Unfortunately, I recently had occasion to attend a traditional Jewish funeral. I was told that Jews don’t do open-casket funerals or hold viewings. Why is that? I always appreciated being able to get one last look at the deceased before burial.


Although some may find it therapeutic, in Judaism the funeral is for the most part devoted to the respect and honor of the deceased, while the period of mourning that follows is primarily for the benefit of the mourners. In fact, one is not supposed to comfort the mourners while their dead still lie before them. Comfort and relief come later, after funeral and burial arrangements have been completed and the dead have been interred.

So although some may find comfort in viewing the dead, this time is focused on the deceased, providing them with a final, dignified sendoff in accordance with Torah tradition.

Additionally, there are a number of issues with open-casket funerals, on practical, halachic and mystical levels.

Gazing at the Dead

The Talmud tells us that it is forbidden to gaze at the face of a dead person. On a basic level, this is so that we do not lose respect for the deceased.1

The Kabbalists explain that one of the reasons we cover the face of the deceased is because a person’s sins are “engraved upon the forehead.” By gazing at the deceased, especially at a time when the soul is still hovering over the body waiting for its final judgement, we can potentially arouse divine prosecution against them, bringing them pain.2

As for the viewers, the Talmud3 tells us that gazing upon the face of the dead can cause one to forget the Torah they learned.4

Preparing the body for viewing also presents very serious halachic problems.

Time Is of the Essence

The preparation takes time, and there is a biblical commandment to bury the deceased as quickly as possible. In fact, even regarding a person who was executed by the courts, the Torah warns that leaving the criminal’s corpse on the gallows overnight is considered a “blasphemy of G‑d.”5 The need for a timely burial is so strong that even the high priest—who zealously avoided all contact with death and impurity—was obligated to perform the burial if no one else was able to.6

The Zohar explains that the soul is in a state of anxiety and anguish until the body is buried, and any delay would increase that anguish.7

Tampering with the Dead

In order to make it look nice, the body is surgically “restored” by manipulating it, inserting various devices to support its features, draining it of all blood and fluids, injecting it with chemicals, covering it with cosmetics, and so on. All of this is strictly forbidden according to Jewish law, which proscribes desecrating a body in any way. In fact, even an autopsy is generally forbidden, unless determining the cause of death will save other lives (such as in a case of poisoning).8

Reuniting with Our Loved Ones

One of the reasons we are so careful about not tampering with the body is that a Jewish burial does not only affect the peace of the soul in the afterlife; it affects our bodies as well. As Jews, we believe that ultimately our bodies and souls will once again come together at the time of the messianic era and the resurrection of the dead.9 Thus, when we provide a proper burial, we are also expressing our belief that we will be reunited with our loved ones with the coming of Moshiach.

May it be speedily in our days!