Basic Laws of the Funeral Service

Basic Laws of Funeral and Burial:

Timing of Funeral – it is imperative that the funeral is conducted immediately after the death. This is because, as soon as the body dies, the soul, so to speak, lacks a vessel with which it can dwell in, and prior to the burial, the soul hasn’t quite reached the next world. Thus, the soul is in a very uncomfortable state, and it is a tremendous kindness to bury the deceased immediately.(also there is the prohibition of LO SALIN (Devarim 21:23; YD 357:1) , although for reasons of showing honor to the deceased (e.g preparing the burial shrouds, coffin etc.) it is permissible to delay the burial. However, one must consult the LOR.

Comforting a Mourner – Please see our Shiva section for more details.
Burying Complete Body (INCLUDING LIMBS) – It is imperative that the deceased’s entire body is buried, including limbs (YD 319:1,374:2). A family to whom this applies to (e.g., amputation, cancer, etc) should be proactive in dealing with the hospital to ensure that the limbs are not discarded by the hospital, but rather maintained.and buried, even though the person is alive)

Guarding the Dead – In order to ascribe honor to the dead, our Holy Torah has commanded us to guard the deceased (YD 341:6) from the time of death up to the burial. The deceased are never left alone until after the funeral by appointing a guard, who will ensure that the dead are never left alone. A reason given is to guard the body from ruach ra (impure spirits), which are created without a physical body and therefore crave to enter the deceased body)

Burial in the Ground – Our Holy Torah (Devarim 21:23) gives a positive commandement ×›Ö¼Ö´×™ קָבוֹר תִּקְבְּרֶנּוּ (Sanhedrin 46b, YD 240:12) and a negative commandment ×œÖ¹× ×ªÖ¸×œÖ´×™×Ÿ (YD 362:1)) to bury our deceased in the ground, as was the case with our matriarchs and patriarchs. As such, in filling in the grave, the dirt should not only fill in the grave, but also should spill outside of the grave, creating a small heap. The act of each person who adds dirt to the grave is a true act of nobility for their loved one.

Appointing a Guard (Shomer) – A Shomer (Guard) (YD 341:6), preferably a family-member, should be appointed to watch the body. If this is not possible, a family friend should be appointed. It is of particular merit to the deceased, to appoint someone who will recite Tehillim (Psalms), or Mishnayos for the deceased.

Bury in a Jewish Cemetary – It is of utmost importance, and consistent with Jewish Law, that a Jew is buried in a Jewish cemetery (a tradition from Sinai forbids burying a wicked person near people far more wicked than himself (Sanhedrin 47a), all the more so Jews should not be buried near gentiles – Igros Moshe YD 4:56:2) Why? It is critical that only Jews handle the deceased at every single stage: from carrying the casket to the actual burial, and it is preferable that Jews do everything. OC 526:1,2 permits burial through gentiles on the first day of Yom Tov, and forbids leaving the dead for the second day of Yom Tov in order that Jews will be able to bury him. However, R. Akiva Eiger (YD 362:1 DH Yafeh) says that we do not let gentiles see the dead in the grave.

Tachrichim – In preparation of the inevitable Final Judgement that awaits them in the next world, we clothe the deceased with Tachrichim, similar clothes to those worn by the Holy Kohen Gadol, High Priest, during Yom Kippur.(Ideally the Tachrichim should be made of flax (Pischei Teshuvah 352:2)

Specifically, tachrichim is traditional white clothing, symbolizing purity, and absent from pockets, symbolizing that our material possessions do not come along with us. Moreover, if applicable, a man should be buried with his Tallis (according to gesher hachiam (YD 351:2:14:4). The Rema there says that we invalidate the Tzitzis.): according to gesher hachiam the tallis is removed just before the actual burial) and Kittel.

Notably, instituted by torah sage and the Nasi (spiritual leader of Yisrael) Rabbi Gamliel, rich and poor alike are buried in simple Tachrichim (Mo’ed Katan 27b), so that we cannot distinguish them, and, consequently, the poor will not be embarrassed.

Avoid Viewing the Dead – Our Holy Torah indicates that viewing the dead body is disrespectful to the deceased. (See the Talmud Gemara Brachas Daf 18). In addition, our sources tell us that it is harmful for the viewer.(Looking at the face of a dead person causes one to forget his learning (Mishnah Berurah 2:2, from Horiyos 13b) and weakens one’s eyes (Chupas Eliyahu, in Otzar ha’Medrashim p.167). We also cover the face so as not to embarrass a poor man whose face is/was darkened from hunger) As such, it was enacted to cover the face even of the rich, lest living poor people be embarrassed (YD 353:1).

Giving the Body a Tahara – This (Tahara) is the process whereby the body is cleaned, so that we can ascribe proper honor to the deceased. Water is poured all over the body, in order to render it prepare it for its transition in the next world.(as well as other things) Within the Jewish community, or nearby, there should be a Chevra Kaddisha, this is a special group of people who are keenly focused on insuring that the body is properly cleansed, fit in burial clothes, and buried properly, all of which within the context of our Holy Torah.

Maintaining the body — Our Holy Torah relates the necessity to keep the body intact. Why? The human body was initially formed from elements of the earth, and so too, when there is a resurrection of dead, as indicated by our holy torah, the resuscitation will also take place from the ground. In order to facilitate this process on behalf of a loved one, it is imperative that the body is fully intact, and in stellar condition. As such, cremation or any other activity which would compromise the body is prohibited, as it would surely interfere with the recitation process.

Disclaimer

The articles are not meant to be halachic rulings, so please contact a posek regarding your situation. Our website is intended to be a helpful guide, but for everything contained in the articles, or to the extent that we inadvertantly made a mistake on one of the articles, please contact your local Orthodox Rabbi regarding it.