to Jewish Law
If it is your family's wish to conform with Jewish law when a loved one dies, there are
certain customs, listed below, that need to be followed.
The following information regarding the reasons for certain burial rituals for people of the
Jewish faith is courtesy of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, the Jewish Burial Society/Chevra
What happens to the Souls after death should make all the difference in your burial
When a person dies, the soul or neshama hovers around the body. This neshama is the essence
of the person, the consciousness and totality; the thoughts, deeds, experiences and
relationships. The body was its container, while it lasted, and the neshama, now on the way to
the Eternal World, refuses to leave until the body is buried. In effect, the totality of the
person who died continues to exist for awhile in the vicinity of the body. A Jewish funeral is
therefore most concerned with the feelings of the deceased, not only the feelings of the
mourners. How we treat the body and how we behave around the body must reflect how we
would act around the very person his or herself at this crucial moment.
From the moment of death to the moment of burial the body is never to be left alone.
Now more than ever, the body deserves respect. After all, there is a real awareness around
the body that knows exactly what is going on. It would be insensitive to leave the body
alone, without any attention, as if it were being discarded because it was no longer useful.
Arrangements for a shomer or guard should therefore be made. These watchmen stay with the
body day and night, reciting passages from the Book of Psalms. This lends great comfort to
the neshama while it waits for the body's burial and its ascent to the Eternal World.
The body leaves the world the way it entered. A newborn is immediately cleaned and washed when it enters the world. And so it is when a
person leaves the world. After all, the soul is about to be reborn in a new spiritual world. We
also believe that eventually the body will be resurrected in the world. A Tahara performed by
members of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society). This is a complete cleansing and dressing of
the body, performed according to Jewish Law and Custom. Prayers asking for the
forgiveness of the deceased and the soul's eternal peace are offered. While Tahara requires
that the body be made as presentable as possible, embalming, cosmetizing, or any other
attempts to create a life-like appearance through artificial means are contrary to Jewish Law.
Dressing for the final Yom Kippur. The neshama is about to face its final Judgement Day and clothes don't matter-good deeds
do. That's why every Jew is buried exactly alike; In a handmade, simple, perfectly clean white
linen shroud which includes a white linen hat, shirt, pants, shoes, coat and a belt. Men are
dressed in a tallis (prayer shawl). The shrouds have no pockets to accentuate the fact that no
worldly belongings accompany you. The shrouds are modeled after the white uniform worn
by the High Priest in the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur when he stood before G-d asking
for the needs of his family and the entire Jewish People. These shrouds are therefore
especially appropriate because each and every neshama asks for the needs of his or her family
on the final Judgement Day.
Allowing the body's natural return to dust to be as swift as possible.
"For dust you are and to dust you shall return." This biblical teaching is what guides us in
selecting a casket. The casket must not be made of a material that slows down the body's
natural return to the elements. Metal caskets are therefore not permitted. Wood is the only
material allowed and several holes are opened at the bottom to hasten the body's return to
the earth. When vaults are required, they too should be open at the bottom. Caskets remain
closed because viewing the body is seen as disrespectful and undignified and is therefore
forbidden according to Jewish Law.
Kvura BiKarka/In-Ground Burial
The natural decomposition of the body is of utmost importance in Jewish Law.
The neshama's return to heaven is dependent upon the body's return to the ground. That's
what the Prophet means when he says, "The dust returns to the earth.and the spirit returns
to G-d who gave it." Jewish Law is therefore concerned with the immediacy of burial and
the natural decomposition of the body. Mausoleums are forbidden since they retard the
process of return to the earth. Cremation is certainly forbidden. It is the harshest form of
indignity to the body and a pagan ritual that denies the existence of G-d. The only acceptable
burial is directly in the ground, with family members and friends helping to fill the grave
completely until a mound is formed. No attempt to retard the body's decomposition is