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Handbook for Hevra Kadisha Members

HANDBOOK FOR HEVRA KADISHA MEMBERS

 

LYNN GREENHOUGH

2008

 

Unlike brit milah or Bar/Bat mitzvah there are considerable misconceptions surrounding the work of the Hevra Kadisha. While each Hevra member may be familiar with the rites and rituals of Taharah, a manual outlining these same rituals has long been overdue. It is my sincere hope that the following pages help clarify both what we do and the historical and mystical origins of our minhagim, our customs.

This handbook is intended to be a reference text. While the rituals of Rehitzah, Taharah and Halbashah may be consistent within each Hevra, variations within each category exist. I have attempted to include at least some of the range of these differences included by the Hevrot I have studied. Any errors included are entirely my responsibility.

I have reviewed over eighty Taharah manuals in an attempt to offer a full range of ways a Hevra could choose to do Rechitza, Taharah and Halbashah. I want to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the many Hevra members who came before me and who have contributed towards the development of this manual.


HEVRA KADISHA: ORIGINS OF SOCIETIES

 

  • Among Ashkenazi Jews, the Hevra Kadisha, a mutual beneficial society, was established to properly prepare a body for burial in accordance with Jewish law and custom. It would appear that originally, such privilege of attended burial was extended to members only.
  • Hevra Kadisha is from the Aramaic, literally the holy brotherhood. Although the Hevra was generally understood to be more a secret society than a holy society, it also became one of most respected and honoured groups in Europe in Jewish community. Today some of the historical secrecy continues to surround both the societies and the work of Hevra members.
  • Customs have been transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. It was custom for membership to pass from father to son to grandson, and similarly from mother to daughter. While customs may be consistent within a particular time within a particular community, customs do frequently vary in detail from community to community, from time to time.
  • Changes in ritual have also been initiated by exposure to new Taharah manuals.
  • While known in Talmudic time, we think Hevrei Kadisha rose again in Spain at the beginning of the 14th century.
  • Hevrei Kadisha is also understood in the sense of a brotherhood, which took upon itself the sacred duty of providing for the burial of all members of the community, is not known in Ashkenazi Europe before the 16th century. It is not know if this is a matter of non-existence of Hevrot, or lack of found written recordings of such Hevrot.
  • Some of the societies included among their functions tending the sick, providing garments for the poor, and arranging rites in a house of mourning.
  • Jewish court and community leaders drew their strength from the Hevra Kadisha. It was very difficult to be accepted as a member of the Hevra Kadisha. It was considered a very great privilege and a very joyous occasion for those who merited helping with the Hevra Kadisha.
  • In some communities the Hevra Kadisha called its members 'washers.'
  • The Hevra Kadisha was unique to the Jewish community. It derives from the fact that according to Jewish law no material benefit may accrue from the dead. As a result no private or commercial firm is permitted to engage in the disposal of the dead for private gain. Such duty must thus become a function of the community as a whole.
  • Membership has traditionally been a high honour in any community; members traditionally were of the highest moral character. Traditionally members were also Shomer Kashrut, Shomer Shabbat, and Shomer Taharah haMishpachah.
  • Observing the laws of modesty, men prepared men; women prepared women. Women may prepare men if there are no Jewish men to participate.
  • Different sources cite dates of the first Hevra Kadisha. Prague in 1624. First Hevra Kadisha 1785 in New York, Congregation Shearith Israel. Some say 1802 in New York.
  • It became custom for many Jews to store their own set of takhrichim in their dresser drawers, so that they should be reminded each morning of their own mortality. Just as each morning we recite Elohai Neshamah, and express gratitude to god for the return of four soul, so too do we look forward to our return from this life to the next.

 

ZAYIN ADAR

  • The fraternal aspect of the Hevra Kadisha was observed in various ways, the most common being the annual celebration on zayin Adar, the traditional day of the birth and death of Moshe Rabbenu.
  • The day begins in a fast, to atone for, to expiate any inadvertent disrespect shown to the dead and reciting a special order of selichot (penitential prayers). There is a special Torah reading as the memory of Moshe Rabbeinu was honoured.
  • The day concluded with a banquet, regarded as one of the important occasions of the community, at which sermons were delivered.
  • Many communities observed other dates; the 15th or 20th of Kislev or in Bratislava on Lag b'Omer.
  • Observation of Zayin Adar continues in many contemporary communities, with a dinner and learning, as an opportunity to give kavod to their members.

 

HESED SHEL EMET

  • The mitzvah of preparing a Jewish person for burial is a Hesed shel emet - the ultimate act of human kindness.
  • Also can be heard as Hesed shel ha'met: respect for the dead; dignity of the body; peace of the soul of the deceased.
  • Taharah is concerned with the feelings of the deceased. We prepare the body to leave the world in the same state of purity as when it entered Olam haZeh, this world.
  • Humans are created in the image of God, B'tzelem Elohim, and thus possess dignity and sanctity. As the soul is housed in the body the body retains the sanctity it held while alive, even as the soul departs. The deceased is still a person and all respect should be given the person during the Taharah.
  • We understand our body to be the receptacle for our soul, and just as the Aron haKodesh houses a Sefer Torah, so too, do our bodies house our nefesh, our soul.
  • Thus, bodies are accorded holiness even as the Aron haKodesh retains its holiness when the Sefer Torah is taken out.
  • Women only perform Taharah for women. For Jewish men, by men, though if necessary women may perform Taharah on men.
  • Kohanim are excluded from this mitzvah; however a husband or wife of a Kohen or bat Kohen may serve in the Hevra.
  • Neither embalming nor cosmetic treatment of a Jewish body for aesthetic purposes is permitted, for the sake of the dignity of the met/metah. 

MEMBERSHIP

  • Some groups require all members to be Shomer Shabbat, Shomer Kashrut and Shomer Taharah haMishpachah. Some do not. Some say any Jewish individual may be invited to join.
  • Some say a woman who is niddah may participate, but should not fill buckets for the Taharah or pour water, if possible. Some have no restrictions on women who participate.
  • Some groups do not include single women, or allow single women to pour water for Taharah. This may be partly superstitious; the Taharah may be traumatic, or they may not be mature enough. But these days there is very large single population and there are no prohibitions.
  • Still in our tradition it is custom to not have pregnant women participate in Taharah, so as to not bring ridicule to the met/metah, with the potential life flaunted before the just departed. There are also considerations of safety - a mother-to-be should not be put at any risk with heavy lifting. 
  • Men and women should dress modestly during Taharah. All should have their head covered. Some suggest dressing as if going to a funeral.
  • Each Hevra Kadisha may or may not charge dues to members. Some Hevrot have expectations that members will attend funerals. Some expect members to be pall-bearers, to participate in lowering a coffin into the ground, and also to shovel earth into the ground as needed.
  • Age limitation: usually members are over 18 years of age.
  • Members are usually required to be of good moral character, and to have an ethical reputation in their community.
  • The Rosh of the Hevra will usually recruit new members. Their judgements are made according to suitability.
  • There is a need in many communities to bring in new members who will commit themselves to burying in the traditional Jewish manner.

