Coffin — Aron / ארון. After the body has been dressed it is placed in the burial casket (coffin). In the past, widespread Jewish custom has been not to use caskets, but to carry the deceased in a funeral stretcher and bury the body in a simple cloth covering. Burial without a casket is typical in Israel with the exception of military and state funerals. However, the casket is common in many countries and mandatory in many others. Jewish caskets must be made completely of wood, which will naturally decompose and permit the body to return to its source, thus fulfilling the “dust unto dust” requirement. Our caskets are constructed of solid spruce, fastened with wooden dowels,, and have rope handles.
Part of our custom is to include earth from the Land of Israel and say: “He will atone for His land and His people / וכפר אדמתו עמו” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The deceased is then placed inside the casket face up, as one who is sleeping. The limbs of the deceased are straightened and the hands are opened* to symbolize that nobody can carry material possessions into the next world. The custom is, therefore, that no personal items are placed into the coffin.
*Man comes into this world empty-handed, and empty-handed he leaves it. In the course of the Havdalah / הבדלה ceremony that marks the transition from the day of rest to the busy week of work, we look twice at the reflection of the Havdalah flame on our fingertips. The first time the fingers are curled and the second time they are straightened. The symbolism of this custom is that man arrives into this world as a newborn baby with clenched fists, as if he was trying to grab as much as possible. However, after one hundred and twenty years the man departs with his fingers stretched, for he has to release all the wealth he amassed.