Many rituals surround a traditional Jewish funeral, such as the ritual washing of the body and the use of a plain pine box as a casket. Generally, Orthodox Jews adhere closely to these customs, while Reform Jews -- those who adapt Judaism to modern times -- may not observe all funeral rituals exactly.
According to interpretations of the Torah, Judaism's principle sacred text, burial customs are part of God's holy laws. While a simple pine box may seem to an outsider like a relatively unimportant aspect of the religion, Judaism is based on a covenant with God wherein they practice holiness in all details of daily life in observance of all God has done for them.
According to Jewish law, the deceased must return to the earth that gave her life. A pine box decomposes in the ground, and is therefore the traditional Jewish casket; however, it does not necessarily have to be made from pine. As long as the box adheres to Jewish law -- kosher glue, no metals and wooden dowels instead of nails -- it can be fashioned from any type of wood.
Caskets Made on the Sabbath
Under a strict interpretation of Jewish law, the wooden casket cannot be made on the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or Saturday, is the weekly Jewish holy day or day of rest. Jews who observe the Sabbath do so to rejoice in their covenant with God, and cannot perform any sort of work, including woodworking or construction. A pine box constructed on a Saturday is therefore not allowed to be used for burial, while, for example, an oak casket built on a Thursday is suitable.
Other Jewish Burial Traditions
A Jewish funeral is officiated by the community's rabbi, or religious leader. During the traditional burial ceremony, Orthodox Jews may have pieces of their clothing torn by the rabbi to symbolize their grief; more liberal or Reform Jews may instead don a black ribbon. Those in attendance usually throw several handfuls of dirt onto the wooden casket before it is lowered into the plot. After burial, it is customary for mourners to place small stones atop the grave marker in honor of the deceased.
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