CONFIDENTIALITY

  • There is a tradition of confidentiality, if not secrecy, with Hevra members. Members are expected to not discuss any details of a Taharah.
  • In the interest of education, members may discuss rituals in a general manner, ensuring that all discretion is taken to not identify who was in attendance at a particular Taharah.

 

FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS UNDERLYING CUSTOMS

  • Death is a daily occurrence. We have a communal obligation for the care of our dead. Customs vary from place to place and from time to time. "What person shall live and not see death?" Psalms 89:49
  • Kavod haMetim. Primary concern is for Kavod haMetim, honouring the dignity of the person in death as in life.
  • The laws and customs pertaining to the care and disposition of the human body upon death derive from a direct reflection of the most fundamental principles of Jewish faith which include the following:
  • B'ztelem Elohim: The belief in the creation of humans by God, in God's image.
  • The belief in the eternity of the soul (neshama) that is the Divine source of all life.
  • When the neshama leaves its temporary (earthly) habitat, (the body), it goes to the World of Ultimate Truth, Olam haEmet, in the World to Come, Olam haBa.

TEXT SOURCES

  • Biblical law is clear about the requirement for immediate burial "For thou shalt surely bury him on that day" (Ki Tetze Devarim 12:23). From this also derives the requirement for the entire body to be brought to burial, including all internal organs, even the blood, which is associated with the soul as it carries the life-force through the body.
  • "For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return" (Beresheit 3:19). The body shall not remain unburied. This rule extended to the body of one who had died a natural death.
  • The Hevra Kadisha is so called because they look after the needs of the 'holy ones' as it says: "For the sake of the holy ones who are interred in earth" Psalms (16:13).
  • "As he came so shall he go" (Eccl. 5:5).
  • Some people prepare their shrouds in their lifetime based on the verse from Amos: "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (4:12).
  • Talmud discusses the obligation to bury the dead.
  • Mishnah mentions the practice of washing the body. When a person is born they are washed, and when they die they are washed (Moed Katan 27b).
  • Duty to bury the dead is a positive commandment, which rests on all people in the community in the absence of relatives who can do it. When there is a deceased person in town, no person in the town is allowed to work. It is forbidden for anyone in town to eat a regular meal before the deceased is buried. If the town has a Hevra Kadisha the duty of burial falls on it members and it is permissible for others to work and to eat regular meals when there is a deceased person in town.
  • Our sages teach that the dead shall rise in the same garment in which they were buried. It is for this reason that in very early times relatives spent lavish amounts for the most beautiful burial garments.
  • This put the poor in a difficult position. While they too were anxious to show their high respect for their dead, they were often unable to do so due to their financial status and were embarrassed when using cheap garments. In some cases they even deserted their dead.
  • The shrouds thus became the barometer of a respectable funeral and the differences between the wealthy and the poor.
  • To rectify this Rabban Gamliel 11, the grandson of Rabbi Hillel, (second century C.E. about 50 years after the destruction of the second Beit haMikdash) ordered that he be buried in simple linen garments.  It was his oft-cited words that established the Jewish principles of simplicity and modesty of burial.

 

"Formerly, they used to bring food to the house of mourning, rich people in baskets of silver and gold, poor people in baskets of willow twigs; and the poor felt ashamed. Therefore, a law was passed that everybody should use baskets of willow twigs, in deference to the poor...

Formerly, they used to serve drinks in the house of mourning, the rich serving in white glasses and the poor in coloured glasses [which were less expensive]; and the poor felt ashamed. Therefore, a law was passed that everyone should serve drinks in coloured glasses, in deference to the poor...

Formerly, they used to bring out the deceased for burial, the rich on a tall bed ornamented with rich covers, the poor in a plain box; and the poor felt ashamed. Therefore, a law was passed that all should be brought out in a plain box, in deference to the poor...

Formerly, the expense of burying the dead was harder for a family to bear than the death itself, so that sometimes, family members fled to escape the expense. This was so until Rabban Gamliel ordered that he be buried in a plain linen shroud instead of expensive garments. Since then, people have buried their dead in simple shrouds" (Talmud, Moed Katan 27 a-b).

