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The expression of grief over the dead body of a relative or friend in words of lamentation or of praise is of very early origin among the Jews (Gen. xxiii. 2; l. 10, 11). In the Bible specimens are found of such lamentations, the most famous of which are the dirges delivered by David over Saul and Jonathan (II Sam. i. 17-27) and over Abner (ib. ii. 33-34). In the case of the death of an important personage, it seems that there were special refrains which signified the station of the dead, e.g.: "Wo my brother!" (I Kings xiii. 20); "Wo the master!" (Jer. xxxiv. 5); "Wo the master and wo his glory!" (Jer. xxii. 18). See Funeral Rites and Ḳinot.

The funeral oration proper, however, was not known until a later period. In Talmudic times it appears to have been a well-established custom, and the Rabbis laid special stress upon its delivery, particularly at the death of a scholar (Shab. 105b). The oration was considered to be an honor to the dead rather than a consolation for the living, and therefore the heirs were obliged to defray the expense of its delivery. If the deceased signified in his will that he wished no funeral oration, his request must be heeded (Sanh. 46b; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 344, 9, 10; comp. Pitḥe Teshubah ad loc.). The sages believed that before the grave was closed the deceased had a knowledge of the words spoken in his honor (Shab. 152b, 153a; Yer. 'Ab. Zarah iii. 1; comp. Ber. 19a). It was considered a commendable act for the preacher to raise his voice while delivering the oration so as to arouse the listeners to weeping (Ber. 6b; Ket. 72a; comp. Yer. Ber. iii. 1). Ze'era fainted, while delivering a funeral oration (see "Mar'eh ha-Panim" ad loc.).


A number of specimens of funeral orations are found scattered throughout the Talmud and the Midrashim, most of which are based on Scriptural texts and embellished with parables and similes. It is noteworthy that some of these fragments are couched in pure Hebrew, quite distinct from the general phraseology of the Talmud (M. Ḳ. 25b; Meg. 6a; Ket. 104a). In Palestine it was customary to begin the oration with the following words, "Weep with him, ye who are of distressed heart" (M. Ḳ. 8a). Some beautiful funeral orations are presented in Sem. viii.; Yer. Ber. ii. 8; Meg. 28a; Yer. Kil. ix. 3; Gen. R. xci. 11; Lev. R. xxx. 1; Tosef., Soṭah, xiii. 5, 6; et al.

Along with the funeral oration delivered over the body of the deceased at a funeral, there developed, in later times, the custom of reciting an oration in the synagogue for some honored person, even though considerable time had elapsed since the day of his death. In such a case the life of the deceased was taken as an object-lesson for the instruction of the congregation. When a great and important personage died the Jewish communities of distant lands were frequently aroused, through the eloquent addresses delivered by the rabbis, to an appreciation of the great loss the race had sustained. Very often on such an occasion the congregation showed its participation in the general mourning by sitting down upon the ground for a few moments. In almost every collection of sermons there may be found some such addresses. Adolph Jellinek prepared a bibliography of Hebrew funeral orations delivered during the last few centuries, which was published in the Hebrew section of the "Zunz Jubelschrift," Berlin, 1884.

  • Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Leichenrede;
  • Perles, Die Leichenfeierlichkeiten im Nachbiblischen Judenthume, Breslau, 1861;
  • , s.v. , Presburg, 1864;
  • Frey, Tod, Seelenglaube und Seelenkunde im Alten Israel, Leipsic, 1898.
E. C. J. H. G.
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