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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q11.6.4 TOC Q11.6.6 >

Question 11.6.5:
Death and Burial: What are Jewish funeral customs?


The following is a summary of Jewish funeral customs:

There is a reason for the plain wooden casket and linen shroud. First, it demonstrates that everyone is equal in death—the rich and the poor. Secondly, it frees the bereived family from any sense of duty to spend more than they can afford.

A note with respect to cremation: For non-traditional Jews, the answer with respect to cremation is more difficult. While frowned upon by Jewish law, liberal Jews have wide opinions concerning cremation. On the negative side, cremation flaunts the death of our co-religionists in the Holocaust. They were burned (cremated) to ashes against their desired will. It is difficult to understand why a post-Holocaust Jew would wish his/her body to be so destroyed after death, as if giving the Nazis another small victory in obliterating the remnant of our people. On the other hand, the great Rabban Gamliel (Moed Kattan 27a) wrote the ruling that Jews subscribe to today. There should be respect of the dead and not undo financial burden placed upon his/her family. While he was a prominent and wealthy man, the leader of the Jewish community two millennia ago, he chose to be buried in a plain casket (substitute cheap) and dressed in simple linen/shroud (substituted cheap garment as opposed to burying in an expensive suite.) His rationale is solid in as much as funeral costs today are very high. Cremation is a way to substantially reduce the financial burden on the family. This is in keeping with Rabban Gamliel's position. But even if there is cremation, the cremains should be buried. First, it conforms to the Jewish view of returning the ashes/dust to the primordial earth and second, it gives the family a site to direct their mourning. Many Jews find great comfort coming to the graves of parents and relatives at special times of the year to pay homage and respect. Scattering of ashes or leaving grandma in the hall closet does not have the same sanctifying power.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>