  • With the import of Rabban Gamliel's words and example, burial rituals for subsequent centuries were established.
  • Masechet Shabbat: Mentions use of spices to place on the stomach of someone who died of stomach illnesses, as a counter smell. Taharah is for the dignity of the dead.
  • Tosefta Gittin Chapter 3:18. A city in which there lives a Jewish majority population and a minority pagan population, the Jewish tax collectors collect taxes (tzedakah) from Israelites and from pagans for the purposes of peace within the community. Tax collectors also act as community welfare officers, support pagan poor people (along with the poor of the people of Israel), and poor Israelites for the purposes of peace within the community. We Jews eulogize and bury those pagans who have died (and burying the deceased pagans along with the deceased of the people of Israel) for the purposes of peace within the community and we also extend messages of comfort and visit (going to visit the sick pagans along with sick Israelites for the purpose of peace and also extending comfort to those pagans who have lost their loved ones even as you offer comfort to Israelite mourners) those pagans who are mourning their own loved ones, all for the purpose of peace within the community. The notes in italics/parentheses come from the marginal commentaries of the great Sage known as Elijah, Gaon of Vilna. He was the foremost leader of eastern European Jewry in the middle and late 18th century.
  • Gemara in Masechet Sukah, Daf 49, points out that Micah 7: "It has been told thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee; only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" is understood to have references to the burial services rendered by a Sacred Society.
  • Tosefta (S'machot 12 and Megilla 3,8) reference is made to the existence of societies in Jerusalem, which helped the mourner.
  • The Chasam Sofer in chapter 336 tells us that the body acquired a high level of kedusha because it housed the neshama. The level of kedusha of a human body is compared to that of a Sefer Torah. Moed Katan 25 a, teaches that when a person dies it is as if a Sefer Torah were burnt. The Gesher haChayim (volume 1, page 65) tells us that when we are alive we are called a Sefer Torah chai - a living Sefer Torah (Rabbi Schlingenbaum).
  • The "Chasem Sofer" says, "Now for several hundred years the generations have been worthy and in every Jewish town they established a society to do kindness, removing the yoke of burden from the entire community and placing it on the members of the Hevra Kadisha alone, as is found in Moed Katon 27b and in Yoreh Deah 343 and 361."
  • [If someone] dies in a city, all the residents of the city are prohibited from doing work [until the dead is buried]. Rabbi Hamnuna [a fourth-century Babylonian sage] came to Daru-Mata. He heard the sound of the funerary bugle, and saw some people going on with their work. He said to them: "Let these people be under the Shammeta( ban). Is there no a dead person here?" They said to him: "There is a [sacred] society [caring] for the dead." He said: "If so, (work is) permitted" Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 27b.
  • "Rabbi Simlai lectured: Torah begins and ends with kindness...it concludes with an act of kindness, as it is written, "And he buried him (Moses) in the valley." (Sotah14A) It is for this reason that the day of the birth and the death of Moshe, Zayin Adar, the seventh day of Adar, is the traditional celebration of the Hevra Kadisha, underscoring that on that day God performed the work of the Hevra Kadisha, thereby giving it special status.
  • Chazal tells us that assisting in the preparation and burial of a deceased person is a very great Mitzvah. It is a mitzvah in its purest form and has been called a Hesed shel emet (Genesis 47:29, Rashi ibid, Ruth 2:20).
  • From Jewish mysticism we learn that there is a need to remove the tum'ah that we have brought upon ourselves during our lifetime. The Taharah procedure is designed to remove that tum'ah. It also offers the hope that God will remove the tum'ah that death causes (the impurity of death). It therefore symbolically represents a hope and a prayer for a resurrection and for eternal life in the world to come.
  • Each year a great feast was made on Zayin Adar in honour of the Hevra Kadisha, and speeches were made in synagogue that day. The day was devoted to fasting and prayer.
  • It is a duty to honour such a society, which attends faithfully to the needs of a community without receiving any monetary reward. One should not distress or degrade them. In the responsa of the "Rashdam", (Yoreah Deah 100), this early scholar rebuked those who had made accusations against those in the Hevra Kadisha. He wrote, " There is no doubt that the person or people who spoke evil about the Hevra Kadisha who walk in God's path, have committed a sin too great to bear and deserve to receive a great punishment. They must repent and beg forgiveness, pardon and indulgence, for the honour due those who attend to Mitzvot and particularly such a Mitzvah as an act of compassion, is great. (He brings proofs to this at length).
  • From here you learn that one owes more respect to one engaged in a Mitzvah than to a Torah scholar. (He continues to speak of this at great length). And so, great is the reward of him who gives them honour and speaks of their praise, and from this principle we see that punishment is very great for him who speaks insultingly of them or distresses them." He warns so strongly to treat this society with respect, and how much more so to not speak evil about them. The Magen Avrohom (284,4) mentions the practice of praying on festivals for the buriers (R. Meisels).
  • Rashi, in response to Moed Katan (27b) -"there were associations, each one of which made itself responsible for the burial of its own members" - reflects local and contemporary conditions.
  • Ramban discusses fabric of takhrichim: cannot be too fancy or expensive. From this we learn that if linen garments are too costly cotton garments may be purchased. Rambam - do all for the dignity of the dead, a utilitarian kavod.
  • Midrash in 1522: "The highest act of gemilut hesed is that which is done for the dead, for there can never be any thought of repayment" (Tanhuma Vayehi 107a).

  • In 1564 Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi in Prague laid the foundation for a burial society, which became a working model for subsequent societies. They consulted the Maavar Yabok by Aaron Berachiah of Modena (Venice, 1626).

PREPARATION BEFORE DEATH

  • Rabbi or Hevra Kadisha member should be present if possible.
  • A gosess, a person in their last hours of life, a dying person, should not be left alone. During the last minutes of life no one in the presence of the deceased may leave, except those whose emotions are uncontrollable or the physically ill. It shows great respect and also gives a sobering message to the living to watch over a person as they pass from this world to the next. (Y.D. 339:4)
  • A gosess may not be touched except for medical purposes.
  • As death draws near the person should be encouraged to recite the Viduui. Care should be taken to explain that reciting the Viduui does not mean imminent death, in case the person is frightened.
  • If the person is no longer capable of doing this, the Viduui may be recited by the rabbi or by a family member.
  • Ask others to leave the room while the gosess is reciting Viddui.
  • A moving custom is for relatives and friends to ask forgiveness of the deceased for any harm or discomfort they may have caused during the lifetime of the deceased.
  • Encourage gosess to recite the Sh'ma at moment of death.
  • Ensure the limbs of the gosess do not extend beyond edge of bed.
  • The period between death and burial is called aninut. The bereaved person is an onen.
  • Although the soul - neshama - has not left the body yet, there is a sense it is loosening its ties. This is comparable to the "mini-death" that we experience daily during sleep, when we are considered to be 1/60 dead. The bedtime Sh'ma acknowledges that our neshamot are in this floating state with sleep and thus in great danger. Thus, we recite one of the morning prayers, the Modeh Ani, acknowledging God's compassion for us.

AT MOMENT OF DEATH:

