Jewish burial practices are repeated by Muslims 

Dr. Mike Ghouse   March 30, 2018   Comments Off on Jewish burial practices are repeated by Muslims 

The Jewish and Muslim customs mirror each other. Of course, Islam adopted most of the Jewish traditions and the Prophet Muhammad made sure that Islam was not a new religion but an extension of previous beliefs.

Indeed, most religions have evolved from same needs of the society. A mother in Swaziland or Switzerland, China or Chile, Arabia or Argentina knows precisely what to do to calm her child. The wisdom evolves.

Way back in 2003 and 2004, I did a radio talk show called “Wisdom of Religions, all the beautiful religions.” Our programs were oriented to explain even an individual who knows nothing about God.  We did 12 religious in 700 plus hours.  Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam got 104 hours whereas all other religions got 52 hours of talk.  Rabbi Haas and I did 52 hours on Judaism, and I have been a part of many discussions and conversations over the years.  We have also conducted two workshops and conferences on Judaism.

I was always amazed at the similarities between Judaism and Islam. A few months ago, I shared another article that Muslims could easily relate, and now the following report on burial practices brings more similarities together. Of course, there are differences too.

My commentary continues after the articles;


A Jewish Funeral is a Jew’s Right

Receiving a proper Jewish funeral is so significant and important that many Jews have mandated this in their wills, thereby ensuring that they will be buried in the ways of their ancestors. While one is still alive, one should make it clear to loved ones that his or her funeral must adhere to Jewish tradition.

If one did not leave explicit directions, family or caregivers must ensure that the funeral director will provide the services requeste d (i.e. traditional Tahara — washing and purification of the body, a Shomer — a Jewish person to stay with the deceased until burial, Tachrichim — traditional shrouds, a “kosher” casket, and to be cared for by the Chevra Kaddisha).

Some funeral homes (even those with Jewish sounding names) will not offer these services unless specifically requested (and insisted upon) by the family. That said, responsible funeral directors will go out of their way to accommodate the needs of the family once those needs are made known.

Scheduling the Funeral

It is a Biblical commandment to bury one’s deceased immediately after passing, and it is forbidden to leave the deceased unburied overnight unless it is for his honor (i.e. to perform a proper Tahara, obtain shrouds, arrange for a burial plot, gather family, etc.).

One may not put off the burial unnecessarily, for our sages state that the soul is in turmoil until the body is properly buried in the ground. Therefore, there needs to be a great sense of urgency to complete the burial as quickly as possible.

If the passing occurred in the morning, one should try to ensure that the deceased is prepared for burial and buried before dusk of the same day. If this is not possible, the burial should take place on the following day.

If the deceased will be buried in another country, or in other circumstances, consult the Chevra Kaddisha or a competent rabbi for guidance.

Flowers, Music, Viewing

It is not the Jewish custom to send or bring flowers to a funeral or cemetery, for flowers are associated with joyous celebrations. For the same reason, music is not played or sung.

It is also forbidden to hold an “open casket” viewing. This is considered extremely disrespectful to the deceased.

When the Mourner is a Kohen

According to the Torah, a Kohen (descendants of Aaron, the high-priest) is not permitted to come in contact with a deceased b ody. This means that a Kohen cannot be within six feet of where a deceased person may lie; the Kohen may also not be under the same roof as the deceased. For the Kohen, this Biblical prohibition is as serious as the laws forbidding eating unkosher food and violating the Shabbat.

Nevertheless, the Kohen is obligated to attend the funeral of his father, mother, wife (as long as he was permitted to marry her according to Jewish law), son, daughter, brother [including half-brother from his father’s side], sister who is not married [including half-sister from the father’s side]. In these cases, it becomes a mitzva for him to make himself ritually impure by his attendance.

Forbidden Burial Alternatives

According to Jewish law, a Jew is to be buried as he was born – complete with all his limbs and organs. The human body is considered as sacred in death as it was in life as it contained a G‑dly soul. He must be buried in a traditional grave in the ground, so that the body may return to the earth.

Burial in vaults, above-ground mausoleums, crypts, and any other alternatives to a traditional ground burial are strictly forbidden according to Jewish law.

Kabbalah teaches that when a proper kosher burial is not administered, the deceased’s soul is stuck in a state of turmoil and cannot find rest until the body’s remains are given a proper Jewish burial and allowed to be absorbed into the earth – even after many years!

The Transgression of Cremation

Cremation is explicitly forbidden according to all authentic Jewish opinions and there are never any circumstances where it is permitted. Jewish law considers cremation as pure idol worship, and as “going in the ways of the gentiles.” Any instructions to be cremated must be ignored without feelings of guilt or regret.

Aside from the permanent spiritual destruction of the link between the body and soul, if one ever witnessed the action of the “bone-crusher” that is used to pulverize the skeletal remains into the appearance of ashes after the burning of the body, no one of good heart would allow such indignity to come to someone they consider dear.

