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Question 11.6.16:
Death and Burial: What is the origin of the custom of initially placing the shovel in the earth upside-down?


The mother of a very close friend of mine recently died. As my friend is Jewish, they planned a traditional Jewish funeral and burial. As she was telling me about the burial, she told me that, when placing earth upon the coffin, the shovel is initially placed in the earth upside-down. Each mourner after that shovels the earth with the shovel right-side up. The Rabbi makes the final shoveling gesture with the shovel once again upside-down. Could you tell me the origin of this practice and the meaning behind it?

The origin of the custom is best illustrated with a story. Picture asking your child to get dressed for school. It's now the third time you've asked, so the volume and tone is one the child just can't ignore any longer. She may choose to follow the letter of your word but dawdle -- taking 3 minutes to find the right socks and another 10 getting them on. By shoveling the earth inefficiently, we try to recapture that mindset, we're indicating that we When you are forced to do something you really don't want to do. We are stalling on the "farewell" to our friend and loved one.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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