  • All present recite Sh'ma and Baruch Atah Adonai Dayan Ha'Emet.
  • Open all windows in the room.
  • Pour out all standing water (in basins), except on Shabbat: (The mystical connection is that the Angel of Death whets his knife on water, and a drop of blood falls in. Also pouring out the water is a way of informing people that someone has died, so that neighbours can come and perform acts of gemilut-hasadim. This avoids a direct verbal announcement.
  • 'It is a custom to pour out all drawn water (contained in vessels) in the neighbourhood (in the three houses including the one in which the dead lives) of the corpse" (Yoreh Deah 339.5). Explanations of this practice range from the crude suggestion that the Angel of Death cleans his knife in water to the metaphorical concept of the pouring out of the soul before God. The custom has also been ascribed to the primitive practice of providing food for the departed spirit, and to the superstitious belief that thus the spirit can be saved from drowning. But there are more rational interpretations.
  • It is suggested that the practice was a means of announcing a death, since Jews have always been reluctant to be the bearers of evil tidings. Hence the pouring away of the water also served to remind the neighbours of their duty to the deceased and to the mourners. Again water stands for life and fertility. Compare the passage in the Book of Psalms, "I am poured out like water," (22:15), meaning that life is drawing to an end. Thus the pouring out of water symbolizes the extinction of life. Some scholars claim that this custom goes back to biblical times and is support of this theory quote: "And Miriam died there and was buried. And there was no water for the congregation." (Numbers 22: 1-2) (Rabinowitz, 1919, Jewish Chronicle Publications, London, pp33-34).
  • In the hospital one does not spill out the water so as not to depress other sick people in the hospital.
  • If death occurs on Shabbat, moving the body is forbidden. But if a non-muktzah object, permitted for carrying, is placed on the deceased, or next to the deceased on the covering sheet, it is permissible to carry both loaf and body together. This then permits the body to be removed.
  • Straighten the limbs; arms should rest beside the body, not crossed over chest. Straighten the fingers as best as possible.
  • Close eyes and mouth. Bind the jaw in order to prevent the mouth from opening further.
  • Some family members (or all present at moment of death) may do k'riah at moment of death. Some only do k'riah at the kever.
  • Leave deceased on bed for at least ½ hour. Some leave for 1 hour.
  • Some lower the body to the floor, onto a sheet, feet towards the door, pillow under the head. Recite Psalm 23.
  • A candle is lit and placed near the head of the deceased. Some light many candles around deceased. On Yom Tov candle lighting is permitted.
  • Remove all the clothes of the deceased, and wrap in white sheet. Some leave garments on deceased until Taharah takes place.
  • Cover the mirrors in the house.
  • It is customary to cover mirrors or turn them to the wall. Some hold that this is done to prevent the soul of the departed from being reflected in the glass; others that this is done simply to prevent the mourner from seeing his own sad countenance, thus adding to his grief. Another view is that mirrors, so often associated with vanity, are out of place at such a time. The most rational explanation is the rule forbidding prayer in front of a mirror, since the reflection distracts the attention of worshippers and prayers are normally recited in the house of the mourner. (Rabinowitz, 1919, Jewish Chronicle Publications, London, p. 34)

HASHKEVA: LAYING OUT OF THE BODY

  • The deceased is not moved until half an hour (or 1 hour) has lapsed from moment of death. The deceased is then undressed, washed, and wrapped in a white sheet. Neither is the deceased left alone, as a sign of respect (Y.D. 373:5).
  • A number of practices (lighting a candle when a person dies (Kol Bo 'al Aveilut, p. 23; Gesher HaHayyim, 2d ed. Y.D. 352:4) pouring out water from containers (Y.D. 339:5); placing the dead on the ground, are no longer feasible in most hospital settings and are no longer practiced in most situations. The traditional practices are described below.
  • Other practices indicated in Masechet Semachot, the Talmudic tractate on mourning laws and customs have been discontinued because of concern about possible Gentile reaction to their observance (Klein, p. 273).
  • About 20 minutes after the time of death the person is laid down and covered with a sheet. A candle is lit and the following may be said: "O House of Jacob, come and let us go out in the light of the Eternal One. God has spoken and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto its setting. They enter into peace they rest on their beds, each one that walks in his uprightness, for dust you are and unto dust shall you return" (Isaiah 2:5, Psalm 50:1, Isaiah 57:2, Genesis 3:19).
  • If the deceased has become unclean (very often the body expels feces during or shortly after death), they are cleaned as much as possible. The person is then undressed and covered with a sheet.
  • Traditionally straw is placed on the floor, covered with a sheet, and the body is gently lowered to the sheet, feet towards the door, elevate head with a pillow under the head. Recite Psalm 23.
  • If death occurs on Shabbat, moving the body is forbidden. But if a non-muktzah object, (permitted for carrying, a loaf or bread, for example), is placed on the deceased, or next to the deceased on the covering sheet, it is permissible to carry both loaf and body together. This then permits the body to be removed.
  • If a death occurs on Shabbat the body will not be attended to until Saturday night. It should be removed to the morgue with all bandages, linens and tubing intact.
  • A deceased human being is equated with a Torah scroll that is impaired and can no longer be used at religious services. While the scroll no longer serves any useful ritual purpose it is revered for the exalted function it once fulfilled. The human form must be respected for having once embodied the spirit of God. The manner of respect is determined by religious tradition, rather than by personal sentiment alone.
  • Personal behaviour in the room of the deceased should show respect. There may be no eating, drinking, smoking or derogatory remarks about the deceased. It is considered a breach of Kavod HaMetim to do anything other than attend to the deceased.
  • Discussion should concentrate solely on the deceased's personal qualities or funeral arrangements. There should be no singing or playing of music. The onen is not permitted to perform religious obligations. (Ber. 17b; Maimonides, Hil.Aveil. 4:6)
  • Reciting Psalms 23 and 91 are appropriate.
  • Some suggest that today, as professional firms or organized groups take care of many burial arrangements, and thus, the participation of the family is minimal, that such exemptions from religious obligations are not necessary. They suggest that comfort is derived from prayer and other religious duties, and thus should be encouraged (Semachot 10:1; Y.D. 341:3). 
  • Although the soul is not attached to the body at this time it continues to hover close by. There is a concept that the soul experiences pain as it lets go and leaves this world of choices. At the same time the soul realizes increased clarity and awareness as it distances itself from the body and moves closer to God.
  • All present recite Sh'ma and Baruch... Dayan Ha'Emet.
  • Open windows.
  • All mirrors are covered. This is done to prevent the soul of the departed from reflecting in the glass; others say that it is done to prevent the mourner from seeing their own sadness, thus adding to their grief. Also, mirrors, so often associated with vanity, are out of place at a time like this.
  • There is also a rule forbidding prayer in front of a mirror since the reflection distracts the attention of worshippers, and prayers are normally recited in the house of the mourner (Sefer Abudarham, Beer Hetev on Orach Chayyim 90.23).
  • Pour out all standing water (in basins), except on Shabbat (Y.D. 339:5). (The mystical connection is that the Angel of Death whets his knife (or cleans his knife) on water, and a drop of blood falls in. Also a metaphorical concept of the pouring out of the soul before God.
  • Also, to the superstitious belief that the soul can be saved from drowning. Also that pouring out the water is a way of informing people that someone has died, so that neighbours can come and perform acts of gemilut hasadim. This avoids a direct verbal announcement.
  • Again, water stands for life and fertility. "I am poured out like water," (Psalms 22:15) meaning that life is drawing to an end.  Some scholars claim that this custom goes back to Torah, "And Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation" (Num. 22: 1-2).
  • The person should always be on their back facing upwards; they should never be completely turned over, face down.
  • Members of the Hevra Kadisha, as a preliminary, addresses the deceased by their Hebrew name and ask to be forgiven for any indignity they may unwittingly visit upon him/her.
  • Straighten the limbs; arms should rest beside the body, try to keep the fingers extended, arms are not crossed over chest.
  • Close eyes and mouth.
  • Some family members (or all present at moment of death) may do k'riah at moment of death.
  • Women perform the same duties for deceased women. Where no women are available men may lower the body, while it is fully clothed.
  • A candle is lit and placed near the head of the deceased.
  • Remove all the clothes of the deceased, and wrap in white sheet. Body should be fully covered at all times.
  • Bind the jaw in order to prevent the mouth from opening further. A handkerchief may be tied around the jaw if it falls.
  • Place a solid object under the head so that it will be slightly elevated.
  • The body remains covered at all times. Viewing by anyone other than Hevra Kadisha members is not permissible.
  • If Hashkeva could not be performed, it is not necessary before the Taharah (Gesher HaChaim "The Bridge of life" R. Yechiel M. Tukitinsky, Jerusalem, 1960).
  • At this point only Jews may handle the body. "Regulations and Procedures for the Preparation and Burial for the Dead", compiled for Young Israel of Queens Valley by R. Steinberg). Some add, only if the deceased was observant. Respect for the deceased should be uppermost in one's mind. Body should be covered at all times. Viewing by anyone other than Hevra Kadisha is not permissible, other than for purposes of identification.
  • Kalut rosh, or frivolous behaviour is forbidden in presence of deceased. This includes laughter, jokes, idle talk and the like.
  • Lo'eg larash, (mocking the impoverished) is also ruled out. This covers any behaviours such as study or prayer, actions which in the presence of the mayt/ah tends to emphasize his or her inability to now engage in the fundamental actions of Jewishness.

