and mourning. Thank you for reading.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 4 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Very interesting hub. I had no idea flowers were not well received at Jewish funerals. I just went to a Jewish wedding last week and witnessed such beautiful traditions. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      Thank you, Laura. I just wore a Hub on planning a Jewish wedding, actually. I hope you'll enjoy it, since the experience is fresh in your mind.

    • profile image

      Biter 4 years ago

      I knew it was inappropriate to send flowers, but I didn't know why. Thanks for clearing that up.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      You're welcome, Biter. It is puzzling to a lot of people, so I figured I should address it here.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I like the idea of a shiva coordinator. Are they usually family, personal friends of the deceased's, friends of the family, or does one hire them?

      Voted useful, interesting, and up.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image
      Author

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      No, you don't hire a shiva coordinator. Usually a family member or close friend will step up. If not, or if nobody in the family is capable, a member of the synagogue will help out by being in charge of the food (making coffee, setting out cake) and food gifts (putting casseroles into the fridge or freezer as appropriate, making sure everything is clearly labeled). This might be a person or series of persons whom the mourner does not know well, so some chaos can arise in the kitchen despite everyone's best intentions. But helping a mourner is a mitzvah, and it isn't always easy, so we should make allowances.

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