The book of Ecclesiastes is a reflection on life together with advice on making one’s way through it. kohelet introduces himself as a wise king who sought to examine all that happens on earth, including toil, wisdom, and pleasure. His goal is to determine “what is good for man to do under the heavens during the few days of his life”. He amassed wealth and belongings, and this accomplishment seems to have given him pleasure; but ultimately he found it senseless. As Kohelet proceeds on his investigation, he observes a variety of values and typical events. Most of these he finds senseless and “bad,” but he does suggest various ways of maneuvering through life and, from time to time, does praise certain modes of behavior and experiences. Still, he begins and concludes with a judgment that recurs throughout the book, “All is hevel,” a keyword usually translated “vanity” or “transient” but that might be better translated “senseless” or “absurd.”

Recurring topics include injustices; social oppressions; the futility of toil and pleasure; the failure of wisdom and the frailty of its achievements. Occasionally he grants wisdom’s (limited) value. He more emphatically affirms life’s goodness and the importance of grasping life’s pleasures when they present themselves – an imperative made all the more urgent by the incessant awareness of death’s grim certainty. He concludes with a mysterious description of the path to death. The opening declaration “All is hevel” concludes his full movie

Judaism’s emphasizes communal support and involvement. Many of the rituals and teachings have the effect of bringing people together, overcoming the isolation that so often accompanies illness and loss. Appropriate care
for the Jewish person, then, considers and involves family, friends and the broader community. Jewish thought rejects sharp distinctions between physical and emotional suffering, viewing the body and soul as profoundly interconnected. Appropriate care addresses not only a patient’s immediate physical distress but also his or her underlying emotional experience.
Jewish tradition values the relief of suffering, struggles to maintain hope even in grim situations, and challenges Jews to look for opportunities for spiritual and personal growth through difficult experiences.
Once a death has occurred, Jewish tradition immediately directs its attention towards showing respect for the
deceased. This takes its most concrete form in elaborate Jewish rituals surrounding care for the corpse. After burial, comforting the mourners becomes the focus, and is the responsibility of the entire community. That comfort may at times be provided in the form of logistical support or other direct assistance but, at its core, comes through listening, presence and empathy.
While Jewish tradition recognizes that death marks the beginning of a separation between body and soul, that separation is not considered complete until the body is buried. From the moment of death until burial, the soul
may have left body, but it has not traveled very far. Many Jewish theologies imagine that the soul lingers, somewhat
confused, in the room where the corpse lies. For this reason, Jewish tradition demands utmost care that nothing
is done in the room which might show disrespect for the deceased. For example, casual or unrelated conversation
is prohibited. Around the corpse, discussion must focus exclusively on funeral arrangements or praise for the
character of the deceased. Mourners may say what had been left unsaid when the person was alive; Jewish sages believe
the deceased’s soul may be especially receptive to words of closure during this period. This does not mark the final
time that words may be spoken to the deceased, but it may afford opportune moments for goodbyes. Observant Jews do not eat, drink, smoke or even perform most religious rituals in the same room as the corpse lest the soul of the
deceased feel jealous that he or she is no longer able to do so as well.
Some Jews follow traditions such as opening a window or laying the corpse on the floor with the feet pointing towards the door in a symbolic effort to help the soul leave the room and begin its journey towards the divine realm.
Similarly, candles may be lit, mirrors may be covered and standing water may be discarded with the intent
of removing any obstacles to the soul’s departure. These longstanding customs have become helpful metaphors for
saying goodbye and, as such, should be encouraged and supported when initiated by mourners.From the moment of death until burial, observant Jews arrange for at least one Jewish person to remain in the room with the corpse, or immediately outside. This practice—called shemirah in Hebrew—ensures that the deceased’s soul does not feel abandoned before it is able to separate from the body completely. Even Jews who no longer hold this view of the body and soul may still find meaning in the longstanding practice, or may observe it without understanding its exact purpose. Jewish funeral homes and non-sectarian funeral homes that serve a Jewish clientele usually have a list of people in the community on call to stay overnight with the body when the mourners are not able to. The designated person sleeps no more than twenty minutes every hour and spends at least twenty minutes every hour reciting Psalms on behalf of the deceased.
Many traditionally inclined mourners recite the following blessing immediately after a death or upon first hearing the
news that someone has died:Baruch ata Adonai Eloheynu melech ha-olam, dayan ha-emet.(Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the true judge.)At a time when many feel most distant from God, this prayer reminds the mourner that he or she has not been abandoned by God, while simultaneously acknowledging the magnitude of what has happened.

