About Death & Mourning
Judaism encourages us to both acknowledge our mortality and embrace the sacredness and import of life on earth. Jewish teachings on what awaits the soul (and the body) after death--and in a hoped-for World to Come--are quite varied and therefore this realm remains somewhat mysterious, contributing to Judaism's focus on this world and what can be done in a lifetime.
Death--an end to a human life--is seen as both tragic and inevitable; knowing that death must come, Jewish teachers over the ages have modeled the need to face death squarely and the hope that a life well-lived will be rewarded with eternal life. While each death is in some sense a tragedy, to some thinkers it also represents a kind of homecoming.
A corpse--in the words of one writer, "the vehicle of the soul while the deceased was still alive on earth"--must be treated with great dignity and care. Many laws and customs have developed over the years regarding the care of the body of the deceased, from the moment of death continuing through the burial.
Many contemporary Jews know little about Jewish practices surrounding death and mourning; Jewishly unprepared for death, they can be denied the meaning of ritual at this important time and the opportunity for consolation through ancient traditions. Those who are familiar with the rites of mourning--especially as more and more people find themselves present at the moment of death--know what initial steps to take to preserve the dignity of the deceased and help ease the pain of their own loss. For many who feel "lost" upon witnessing or learning of the death of a loved one, these time-honored practices can bring comfort.
A few overarching themes emerge from a review of the specific and details laws of death and mourning, including these:
· We are commanded to "choose life," and extend life where it is possible and dignified to do so. But we must also be prepared to let go when the time for death has come.
· Similarly, mourning is to be encouraged--but excessive mourning is discouraged.
· Rich and poor, male and female, are equal in death and mourning.
· The dignity of the deceased is paramount.