Questions re caskets used in Orthodox Jewish burial

Jewish Dopers, and others who may be able to contribute, I have some questions about caskets used in Orthodox Jewish burials.

Bit of backstory: I mistyped a search term into Google, and what resulted was a page of links to companies supplying funeral equipment. Curious (you mean you can actually buy a casket online?), I followed one of the links. Sure enough, you can buy caskets, and urns, and suchlike online.

On one of the casket pages though (link here), they had two labelled “Jewish casket.” (See numbers 12 and 13 in the displayed list at the link.) Apparently, these are manufactured to Orthodox Jewish requirements: without any metal being used, and not manufactured on the Sabbath. The website doesn’t go into detail, so I have some questions:

– Is the total lack of metal necessary for an Orthodox Jewish casket? Would this extend to small pieces of hardware, such as screws and hinges?

– Is the non-manufacture of these caskets on the Sabbath necessary? Why? Note that I am aware of the prohibitions against working on the Sabbath; but in this case, it would seem to me that somebody other than the casket purchaser did the work.

We buried my grandfather in an orthodox Jewish cemetery in Israel. He was buried in a burlap sack, casket or not is more up to cultural than religious tradition.

Regarding the sabbath, the ultra orthodox view is that you can’t buy anything from any business that is open on the sabbath, not can you try to get around the sabbath’s restrictions by letting a gentile do your work. I’m not sure about the mainstream American Jewish orthodox view, though.

I have not heard of any restrictions on a coffin built on the Sabbath. That said, I am blessed enough that I’ve never been in the market for a coffin, and have never particularly learned the laws thereof.

WRT metal and such, the restrictions on coffin construction date to the time of the Talmud, during which people would bankrupt themselves with expensive funerary arrangements, coffins, burial shrouds, etc., in order to show their love for the deceased. Rabbi Gamliel, the leading sage of the day, insisted on being buried in a plain white linen shroud and nothing else, to show that all of this was unnecessary, and the custom was generally adopted. In Israel, to this day, Jews generally don’t use coffins at all, just a winding sheet over the shrouds. Outside of Israel, the Orthodox custom is to use a plain wooden box, all of which will biodegrade back to dirt. I don’t think that it’s technically against Jewish law to use something else, like a coffin with metal nails, but it’s a very strong custom not to do so.

Thanks for the replies–they’re helpful. Thanks again!

Not 100% true. Orthodox Jews will close their businesses on Shabbat, but they can certainly buy things from businesses owned by non-Jews, even if those businesses were open on Shabbat. For example, when in the states, I could go into a kosher Dunkin Donuts on a Saturday night and buy bagels and donuts. The store does not close on Shabbat.


It could be closed on Shabbat and open on Saturday night. Shabbat runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. I’d be surprised if a business actually did this, but it’s theoretically possible.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. The Dunkin Donuts in question is kosher, but is owned by non-Jews.

This is incorrect. If it were true, Orthodox Jews would be unable to buy any commercial product made (even partly, I suppose) on the Sabbath, which is not the case. In fact, they wouldn’t be allowed to shop at the vast majority of stores (which are open on Saturdays), which is also not the case.

There is a difference between commissioning work to be done specifically on the Sabbath and simply buying something which was made on the Sabbath. For example, if an Orthodox Jew takes clothing to a (non-Jewish) tailor to be altered, they wouldn’t drop it off late Friday afternoon and request that it be ready Saturday evening, as that would be tantamount to hiring a Gentile to do work on the Sabbath. However, they could request that it be ready by Monday and not be concerned whether the tailor did the work on Saturday or not, and certainly wouldn’t care if the tailor was doing work for other people on Saturday.

Although I can not cite the appropriate halacha, I would suggest that any restaurant or even cafe that is open on Sabbath is inherently unkosher, regardless of the ingredients in the food. (cite 1 cite 2 cite 3).