The traditional Jewish practice is to prepare the body for burial through a process known as taharah—purification.
During taharah, the body is washed, dressed, ritually purified and placed into the coffin. This ritual used to be observed primarily in Orthodox communities, but in recent decades many non-Orthodox Jews have reclaimed the tradition. Taharah is most often performed in the funeral home by Jewish volunteers who serve as part of a hevra kadisha—holy society. Respecting the Jewish value of modesty, only hevra kadisha members of the same gender as the deceased
prepare the body. They begin by thoroughly washing the corpse, cleaning the fingernails, de-impacting the bowels and stopping any blood, at all times exhibiting utmost respect for the deceased. The ritual begins with solemn prayer, and usually at least one member of the hevra kadisha continues to recite prayers throughout the
taharah. Only conversation about the process itself is permitted. In an effort not to treat the body as an object,
nothing is passed over body; rather, volunteers working on opposite sides of the body walk around in order to
hand items such as scissors or cloths to each other. To maintain the dignity of the deceased, only the area of the
body being treated is uncovered.The washing may take up to an hour, much longer in cases of traumatic death. Once the physical washing is complete, the hevra kadisha turns to spiritual cleansing. Water from a mikveh—Jewish ritual bath—is poured over the corpse in a continuous stream so that all parts of the body are touched by it. Upon completion, the body is declared tahor—pure Ritually, this symbolizes that the dead person is no longer burdened by his or her misdeeds and shortcomings while alive. The soul is free to leave the world unencumbered and enter the divine realm.
The members of the hevra kadisha then dress the body in tachrichin—burial shrouds. They are made of plain white
linen and have no pockets—a reminder that a person takes nothing from here into the next world. All Jews who
observe this practice, regardless of status or wealth, appear the same in death, wearing identical simple shrouds. Also, no mourning family needs to worry in their grief about what kind or elaborateness of clothing is appropriate for
burial; only the most basic dress is permitted. Once dressed, the volunteers sprinkle earth from the land of
Israel into the coffin. Some hevra kadisha organizations also observe various local customs, such as applying a mixture
of egg-whites and vinegar to the forehead of the deceased, resting pottery shards over the eyes and mouth, or placing
wooden sticks in the hand. The coffin is sealed at the end of the ritual and is not opened again. The ritual concludes
with the volunteers reciting additional prayers on behalf of the deceased, requesting divine forgiveness and acceptance into the eternal kingdom. Most hevra kadisha members also perform a ritual of seeking forgiveness from the deceased for any unintentional act of disrespect during the taharah process. Volunteers consistently describe the process as profoundly life-affirming.

In Genesis, God declares to the first humans, “You will return to the soil for from it you were taken. You are made from dust and to dust shall you return.” Jews have traditionally interpreted this as a mandate for the body to be returned to earth following death with as little interference as possible. Any artificial impediment to decomposition is prohibited by Jewish law. Consequently, neither embalming nor the application of cosmetics to the deceased is
traditionally permitted; in addition to hindering the decomposition process, they run contrary to the Jewish teaching that death should be confronted directly and recognized as the painful loss that is it.In Israel today, bodies are buried directly in the ground, wrapped in a shroud without a casket; this allows the body to decompose and “return to dust” as quickly as possible. However, American law in most localities requires the use of a casket; observant Jews usually select a plain pine box free from decoration. Holes are drilled into the bottom so that the corpse comes into direct contact with the earth. Further, every element of it should be biodegradable. For example, wooden pegs are often used instead of metal nails. Such a simple casket also reminds mourners of the utter equality human beings share in death, and no family need feel any embarrassment at not being able to afford a luxurious coffin.
Many Jews today are uncomfortable with these ancient practices which can appear primitive or undignified to the modern observer. Also, some funeral homes may encourage a family to purchase a more expensive casket not ritually fit by traditional Jewish standards. Jewish tradition militates against such excess, teaching instead that a memorial fund or charitable donation which benefits people still living constitutes a much greater gesture to honor the deceased than a fancy coffin. In a traditional burial, the body must be intact, meaning that even small amounts of fluid or tissue should be collected at the time of death and buried together with the body. Jews who believe in physical resurrection require this to ensure that the resurrected body is complete. Even Jews with alternate understandings of the afterlife typically value this tradition because it reflects the Jewish belief that the body is sacred, must be treated with great care and be returned to God whole. Observant Jews who have a limb amputated may even make arrangements for a funeral home to preserve and store the limb so that it can be buried
with the person when he or she eventually dies.
Judaism views mourning as part of a year-long cycle. Throughout that cycle there are moments for healing,
growth and acceptance. There is also license for intense emotion—anger, fear, sadness, isolation, grief. Many individuals observe traditional bereavement practices in modified forms or observe some strictly while abandoning others. The wide variety of experience and expression of contemporary Jewishness makes it impossible to accurately predict how any one Jewish patient or family member will respond to illness and death.
No Jewish patient or family member expects caregivers to fully understand all the relevant cultural and religious factors relating to these issues. But at least better appreciate the broader cultural and spiritual dynamics at work in any given situation, and empower them to ask the questions that can help create sufficient space for the perspectives, beliefs and practices of all those involved.

