Judaism teaches that death should be accepted with “resignation and trust” – as death is part of God’s ‘master plan’. The soul (‘neshama’) is said to “return to God”. There is no Jewish doctrine concerning the afterlife, although the Talmud refers in passing to “a share in the world to come” and later writers refer to a resurrection of the dead at the end of days.
Judaism does not have a place for private undertakers arranging burials for profit. The functions of an undertaker are carried out by a voluntary communal organisation known as the ‘Chevra Kadisha’ (‘holy society’). This organisation guides the bereaved, arranges for the preparation and care of the body and for the burial.
There are no ‘pauper’s funerals’ in Judaism. Rich and poor receive identical burials, and the higher fees paid by those can afford them contribute towards the cost of funerals for those who cannot. At the end of each year any surplus held by the Chevra Kadisha is distributed to charity.
Following death, the eyes of the deceased are closed, the body is placed in the prescribed position and covered with a sheet, and a lighted candle is placed near the head. The deceased is not left alone until the funeral.
The body is prepared for the funeral by volunteers who wash it according to ritual, and then wrap it in shrouds. A male is wrapped in his own prayer shawl (‘tallit’). The body is then placed in a completely plain coffin. It is not the custom to bring flowers to a Jewish funeral.