Orthodox and especially haredi rabbis often know little, if any, history and make halakhic rulings based on backwards projection and mistaken perceptions. One of the clearest ways to see that is to look at how Jews used to bury their dead, and how we do it now.
Above: A collection of stone ossuaries at the Hecht Museum, Haifa University. Photo by Golf Bravo, Wikimedia Commons
Shrouds, the halakhot (Orthodox Jewish laws) of preparation of the body for burial, plain wood coffins, and much else about today's burial practices have no real basis in actual Jewish practice in Second Temple times, as Ha'aretz reports:
…From the archaeological record, we know that the burial practices of the earliest Jews, the Israelites and the Judahites (who would unite into the people called yehudim, or the Jews), usually interred their dead in "family caves" located outside the settlement.…
The burial rite consisted of two parts. First the body would be brought into an outer room and laid on the floor, or in special slots in the wall. Then later, perhaps a year later, the family would return to the burial cave, collect the bare bones and add them to a pile of bones left by previous generations in an inner sanctum.
This ancient custom continued even after the invasion of their kingdoms in the eighth and sixth centuries BCE, persisted during and after the exile, throughout during the Second Temple period – lasting, in fact, until the Middle Ages. During those millennia, though, some innovations did develop.
Ossuaries - small boxes that held the bones of the dead after the flesh had decayed, began to gain popularity in the Hellenistic period (the first three centuries BCE). After the destruction of the Second Temple, with the land under Roman rule, Roman-style coffins and sarcophagi also gradually began to gain popularity.
We are told that Rabbi Judah the Prince, redactor of the Mishnah and arguably the most important rabbi in Jewish history, was buried in a coffin when he died in the third century CE - though it had holes in its bottom.
By the first centuries of the Common Era, under the influence of Greek and Roman culture, Jewish burial had become a costly affair, with increasingly extravagant spending on adornment of the dead and on their resting place. The rabbis however viewed this practice as an ostentatious foreign influence and rejected it. Again Rabbi Judah was an example – he asked to be buried in common linen.
In the Talmudic times that came after the death of Judah, the responsibility for burial gradually shifted from the family of the deceased to the community…