American Reform Responsa
116. Putting Small Sticks in the Hands of the Deceased
When Placing in the Grave
(Vol. XXXIII, 1923, p. 59)
QUESTION: Will you please tell me what is the origin and the significance of the custom to put small sticks of wood into the hands of the dead body when placing it in the grave.
ANSWER: This custom is not universally observed, and is not mentioned in the codes. R. Moses Sofer, in his Responsa (Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De-a, no. 327), mentions the custom and states that when he was in Prossnitz, he heard from the members of the Chevra Kadisha there that the purpose of the custom was to indicate the belief in the resurrection of the dead. The dead are provided with these sticks on which to lean and support themselves when getting up at the time of the resurrection. To this explanation of the Chevra Kadisha men of Prossnitz, R. Moses Sofer remarks that it is rather weak and unsound, just as the thin wooden sticks are weak and not strong enough to lean upon them. With all due respect to R. Moses Sofer, however, I must say that he forgot or overlooked a passage in the Palestinian Talmud (Kilayim IX.4, 32b), where it is related that R. Jeremiah requested, among other things, that a staff be put into his hand when placed into the grave, so that when the Messiah will come, he, R. Jeremiah, should be ready to get up and march.
Jacob Z. Lauterbach and Committee
S.B. Freehof, “Funeral Folklore,” Reform Responsa, pp. 174ff; “Funeral Folklore,” Recent Reform Responsa, pp. 149ff; “Funeral Folklore,” New Reform Responsa, pp. 262ff.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.