Judaism Burial Practices

Traditional Judaism embraces specific burial practices as a way to show respect for the dead. The Jewish religion values life and the afterlife and honors them with an extensive mourning period and burial practices to show respect for the life of the deceased. From the time of death to burial, the body is cared for in a very specific way to ensure purification and guarantee respect by the living.

Tahara

judaism burial practicesFirst the body needs to be prepared for burial through the ritual of the tahara, a process in which the body of the deceased is washed and purified. The ritual cleansing is performed by the chevra kadisha (holy society) or the funeral director and staff who recite prayers and psalms.

Clothing

After the tahara practice, the body is dressed in simple and plain white shrouds, and sometimes with a prayer shawl that may be cut or ripped as a symbol of the prayer shawl now being obsolete.

Shomer

A part of Judaism’s burial practices includes the practice of a shomerim watching over the body, so the deceased are not left alone, but are instead “guarded” until the time they are buried. The shomerim may not eat, drink, or even perform a religious practice while in the presence of the body to show their respect for the deceased.

Burial

Once the body is prepared, Judaism requires the deceased are buried in the ground soon after. It is important the body makes contact with the earth through holes drilled into their coffins. Traditionally, cremations are disapproved because the Torah specifies that people should return to the soil because they are taken from it.

Gravesite

Another aspect of the burial practices in Judaism includes establishing a tombstone to mark the grave, as a sign of respect for the deceased. Some Jewish communities do not reveal the tombstone until the end of their mourning period with an unveiling ceremony. The tombstones usually include Jewish symbols (like a Star of David, a menorah, or a torah scroll), Hebrew writing, the name of the deceased, and the date of the death. It is tradition in some Jewish communities to leave stones on a tombstone after visiting.