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The Taharah

The Taharah

Preparing the Body for Burial

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One of the most important elements of a proper Jewish burial is the Tahara, preparing the body by the Chevra Kaddisha for its final rest, until the Resurrection of the Dead in the era of Moshiach. There is no mystery to the Tahara. It is a simple, yet dignified ritual that allows the person to meet his Maker with the utmost respect and dignity.

A proper Tahara includes cleansing, ritually washing, and dressing the deceased's body. Those who perform this Chesed Shel Emet (true act of kindness) recite special prayers, beseeching G-d to lift the soul into the Heavens and eternal rest.

It is a pity that the observance of this simple, meaningful, and vital mitzva is neither strictly observed, nor readily offered by some Jewish funeral homes unless asked for (and sometimes insisted upon) by the family.

If people only knew the merit and solace it brings to the soul of the deceased, no one would deny their loved one a kosher Tahara.

The Tachrichim
Shrouds and Dressing

Unlike in other religions and practices, a Jewish person is not buried in his or her usual clothing. Similarly, jewelry or other adornments are not worn.

As discussed earlier, one's soul and its spiritual rectification is far more important following death than any honor he could possibly get from his association with earthly possessions. Thus, the Jewish funeral emphasizes the spiritual and sublime over the physical and material.

According to Jewish tradition, a deceased's body is dressed in plain white Tachrichim (traditional shrouds). These garments are hand-made from linen or muslin and are considered fitting for someone who is about to stand before G-d in judgment.

Another reason given is that using simple shrouds ensures that those who cannot afford fancy clothing are not "embarrassed" that they do not have any.

In addition to Tachrichim, a man is also buried in his Tallit (prayer shawl). The Tallit should be given to the Chevra Kaddisha before they prepare the body for burial. In the case that a man did not have his Tallit, the funeral home will usually provide one.

Dressing the deceased in traditional Tachrichim is so important, and the meaning so profound, that Jewish law insists that the funeral be postponed until proper Tachrichim are obtained or made - even though the same Code of Jewish Law normally prohibits any unnecessary delays before burial.

The Aron
Traditional Casket

It is a Torah commandment to return the body to the earth upon passing, as it it written "Unto dust shall you return" (Genesis 3:19). Our sages teach that this means placing the body directly in the ground with no casket. In Israel, this is still the prevailing custom. In America, most, if not all, states mandate the use of caskets by law.

Nevertheless, it is not proper to bury the dead in ornate coffins. This is a gentile custom that pays honor to the person's or the relative's wealth, instead of the good deeds he performed. If one wants to truly honor the deceased, the money that could have been spent on an ornate coffin should be given to charity in the merit of the deceased.

Jewish tradition requires that the person be buried in a plain, modest, casket. The casket must be made from material that will disintegrate in the ground, allowing the body to return to the bosom of the earth as quickly as possible, and enabling the soul to attain true and final peace.

Thus, metal caskets should not be used. Some religious authorities do not even allow metal nails or bracing in a wooden casket. In their opinion, metal is the material of weapons and war, and one should not go to one's eternal peace aided by elements of war. In addition to being made of wood or other organic material, the casket interior should be plain and unadorned. It should not be lined nor filled with pillows and the like.

It is an age-old desire of Jewish people to be buried in the Land of Israel because of its sanctity, which is said to aid in the soul's atonement. When burial occurs in any other country, the Chevra Kaddisha places earth from the Land of Israel in the casket.

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Discussion (5)
November 13, 2013
washing and dressing should follow strict guidelines. Start at top of body washing righ
wash head first then work down the body always doing right side(s) first (why requires longer discussion). parts not being washed should be covered with sheet. body should be treated as if you'll meet again (with Kavanah/honor). wrapping also follows strick guidelines ending with a request from the late person to forgive those doing the Taharah if they failled in doing their job properly.
A.D. Hazan
Katzrin Ramat haGolan Israel
June 12, 2013
To Shoshana
The very basic elements of burying simply and quickly have been around as long as humanity. We know that G-d told Adam that he would return to dust, the Torah commands us to bury a criminal before nightfall, and the list goes on. However, the specific rituals you read about here, were added over the years.
Menachem Posner
Montreal
June 11, 2013
When did the tahara tradion start?
When did the tahara tradition start? Was this beautiful tradition started before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, or is it older still?
Shosahana
March 9, 2012
Taharah
I have always regarded this as not only a beautiful and Holy ritual but one of love and sacrifice of the people who perform it. I am Christian but believe God sent many prophets to spread His Word. Hence, I cannot therefore in the classical sense call myself a true Christian. I asked a pastor friend of mine why Christians don't perform this ritual...With sincerity and austere seriousness, his response was that we are lazy people and that we should be performing this ritual. I would be honored to learn and perform this beautiful act of love and kindness for all who want it. It is the last parting gift one could give to the deceased and their family. Would anyone be interested in training me. I would learn to speak Hebrew if necessary. I would give of my time freely to do this. In searching my genealogy, I am a descendent of the Schucks of Norway emigrating originally from Lithuania and they were Jewish.
Anonymous
Malibu, CA.
March 6, 2010
appropriately terse details of shroud and casket
SHROUD: The shroud is, for all intents and purposes, a hooded robe with simplistic hand and foot coverings (akin to "Dr Denton's" pajamas). In addition to the hood, which leaves only the front of the face exposed (much like an arctic suit), a sudarium, or sweat cloth, is bound over the face.

CASKET: Holes are traditionally drilled in the bottom of the casket to accelerate the decomposition process by ensuring that the remains have direct contact with the earth and its saprophytic denizens.

I learned these facts during the final arrangements for my 86-year-old father. We engaged a traditional Jewish funeral home (the only one remanent in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, the others having been swallowed up by nationwide Christian firms that are "approved" to conduct "Jewish" rituals and procedures) that conducted the entire affair with dignity and restraint.
Bruce D. Wilner
Alexandria, Virginia

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