The Etiquette and Mourning Rituals of Jewish Burial Customs
People deal with death in many different ways. Jewish burial customs are one of the ways humanity has for dealing with death.
For most people, it is a time of heart-wrenching sadness to see the death of someone they love.
All of us have to watch a beloved parent or child as they become weaker. And we see how their faculties start closing down and how they slip into unconsciousness, never to regain consciousness again.
The Torah, which contains Judaism’s most important text, sanctions that avoid invasive procedures that don’t offer any hope of a cure. In Judaism, life is valued above all else. So Jews do not regard death as a tragedy but as a natural process and part of a divine plan. Jews have a firm belief in the after life.
Jewish Burial Customs – Keepers of the Dead
Because life is so valuable, they may not do anything that hastens the end of a person’s life such as suicide or euthanasia. Where death is imminent, and the Jewish person is facing death, Jewish law allows one to artificially prolong life.
When death claims the Jewish person, mourning the passing is a time to show respect for the dead and to comfort those left behind.
When a Jewish person dies, the eyes are closed, and the body is laid on the floor with a cover. Candles are then lit next to the body. The family never leaves the body alone, and those who sit with the dead body are called ‘shomrim’ or keepers. While the shomrin is keeping watch over the body, as a sign of respect, they may not eat or drink.
Some Jewish communities have volunteer people who care for the dead. These people, known as chevra kaddisha are regarded highly as they are seen to be performing a task for someone who won’t be able to repay them for their services.
Jewish Burial Customs – The Body is Not Embalmed
To prepare the body for burial, it is washed and purified in a ceremony known as Tahara. The body is then wrapped in a plain linen shroud. Each step in the preparation for burial is done out of deep honour for the deceased.
The body is then placed on a long board, and Biblical verses are recited. Jewish tradition does not permit embalming or the use of cosmetics on the deceased. The dress of the body and the coffin are kept simple so that a poor person isn’t seen to receive less honour in death than a rich person does.
The body is not embalmed, and no body fluids may be removed. It may not be cremated. The body isn’t displayed at the funerals, open casket ceremonies are forbidden by Jewish law as it is considered to be disrespectful.
Jewish Burial Customs – To Dust You shall Return
Jewish law then requires that a tombstone be prepared. The deceased are not to be forgotten, and it is customary in some communities to keep the tombstone veiled until the end of the 12-month mourning period.
In Genesis, it is written ‘dust you are, and to dust, you shall return.’ In ancient times Jews would bury their dead without the use of a coffin so as to symbolize the return to the earth. Today in Israel, many people are still buried directly in the ground without a coffin.
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