To quote the last cite, "I asked the Orthodox Union (OU) - one of the major kosher supervisors in the United States - if they would ever supervise such a restaurant. They said that their policy is not to give kashrut certification to any establishment that is open on Shabbat. "

As the OU implied, they have a policy against it, it’s not an absolute halachic requirement. There is certainly nothing halachically wrong if the restaurant is owned and operated by non-Jews. There are multiple Dunkin Donuts’ which have Orthodox kashrut supervision and are open on Shabbat. The one I know of is not OU-supervised though; perhaps none of them are.

The OU (the largest kosher-certifying agency in the US) won’t supervise a not-Jewish-owned restaurant that’s open on the Sabbath, not because it’s against halacha (Jewish law), but because they can’t easily get mashgichim (kosher-supervisors) in to check the place out on Shabbos. There’s no reason that such a restaurant can’t be kosher, and (as cited above) all the kosher Dunkin’ Donuts that I’ve ever seen/eaten at (quite a few) are non-Jewish owned and open on Shabbos. If you go to the Shamash Kosher Database and search for ‘Dunkin Donuts,’ you’ll note that all of the stores with hours listed are open seven days a week.

It is interesting to note that on Yom Kippur, the day that all Jews stand before God to be judged, Orthodox tradition is to wear the same shroud a corpse is buried in–called a kittel–showing that we are all the same before God, and could be dead if He wanted it.*

BTW, a Rabbi and I had to buy a coffin for a friend who loved Orthodox Jewry, but for one reason or another married a non-Jewish woman. We wanted to get a plain pine coffin, but thought that that might be viewed as an insult by the widow’s parents, but wanted to save him the most money within what we thought were the bounds of decency. So we chose a “sort-of-nice” one. The widow’s father, in fact, was furious that we had spent so much money, and implied as clearly as one can w/o saying it that “we were Jewing him down,” that we had some sort of cut. Sometimes you can’t win.

*Interpretation mine; have no cites. Don’t wanna go there any more, though.

To clarify, it’s not actually a shroud, it’s just a relatively plain white robe which is somewhat reminiscent of a shroud.

You missed the word ultra, preceding orthodox right there. I give you as example the fact that most of Israel shuts down on Saturdays, including all bus and train services, as well as the national airline which will not fly (in fear of boycot). Finding non-jewish bus drivers would not be an issue in Israel, in fact many of those I have ridden with were just that.

As I said, traditions vary from communities, sects and cultures. The use of sabbath-goys is not universally accepted amongst orthodox jews.

Not to hijack the thread – so let me just say that this is only partially true (and less so as time goes by.)

No, I’m sorry, I didn’t miss the word ultra. The fact that much of Israel shuts down on Saturdays, and the “ultra-Orthodox parties” go to great lengths to keep it that way, is due to the fact that Jews driving or riding on public transportation, even if the driver is non-Jewish, is considered to be a Sabbath violation, which they feel the need to prevent.

And I wasn’t really discussing the issue of “Sabbath goys”. What I said was that Orthodox Jews have no problems with buying things which were made on Shabbat by non-Jews, or shopping at non-Jewish owned businesses which were open on Shabbat. For example, the vast majority of consumer goods used by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel are imported. I assure that they do not send Rabbinical supervisors to Taiwan to check that the factories are closed on Saturdays.

They do this in Israel, actually. Going out on Erev Shabbat, when the buses have started running again and the restaurants all open, is quite a fun and lively time.

I’ve never lived in a part of the US with a particularly large Jewish community, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that people do this.

Near my dad’s house in Queens, there is a large Bukharan Jewish community. There are a ton of (highly yummy, BTW) kosher restaurants in that community, and all the ones I’ve ever managed to find were closed for Shabbat, but opened again a couple of hours after sunset on Saturday. It drove me nuts the one time I was visiting Dad’s and desperately wanted some Bukharan food, but my only free time was Saturday afternoon…

The Old Testament says “dust to dust”, and so comes the practise that the entire casket must decay as well as the body such that all returns to the earth. No worldly possessions, no cushy pillow, etc…

Nitpick – **Saturday **night is “Motza’ei Shabat”. “Erev Shabat” is Friday evening. Otherwise, I completely agree. Couple that with the fact that Isarel, like many Mediterranean countries, generally has a lot of places open quite late at night, and you get a very fun back-to-work-tomorrow evening :slight_smile: