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Religious Death Practices Research Paper

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Alexi Taliadouros

Professor Scott

Religious Death Practices Research Paper

November 22, 2015

The religion of Judaism has many different types of traditions and beliefs when it comes the process of death and dying. As one of the major religions in the world, and one with a rich history as well, there are a number of traditions and practices that go back to the beginning of Judaism, and which are still in practice today. Some of them are similar to other religions and some are unique to Judaism. This paper addresses the ways in which Judaism is unique in death practices and traditions.

Throughout Judaism’s long history, some practices and traditions have evolved, and there are some differences in the different types of Judaism. Different parts of the world where Judaism is prominent are Israel, Europe, and some parts of the United States. Jewish mourning practices are very structured, but at their heart is a celebration of life rather than a fear of death. Jewish death and mourning practices are intended to show respect for the dead and to provide comfort to the living. Judaism practices many traditions that are focused around how the deceased is treated, and the well-being of the family too (Rich, Life Death & Mourning, para. Death).

Judaism has strict laws about how the body of the deceased is treated. After a person dies, the eyes are closed, and the body is laid on the floor and covered. Candles are lit next to the deceased and family never leave the body alone until after burial. Respect for the dead body is of great importance. Autopsies are usually considered as desecration of the body and are heavily discouraged in Judaism, although they are permitted where it could save a life or where it’s required by law. If an autopsy has to be performed, according to Jewish law, it should be done in a minimally invasive manner. Judaism also focuses heavily on the preparation of the dead. When being prepared for burial, the body is thoroughly washed and wrapped in a simple, plain linen shroud. Judaism forbids embalmment, and no organs or fluids may be removed. Open casket ceremonies are forbidden by Jewish law and the body is never displayed at funerals. Jewish law considers exposing a body to be disrespectful, because it allows people to mock the helpless state of the deceased (Jewish Virtual Library, Death & Bereavement in Judaism).

There are several different strictly defined periods of mourning in Judaism, with guidelines not only for how long the period should be, but what the mourners should be doing while grieving. The goal is to allow the bereaved to gradually return to a normal life. From the time of death to the burial, the family’s only responsibility is caring for the deceased and preparing for the burial. This period is known as aninut. This period usually lasts a day or two, and requires burial should happen within this time, especially since embalmment is not allowed. The next period of mourning is known as shiva, which means seven, because it lasts seven days. Parents, children, spouses and siblings of the deceased observe shiva, usually all together in the deceased's home. It is against Jewish law for mourners to eat, drink, or perform a commandment in the presence of the dead (Rich, Life Death & Mourning, para. Mourning)

Judaism has a tradition for after the service. After the burial, a close relative, close neighbor or friend prepares the first meal for the mourners. The tradition is for this meal to be made of eggs, a symbol of life in Judaism, and bread. The next period of mourning is known as shloshim, which means thirty, because it lasts for 30 days after burial. During that period, family should not attend parties or celebrations, shave or cut their hair, or listen to music. The last period of formal mourning is avelut, which lasts for twelve months after the burial, but is observed only for a parent. During that time, mourners are required to avoid celebrations and parties.  

After burial, Jewish law requires the preparation of a tombstone. The purpose of the tombstone is so that the deceased will not be forgotten and the grave will be respected. In some communities, the tombstone is kept veiled, or they wait until the end of the end of the 12-month mourning period. The tombstone is often decorated with Jewish symbols, such as a torah scroll, a menorah, a lion, or the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. It’s also customary to include Hebrew text on the tombstone (Rich, Life Death & Mourning, para. Tombstones).



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