Why don't you have open caskets in Judaism?

Okay, the title is a bit misleading but I have limited characters.

I know that it's out of respect for the dead and the whole notion that the dead are unable to look back at you, which is why you also can't eat in the presence.

I was wondering if this notion is something that just evolved over time or if it's something that's been written in the Torah or something.


4 Answers

  • 7 years ago
    Favourite answer

    Judaism places a high priority on showing respect for the deceased. Indeed, one of the highest commandments is kevod ha-meit, honoring the deceased. One of the reasons this commandment is so highly regarded is that the act may never be reciprocated by the deceased – it is an entirely selfless act by definition. Even so, in our tradition one does not show respect for the person by viewing his or her remains. The viewing of the physical body is more apt, in the traditional opinion, to lead to thoughts that do not honor the deceased. Viewing a corpse is more likely to bring to mind opinions on how the body appears, or an emotional reaction that is more tied to how we feel when seeing a dead person or grappling with our own mortality. None of these truly honor the deceased. Rather, remembering the person’s deeds and saying psalms and the honoring prayers of Eyl Maley Rachamim and Kaddish Yatom truly honor the person without the possibly superficial thoughts on the body’s appearance or the charged emotions of seeing a dead body which has nothing really to do with honoring the deceased’s soul.

    There is another aspect of a viewing which contradicts Jewish tradition. To have an open casket, usually the mortician must do something to the body to make it presentable. This may include cosmetics, manipulations, and even embalming. Judaism takes seriously the injunction in Torah that “Dust you are, to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) Additionally, we believe that we are created b’tzelem Elohim – “in the image of God.” Putting these two ideas together, our tradition and belief is that we should do nothing to significantly or permanently change our image, or prevent our natural return to dust. The methods morticians need to use to present a body for an open casket transgress these ideas and values, preventing us from having open casket funerals.

  • 7 years ago


    No - that bit about "dead looking back at you" - thats a Bubeh manseh (folklore) at best.

    There is no such theological principle.

    We don't eat with the dead because of principles of separation.

    There is no good English word for it -- the best (though a terrible choice) is the dead are "unclean"

    So back to the question --

    In the most traditional burials, a person is sewn into a shroud and buried in a very plain casket that can deteriorate very quickly (some groups actualy use a break-away casket just to get the body to the grave). I understand in Israel, they don't use caskets at all.

    So - its just very practical - if the body is sewn into the shroud, there is no way to have it open.

    Then too -- Mark's answer about embalming and make up is important.

    We don't want to pump the body with chemicals.

    In many cases (in the ideal traditional case) Jews don't use mortitians -- we have a burial society -- community volunteers who clean and dress the body very respectfully to get it ready for the "final journey"

    As for where are these things written --

    sorry - I have not studied the matter - I am sure that there are substantial source materials to look at -- burial and the respect for the dead are quite important mizvot (commandments) -- and there are those who are experts in them.

  • Lomax
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Judaism was born in a climate where is was a pretty bad idea to keep bodies lying around for a second longer than absolutely necessary.

  • Anonymous
    7 years ago

    Because of open casket priapism... No one wants to see that but post mortem priapism is fairly common...

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