Because Jewish funerals take place so quickly following death, the atmosphere is often one of shock or intense anguish. Traditional Jewish funerals are strikingly stark: the casket is closed and covered with a simple cloth
unadorned by floral arrangements; Jewish tradition encourages mourners to remember the person as a vibrant
living human being instead of a corpse. There is no music, honor guard or display of colors to blunt the painful reality that a death has occurred.The funeral liturgy is quite simple, consisting of several Psalms followed by eulogies. The Hebrew word for eulogy—hesped— implies lamenting; the eulogies are a time to reflect on the life of the deceased and lament the qualities that are lost. Jewish tradition prohibits exaggeration and saintly portrayals with little basis in reality. Following the eulogy, a memorial prayer called El Maleh Rah.amim—God, Full of Compassion—is chanted by the clergy or service leader. At the conclusion of the service, pallbearers are called forward to carry the coffin to the hearse, followed by the immediate family, the rabbi, and, finally, the guests. Serving as a pallbearer represents an honor usually reserved for direct descendants of the deceased or other close family.Once the casket is lowered into the ground, the rabbi declares in Hebrew, “May [the person’s name] go to his/her place in peace,” and then hands a shovel to the principal mourner,usually the spouse or child of the deceased. He or she uses the back
of the shovel to lift the fi rst load of dirt into the grave, symbolizing the mourner’s reluctance to complete the
task. The sound of the first shovelful of rocks and dirt falling onto the wooden coffin often elicits tears or shrieks from those in attendance. After the first inverted shovelful, the shovel may be used regularly. Those present gather in line for their turn to help fill the grave. Some individuals only lift a symbolic amount of dirt into the grave; others shovel furiously. The grave need not be filled to completion, but enough that the coffin is entirely covered before proceeding.
Once this process is complete, the mourners recite the most well-known graveside prayer, the kaddish. This prayer affirms God’s greatness at a moment when the mourner may feel most distant from or angry with God. It accepts the painful reality of the present but also provides hope that redemption arrive soon. The graveside reading marks the immediate family’s first recitation of the kaddish. They may continue to recite it daily from this point on, for up to a year After the recitation of the kaddish, all in attendance except the immediate family of the deceased arrange themselves into two lines. The immediate family then leaves the graveside,passing through these rows of comforters; they are reminded that they are not alone in their grief but surrounded by a supportive community. As the family members pass,individuals offer the traditional consolation: Ha-makom yinah.em et-hem b’tokh. sha’ar avelei tzion v’yerushalayim. (May the Holy One comfort you together with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.)
Upon leaving the cemetery, a bucket of water may be provided with a small cup just outside the gate. It is customary for all mourners to use the cup to scoop water over their hands. This ritual hand washing symbolizes that attendees of the funeral do not carry any impurity with them following their contact with the dead. This ritual also marks the moment when the focus shifts from honoring the dead to comforting the mourners. Until now, the mourners’
sole responsibility was to ensure that the burial proceeded in a way that bestowed the highest honor possible on the
deceased. Now their attention turns to their own grief, and the attention of the community turns to supporting the