KR'IAH

  • "One who has suffered a bereavement for which mourning has to be observed must rend his garments" (Y.D. 340.1). The origin of this practice of kr'iah is found after the death of the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Aavihu: "Let not the hair of your heads go loose, neither rend your clothes" Lev. 10:6.
  • Kr'iah has long regarded as a sign of grief. When his sons brought him Joseph's blood stained coat, "Jacob rent his garment," (Gen 37:34.) When the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack his brothers "rent their garments" (Gen. 44:13).
  • Talmud lays it down that 'one who is present at the time of the departure of the soul of a Jewish man or woman is in duty bound to rend his garments." (Moed Katan 25a Y.D. 340:5) This ritual is not enforced today, since it might have the effect of deterring people from attending a dying person.
  • Kr'iah is performed for a father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, son, daughter, half-brother or half-sister.
  • Either at the house before funeral or at cemetery before interment.
  • Mourner should stand when kr'iah is performed.  "Then Job stood up and rent his mantle" (Job 1:20).
  • A small cut should be made in the garment with a knife and the tear extended by the hand to at least one hands-breadth.
  • For parents a child rends their garment on the left side (close to the heart) and for other relatives on the right side. The rent should be made from above downwards and not from side to side.
  • The tear for a parent may be stitched together after 30 days, but must never be thoroughly repaired.
  • In honour of the Sabbath one should change garments and not wear torn clothes.
  • The following blessing is recited. Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu  Melech HaOlam Dayan HaEmet." Blessed art Thou, O God, Our Ruler of the universe the True Judge."

FAMILY

  • Contact Rabbi; if there is not a rabbi contact the Hevra Kadisha.
  • Family should notify Hevra Kadisha co-ordinator arrange time for Taharah to take place.
  • Usual arrangement is within 3 hours of the burial.
  • If family and burial is out-of-town negotiate travel arrangements: Is Taharah desired before body is shipped?
  • The Hevra Kadisha contact person or the Rabbi will insure that death has been pronounced by either the attending doctor or by the coroner.   Management of funeral home usually communicates with the coroner.
  • There may be a delay if a death occurs Saturday. In the event of unusual death a coroner will be involved so it is wise to delay final rites.
  • Hevra Kadisha contact person gathers information required for registration of death to give funeral home as immediately as possible: full name; marital status; birth date; parents names; place of death; address of residence
  • Arrange for removal of deceased to funeral home. The funeral home cannot remove a body until the death pronouncement has been made.
  • For women: For the sake of modesty several women should be present when deceased is brought to funeral home: take deceased out of body-bag, wash lightly, cover with a sheet and move to table.
  • Notify funeral home as soon as possible about schedule for Taharah.
  • As soon as a funeral date is set, notify the synagogue phone tree committee to ensure information regarding the levayah is circulated.

PAPERWORK

  •  Hevra Kadisha will be responsible in many communities for filling in death certificate. Need information from family: Social Security number, doctor's name, cause of death. Make multiple copies for family.
  • Explain death benefits that may be available to family: Social Security, Veteran's benefits, Automobile Clubs, Union benefits. Most benefits must be applied for, and are not automatically sent to family.
  • Many also have benefits that will contribute to cost of funeral.
  • The family members may need help preparing an obituary. Know local deadlines. Determine how many days family wants a notice to run.
  • In locations where there are multiple cemeteries and funeral homes, the Hevra Kadisha is responsible for determining and distributing clear and accurate information regarding these homes and their costs, availability, etc..
  • Explain limousine service to cemetery, procedures to follow.
  • Explain policy of local Hevra Kadisha re: type of coffin used and takhrichim, if family is unfamiliar with what customs are.
  • Determine if Shiva is to take place, where, and for number of days.
  • Request tzedakah to be given in lieu of flowers.
  • Explain billing and invoicing procedures. Most bill between Shiva and Sh'loshim. In many communities the Hevra Kadisha is also responsible for sending out bill and ensuring payment.
  • Inquire about tallit for men and women, if it was their custom. Some synagogues keep old tallitot for the Hevra Kadisha to use for burials.
  • Make arrangements for 6-8 pallbearers. May be male or female as per local minhag.
  • Hevra Kadisha members may be responsible for attending funeral and Shiva services. May be responsible for ensuring adequate siddurim, stools, Shiva candle is at the Shiva home.
  • Many Hevra Kadisha groups prepare and complete a Taharah certificate to be given to the family.

