A death in the family immediately caused
grief and lamentation, expressed in numerous forms some of which were
required by the Halakah [the authoritative Jewish way of life found in
various sources], including the obligations of the husband to his
deceased wife. Others were merely customs or even just tolerated
practices. Among the first signs of grief and mourning was the
obligatory rending of garments by the members of the family, male
and female alike; this obligation was particularly grave in the case of
mourning for a parent. Those who were present at a death rent
their garments even if they were not members of the family, while
members of the family rent theirs either at the time of deeath or when
they received notification of it.
Candles; Continuous Attendant
Our literature stressed the fact that it
was customary to assign someone to attend the corpse continuously; and
candles were lit at the head or feet of the corpse out of respect for
be Buried Same Day as Death
After these first arrangements, the family
immeditely began preparations for funeral and burial. The
traditions about the customs of Jerusaelm report that 'one should not
keep the corpse through the night,' but rather bury it on the very day
of death, and outside of Jerusalem efforts were also made to bury the
dead as speedily as possible. Leaving a corpse unburied through
the night, for any reason, was considered to be sinfully disrespectful,
and was permitted only if more time was needed for the preparation of
shrouds or a coffin. This haste may also be seen in the New
Testament's account of the death of Ananias, the husband of Saphira,
who was buried three hours after his death (see Acts 5:6-10).
In addition to preparation of shrouds and
a coffin, burial arrangements included the acquistion of keeners
[mourners] and pipers. A halakah informs us that, as a minimum, a
husband was expected to provide on keening woman and two pipers for his
wife's funeral, and this was required of even the poorest Jew. In
some places pipes, shrouds, coffins and other requisite items were not
readily available, and various regulations dealt with problems which
arose in connection with the acquistion of such items on the sabbath,
to be arranged with the assistances of gentiles, so that everything
would be ready for a funeral upon the conclusion of the sabbath;
other laws deal with the problems which arose if the pipers had not
arrived by the scheduled start of the funeral. ... [The
keeners] began their lamentations in the house of the deceased, even
sitting upon the bed on which the corpse lay, and continued their
wailing all along the route of the funeral procession.
Charitable Socities to Help
In most towns if not in all there existed
charitable societies whose purpose was to care for the dead and aid the
mourners, thus doing works of righteousness for both. ... These
chariable groups also took care of the preparation of the corpse and
perform such required functions as bath it and wrapping it in shrouds.
Preparing the Corpse
Preparatiion of the corpse for
burial consisted mainly in washing it and wrapping it in shrouds.
The Mishnah states that the corpse is anointed and rinsed. The
body was first anointed with oil to clean it and this was followed by a
bath of water. The Book of Acts, reporting the death of Tabitha
in Joppa also mentions the washing of her corpse as part of the burial
The Gospel of John notes that as part of the preparation for Jesus'
burial, his body was 'bound in linen cloths with spices, as was the
burial custom of the Jews' (John 19:39-40; cf. 12:5-7). ...
The preparation of the corpse for burial further included trimming the
hair, the only exception being unmarried girls, who were buried with
their hair loose, just as brides were brought to their wedding.
The body was wrapped in shrouds, which are frequently mentioned in
Jewish sources. These were garments specially prepared, or
freshly laundered, for the purpose of wrapping the dead. The
Hebrew word for these burial garments connotes wrapping and binding
more than dress ...
Coffins, usually wooden, were used for
burial, but the body was brought to the graveside, in a kliva, a sort of knitted