The prohibition against cremation is so severe that according to Judaism, a person is forbidden to mourn or sit Shiva for one who had himself cremated. This is because in addition to violating Torah law, the person denied G‑d’s promise of the future Resurrection of the Dead by having his body obliterated.1

A proper Jewish burial affects the final peace of the soul and should never be treated lightly. Should a unique situation arise, one must consult a rabbi who specializes in this area of Jewish law for proper guidance.

The Wishes of the Deceased

If the person left specific instructions concerning his funeral and burial, we are morally obligated to do our utmost to carry them out, providing their fulfillment does not violate Jewish law. If one left instructions for actions that go against Jewish law (i.e. to be embalmed or cremated, the donation of organs for science, burial in a mixed-denomination cemetery, burial above-ground, no Tahara purification, the use of a metal casket, etc.), those caring for the deceased are obligated to ignore those wishes without feelings of guilt or regret. Instead one should substitute a proper Jewish burial through the local Chevra Kaddisha.

Most of the time, such requests are made out of ignorance of proper Jewish law and the severity of these matters. Judaism believes that had the person known the eternal consequences of his request, he would not have made them. In addition, now that he is in the “World of Truth,” one should not cause him spiritual “pain” by deviating from the ways of the Torah.

Even if the person knew that what he wished went against Jewish law, we can certainly not assist him in committing a sin. On the contrary, we have an obligation to make it right for his soul, so that at least in death, he is laid to rest as a Jew. Our actions will generate merit that will advocate for him in his final judgment before G‑d.

In a case where the requests simply deviate from local custom (i.e. the delivery of a eulogy, to be buried next to a spouse, etc.), one should seek the advice of a competent rabbi or the Chevra Kaddisha.

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Courtesy:  Jewish Funerals

 What Makes a Cemetery Jewish?

Every traditional Jewish funeral has a particular set of customs that make it “Jewish,” such as using a kosher casket, performing a Taharah, and reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish. However, do you need to use a Jewish cemetery to have a Jewish funeral? What makes a cemetery Jewish anyways?

In Judaism, respect for the dead is considered a great Mitzvah, and thus many think of Jewish burial grounds as sacred spaces. This is why one of the first religious establishments built in new Jewish communities is a designated Jewish cemetery. Thus, one of the main characteristics of Jewish cemeteries are that they are community owned, operated, and maintained.

Another defining characteristic is that the cemetery must adhere to Jewish law. This may seem obvious to many, however, many cemeteries claim to be “Jewish” without actually following all the complex rituals surrounding keeping a burial ground kosher. For example, a Jewish cemetery must have physical boundaries that set the cemetery apart from its surroundings, have kosher graves that are at least forty inches deep, and display no ornate decorations, such a flowers or special monuments. Since keeping a Jewish cemetery kosher is so complicated, many non-denominational cemeteries are not able to properly maintained.

All this being said, actually using a Jewish cemetery for your Jewish burial is a matter of personal preference. We highly recommend using a Jewish cemetery to insure that your entire funeral is within halacha. However, if your family identifies as reform, having a Jewish funeral at a secular cemetery could also be a great option for your family. Austin, Dallas, and Houston Jewish Funerals has access to all cemeteries across Texas, regardless of religious affiliation.

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My commentary continued

The articles say that Jewish grave is to be 40” deep, whereas Muslims dig 6’ deep. The headstone is not a religious requirement but a personal choice.  Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had asked to be buried in an unmarked grave to prevent people from making his grave an object of sacredness; he did not want his pictures, portraits or busts prepared for the very same reason. He wanted people to focus on the message and not the messenger.  Of course, humans are geared to symbolism while Islam and much of Judaism is about abstract

All Muslim bodies are laid in the grave on their right side facing Mecca for uniformity and proper planning of the cemetery.  What’re the Jewish guidelines?

There were several reasons for the burial sites to be away from residential areas. It may or may not apply to Judaism, and even a few Muslims may differ on this.

Burying in the backyard may cause the families to make a saint out of the dead, and a cult may start. (It has happened with a few Muslims including my Grandfather) The grave becomes an object of reverence.  Islam like Judaism is not for symbolic representations.

Because of the mobility of people – instead of subjecting the grave to be desecrated by the new occupiers of the land, they chose to dedicate a place away from the residential areas.

Muslims believed that the dead person has to be carried long enough for people to think that he or she is dead = and it causes them to reflect on life. Minimum distance (not in Quran, but practice) was 40 steps.  When I was growing up, my maternal Grandfather had advised us to attend a funeral for every marriage we visited so we can see the life in its full gamut.

Some Hindus believe that the bad spirit will haunt you, so let the cemetery be far away. Those that were cremated, they wanted it away as well.

There are a variety of burial practices I have witnessed and knew of. In my early life in the United States when I was an Atheist and did not know any Muslims, I had asked to be buried in the Jewish Cemetery or Jewish way of burial.  At one time, I toyed with the idea of cremation – but when my close friend Sharma was cremated, I stood by that machine, he was like my brother, after the sensations I went through, I decided to stick with the burial.  Now that I am a Muslim, I will be buried the Muslim way.