ASSISTING THE FAMILY:

  • Contact rabbi as soon as Hevra Kadisha is notified of death. The rabbi will immediately contact the family and discuss arrangements for burial with them.
  • Need civil information for funeral home to complete death certificate: name, residence, parents, marital status, social insurance number, place of death. Provide funeral home with this information as soon as possible.
  • Advise family re discounts on most airlines for compassionate discounts - usually in form of rebate.
  • Explain government death benefit. Other death benefits may be available.
  • Discuss running an obituary. Family may want help in wording. Hevra Kadisha, the Rabbi or a funeral home can all help with obituary. Needs to be posted immediately for burial next day. Know deadlines for local paper. Ascertain how many days family wants obituary to run. Provide address of Jewish cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to a charity.
  • If not already known, the Rabbi will notify the Hevra Kadisha of deceased's Hebrew name in time for Taharah.
  • Upon completion of this task, the Rabbi (and/or Hevra Kadisha contact) should arrange for funeral time, (check with Rabbi for scheduling conflicts).
  • (Bear in mind Shabbat, holidays, days when Tachanun is not recited). Arrange for required number of pallbearers (6): (should be Jewish, of reasonable strength.)
  • Discuss limousine service from funeral home for family members.
  • If family members inquire regarding dress for deceased, traditional emphasis on takhrichim, and the values of modesty and simplicity, can be explained.
  • When funeral is discussed certain decisions must be made (with the family, rabbi and/or Hevra Kadisha representative) ie. Use of ropes or lowering devices; delivery of hesped; Usually the Rabbi will work these details out with family members, and then be in contact with Hevra Kadisha contact person.
  • Discuss arrangements for shiva- how many family members to feed; when are prayer services; delivery of siddurim or shiva booklets, delivery of shiva stools?
  • Collect a tallit (for women as will, if wearing a tallit was their custom).
  • Explain the duties of the Hevra Kadisha, and explain anything the family wishes to know regarding the procedures.
  • The Hevra Kadisha member must be fully aware and candid but also compassionate in dealing with grieving individuals. This is also possibly the time for a frank discussion on funeral charges. (If family inquires, certainly give them full information regarding costs involved).
  • Also discuss shomrim, does family want to participate in any manner?
  • If family is out of town or not affiliated, what arrangements are made for payment to Rabbi and funeral expenses?
  • As we have a responsibility to bury all Jews who wish a traditional Jewish service, there will always be some that may have difficulty paying the full fees. This does not preclude making arrangements. Should this situation present itself, it is wise to hold this discussion with the Rabbi present or at the very least a colleague who can listen in and take notes. Upon completion of this task, the contact should forward a letter to the family outlining everything that was spoken of so that there is no later confusion. If there is no family, there may be an option to file papers with government registrar to ensure payment from estate.
  • The contact person should be in a position to explain about side-by-side burial of non-Jewish spouse and the relationship of the price differential between Shul members and non-members.

 

CEMETERY:

  • The option of reserving a space for wife/husband must be discussed. The age of the spouse, likelihood of a re-marriage needs to be taken into consideration.
  • People can pre-pay their cemetery fees at any point, but reserving particular plots is discouraged. People may move, or re-marry.

SH'MIRAH:

  • Upon witnessing or hearing of a death one says "Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Dayan ha'Emet."
  • Body must never be left alone. This is part of the "accompanying out of life" ritual.
  • Also possibly a reaction to times when bodies were stolen or mutilated.
  • Someone must watch the deceased. This is necessary even on Shabbat. The body is never left alone. In some communities women are shomeret for other women, while men can be shomer for women and men. Sh'mirah extends from the time of death until the funeral.
  • Hevra Kadisha is also responsible for setting up shomrim. Consult with family.
  • Try to arrange for 24 hour shomrim as needed.
  • For some, the bodies are kept in preparation room; if there is a longer delay prior to burial shomer/shomeret can sit outside door. Some arrange with their funeral home to have body in visitation room prior to burial, both before and after Taharah takes place.
  • In the case of a funeral home with several deceased people in several rooms, R. Meisels suggested it might be sufficient for the shomer to go from room to room. R. Soloveichik considers it sufficient for the shomer to stay in a common hall into which the various rooms open, but requires more than one shomer it there is no such common hall.
  • There are two primary reasons for doing sh'mirah.

1. To guard the human remains from becoming prey to rodents or insects.

2. In the belief that the soul remains with the body until after burial, fully aware of its condition and surroundings, sh'mirah is a mark of respect expressed by never leaving the body alone, discarded like a vessel no longer of use.

  • While the first reason generally no longer exists, the second always exists.
  • Discuss with family - if there is prolonged sh'mirah is family willing to pay for professional shomrim if necessary. It is desirable for family members to sit as shomrim.
  • Those watching should not greet anyone or answer any greeting. If business needs to be discussed step out of the room, leaving the door open.
  • Bathroom breaks are allowed (keep door to vigil room open).
  • The shomer is exempt from all prayers and other religious duties while watching the body; when engaged in the performance of a mitzvah one is exempt from performing other mitzvot.
  • Shomer/shomeret should not da'aven, say b'rachot, learn Torah, or engage in unnecessary conversation. They should recite Tehillim (Psalms). Smoking, eating and drinking in the same room as the deceased, are all forbidden. Some allow the drinking of water in the room.
  • Anyone who normally wears tzizit out should not do so in the presence of the met/metah. It is preferable, when possible, for family members to serve as shomrim.
  • If it is not possible for the shomer to remain in the room with the body, the shomer should be able to see into the room.
  • Women and men may serve as shomrim. In some communities women may only sit for other women.
  • Generally people sit for two to three hour shifts.
  • Generally a lit candle is place at the head of the met/metah.
  • Customarily the body faces east/and or feet facing door.
  • After coming in contact with the deceased (either physically, being in the same room, or being in a cemetery), one's hands should be washed 3 times alternately. This washing should not be done near the deceased. The hands are not dried on a towel after this washing.

FUNERAL HOMES

  • Directors should be advised on safety matters. Some prefer directors to have checked the body prior to the arrival of Hevra Kadisha members, to remove IV or medical equipment. Others prefer to do such preparations themselves. Some groups only allow women to make such preparations for decease women.
  • Some groups are very firm about opening body bag themselves, others allowed funeral home to do preparations; in one group the rabbi did initial preparation.

UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES

TRADITIONAL JEWISH AUTOPSY PROCEDURES

  • Routine autopsies are forbidden as they violate the principle of KavodHaMetim.
  • Autopsies are considered to be the highest form of insult to the dead and can only be performed under suspicion of foul play.
  • Two reasons an autopsy may be performed.
    1. If the physician claims the autopsy will provide new information that would help cure others of the same disease. 
    2. If the law requires it to determine the cause of dearth.
  • Biblical law is clear about the requirement for immediate burial "You must bury it (the body) on the same day. (Deut. 21:23) From this also derives the requirement for the entire body to be brought to burial, including all internal organs, even the blood, which is associated with the soul as it carries the life-force through the body (Deut. 12:23; Rabbinical Assembly Proceedings, 1939, p.157, Klein)
  • There are many sources for the belief that while the soul or spirit leaves the body upon death, it is nevertheless aware and conscious of its surroundings, particularly the body, until after its return to the earth. The dignity and respect accorded the remains is therefore significant.
  • Any invasive procedure is seen as desecration. Any delay in the burial and anything other than the burial of the entire body is seen as painful to the spirit and is contrary to Jewish law.
  • In all instances, every effort should be made to expedite the release of the body as quickly as possible.
  • The entire autopsy should be performed in a body pouch.
  • The autopsy should be as minimal as possible.
    A. Avoid incision whenever possible.
    B. Samples for pathology should be as small as possible.
  • Replace all organs in their proper place. i.e. Brain in suitable small plastic bag in the skull.
  • All instruments should be wiped clean with a cloth and the cloth should be placed in the body pouch.
  • Suture all incisions as tightly and leak-proof as possible.
  • All blood or articles of clothing containing blood that are not needed for pathological or evidence purposes should be sent along with the remains to the funeral home.
  • When possible the entire body and especially the genitals should be kept covered at all times.
  • A member of the Hevra Kadisha or designate thereof, or a Rabbi should be permitted to attend the autopsy upon request.
  • If there is a question of an autopsy, someone from the Hevra Kadisha and/or Rabbi should be prepared to discuss this with the coroner.
  • Emphasize that the Taharah team is a volunteer group and that if an autopsy is performed the body needs to be carefully sewn up again.
  • Rona: "Once we had a situation where the organs had not been put back in after an autopsy. They had not sewn the body back up. We tried not to look. We just put a towel over the body and then dressed the body. A doctor went in and talked with the people at the hospital and explained we were not professionals. He said. "I don't want to ever hear of this again, it is inexcusable." I have made a list of instructions to give nursing homes about what to do and what

UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES: PHYSICAL TRAUMA

  • When there has been serious physical trauma, most cover the body with takhrichim, and do not attempt to wash; some attempt to wash around traumatized area.
  • May be able to wash around protruding bone, for example.
  • Afar and sherblach are placed in coffin with body.
  • Different parts of the body are buried together.
  • Might dress just upper or lower part of the body.
  • There is a custom that if a person is killed violently, particularly if they were killed because the person was a Jew, then that person is buried as found. Sometimes clothes are not taken off victim. The belief is that this person appears before God in such a horrifying state, it may arouse compassion from on high and hasten the end of exile (R. Zohn).
  • Any blood soaked earth from the accident should be placed in the casket, if possible.
  • Some do not do Taharah for a woman who has died in childbirth. She may be clothed in takhrichim. Any dom, which flowed since her death, must be found and buried with her.
  • In case both mother and child die, then the child is washed, clothed and put in a coffin and buried with the mother in one grave, but not in one coffin.
  • A drowned person must be treated as others who have died naturally.

AMPUTATIONS

  • Amputated limbs require burial.
  • If possible bury limbs in kever where the person will be eventually buried.
  • If death appears to be imminent, the rabbi should meet with hospital staff and arrange for amputated limb to be kept in cold storage so that it can be buried with the person in a coffin.
  • Limb should be buried in such a fashion that it will not be disturbed when kever is dug.

TRANSPLANTS

  • Bringing healing to the living brings Kavod HaMet, and so transplantation may happen for healing purposes.
  • However, burial of the transplanted part is in question, as the recipient of the transplant may not be buried.
  • See Matters of Life and Death, Dorff for a complete discussion.

TIMING

  • Taharah should take place as close to the time of the funeral as possible. No more than 3 hours should elapse between the Taharah and the funeral.
  • If no alternative, Taharah can take place previous evening.

 

HALACHIC REQUIREMENTS: TAHARAH: REHITZAH: HALBASHAH

·         Taharah has come to mean the entire ritual of preparing the body for burial. Similarly we refer to challah as the whole loaf and not just the separated morsel of dough.

  • Only three halachic requirements:

1. Rehitzah: physical washing of the body

2. Taharah: spiritual purification by pouring 9 kavim of water over body after washing.

3. Halbashah: dress the body in takhrichim.

  • Several general rules:  There is a liturgy with the Taharah that is recited.
  • Ritual washing of hands prior to Rehitza and before Taharah is done by pouring water overhand three times, but without a b'rachah.
  • Taharah generally proceeds from head to toe, right to left side. Universal health precautions should be followed at all times

·         Never turn your back on the person unless necessary. Walk to and fro, always facing them. Body should always be lying face up on a table.

·          Boards are prepared to put under body during Taharah, by soaking in water used for Taharah. Usually there are 3 or 4 boards about one yard in length.

  • Use of mikvah; standing, sitting or lying down all options.
  • Hiddur mitzvah: Consider purchasing stainless steel buckets to use instead of plastic, which will discolour, and also porcelain cups for pouring.

PRIOR TO ACTUAL TAHARAH

  • If deceased is unknown to Hevra Kadisha s/he must be identified by a member of the funeral chapel staff (Kol bo Al Aveilus).
  • Rosh should know Hebrew and English names of the deceased.
  • Mortuary attendants should not undress women for reasons of modesty; female Hevra Kadisha members should be present to remove body from body bag, undress, lightly wash and cover with a sheet in preparation of Taharah.
  • Care should be taken that all bandages, linens, and tubing's that are soiled with body fluids accompany the deceased.
  • Make sure that no procedure has been done to the person. For example: Tying or sewing the mouth closed.
  • Be aware of false eyes, false teeth and artificial limbs. False teeth should remain in the mouth if in mouth.  Glasses are not included in the coffin.
  • Some say: All indwelling tubes, intravascular catheters and drains should remain undisturbed, insitu following the death.
  • Others say: Drains and catheters should be carefully detached, ligated or knotted, before they are covered and taped to the body. In the interest of safety, draining venipuncture sites and indwelling catheters or needles should be covered with a gauze bandage and sealed by tape.
  • If the met/metah has had a contagious disease, comes from the burn unit of a hospital or has had an autopsy, consult the Rabbi for proper procedure.

UNIVERSAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

  • Hepatitis B inoculations are a procedure that is widely recommended in many Hevra Kadisha groups.
  • Even if most deaths are the elderly from natural causes, there still is need to prepare for possibility of infection.
  • Some took direction from funeral directors, some from nurses and doctors on Hevra Kadisha team. One group had doctors come to their regular Hevra Kadisha meetings to discuss various disease control and medical procedures.
  • All wore latex gloves and gowns or smocks. Usually only single gloves, though some double gloved.
  • "We try to imagine every surface being like tar, every surface is contaminated. We take the gowns off from the inside."
  • Some also describe removing gloves from the inside, never touching the outside of the glove.
  • Some wore surgical masks. One group had Plexiglas shields available if members wanted them.
  • Scrubbing well with antiseptic soap.
  • IV's and needle removal: procedure. See Actual practices.
  • Communication of primary importance.
  • Safety felt secondary to their primary purpose. Greater concern that they provide a dignified Taharah for any Jew who needed.

FAMILY MEMBERS

  • Children of the deceased are not present and do not participate at the Taharah. A child is not present at the Taharah of his or her step father or mother, father-in-law or mother-in-law, father, mother, brother-in-law or sister-in-law; a father mother father-in-law, mother-n-law do not attend the Taharah of their child. A young student is not present at the Taharah of his teacher and no student attends his teacher's Taharah unless he is needed.

TAHARAH MANUAL

  • There are many variations available. Minhag, custom outweighs law.
  • Find a manual where the liturgy is clearly written out with legible instructions.
  • Find a manual that has the prayers written for both men and women, Hebrew, English and transliterated Hebrew.

HANDWASHING

  • Ritual hand washing is done before putting on gloves. Hands may be dried if helpful (putting on gloves, etc.). Hands must be washed before touching met/metah.
  • Rings can be taken off, or left on, as you prefer.
  • Hold pitcher in left hand first washing the right hand then the left hand alternately 3 times. No b'rachah is said. Gloves are put on after hand washing.

UNDRESSING

  • Before moving the met/metah some cover the face with a wet washcloth to prevent the possible spread of infection from the air that is expelled from the lungs.
  • The head must be supported at all times when the met/metah is moved.
  • Movements can be simplified by the effective use of leverage. The met/metah is rolled to one side by pulling with hand placement on the shoulder and hip, and the clothing or sheet underneath is pushed towards that side rather than pulled out. The met/metah is then rolled to the other side and the clothing/sheet is easily pulled out.
  • Remember when lifting to use your legs and not your back. Plan any heavy moves ahead of time so you do not find yourself in an awkward and potentially hurtful position.
  • When removing clothing or sheet, inspect met/metah for any sources of blood such as IV sites, bed sores or wounds, and for any bandages which must be assessed as to whether to remove them or not. If removal will initiate bleeding they can remain. (If it appears that removing a shunt or other appliance would cause excessive bleeding the Rosh, rabbi or medical team member can decide to leave the appliance in place.
  • Check for any bloodstains on the clothing or sheet as these stains must be cut out of the fabric and put into the casket with the met/metah, (at the foot of the aron). If excessive fluid and blood is discharged during the Taharah (post -death) it is not retained for burial.
  • Any ID tags are also placed in the foot of the aron.
  • Check for any stool, which can be cleaned with cloth or tissues.
  • Check for nail polish, and remove at this time, but do not remove fake nails. Remove polish before washing. Some clip the nails; o
  • Removing jewellery over swollen fingers can be problematic. Rabbi Zohn mentioned a method for removing a ring that is stuck. The finger is soaped and then embalming cord is pulled through one end of the ring, it is wound round and round the finger and then pulled. If the knuckle is too enlarged then ring cutters may be used.
  • It is also recommended that fingers be left open and that the hands be left lying at the sides of the body not placed over the chest.
  • If the hands won't open readily there is a technique that might help. Take the elbow and the wrist in hand, bend the wrist back against itself and then open up the thumb, then gradually extend the fingers. Bending the wrist back extends the tendons that may have tightened the hand allowing the fingers to open (personal communication, Zohn, Sept.11, 2000).

OTHER PREPARATIONS

  • Men and women should have their heads covered.
  • Members of the Hevra Kadisha should be dressed appropriately, in a manner that shows respect for the met/metah.
  • Taharah is never performed on a Shabbat.
  • Some go to mikvah before the Taharah, particularly of a very pious, righteous person.
  • One member is assigned to be Rosh or gabbai/gabbait.; to make sure everyone knows their duties; to assign tasks as necessary, to make decisions, to make sure the aron is prepared properly; to decide whether a question of halahah should be asked; to make sure the Taharah room is cleaned up before leaving. This person will need access to phone in case a rabbi needs to be called.
  • The door to the Taharah room is kept closed at all times.
  • All necessary items should be checked and prepared.
  • Suggested list of supplies: Taharah manual, Hebrew name of met/metah, takhrichim, tallit, kittel (belonging to met/metah if available), sherblach, afar, 3 water buckets, water tubs for washing, equal amounts of egg white and vinegar (kasher l'Pesach during Pesach), sheets, towels, toothpicks or orange sticks, scissors, waterproof surgical tape, nail polish remover, Monsel's Solution, surgipads, quilted cotton squares, gloves and aprons. Some also use waterproof boots, and protective eyewear.
  • Rinse buckets if necessary, to ensure their cleanliness.
  • Exhaust fan may be turned on, if necessary.
  • Lay out the takhrichim, in order of use.
  • Some use sheets to wash and dry met/metah. If so cut sheets into at least 15 approximately 12" by 12" cloths.
  • Be sure to have both English and Hebrew name of deceased, including mother and father's names if possible. If the parents name is unknown (even in English) the met/metah is referred to as the son/daughter of Avraham Avinu.
  • No conversation is permitted except what is necessary for the washing and cleansing of the deceased. This means there should be no speculation over the cause of death, and no discussion of scars and or wounds other than what is necessary for problem solving.
  • Some groups quietly and respectfully converse about the met/metah if he/she was well known in her community.
  • One member lays out takhrichim in order of use.
  • Any hair cut from the deceased after death must be interred.
  • IV tubes should not be removed if there is any blood in the tubes, or if removing the tubes would initiate bleeding. The tubes must be inspected for blood and then clamped off with small plastic clamps that are attached at the outermost point of blood. The rest of the tube is then cut off and thrown away.
  • Bandages that are firmly attached to fragile skin or at wound sites that would be disturbed to the point of bleeding upon removal are to stay on. However, try to cut away any excess that can be removed without causing harm.
  • Usual practice is to have t'fillot recited by one member of the team, while others proceed with Taharah procedures.
  • The table should be adjusted (if possible) to a comfortable working height, and at an angle with the head higher than the rest of the body, for both halachic and practical reasons. The angle should be just enough to allow the water poured over the met/metah to drain off the end of the table. Position the table so the drain hole is over a sink or a bucket.
  • A woman is covered with a sheet; a man must have at least the genital area covered with a large cloth.
  • Check nametags for proper name. If no tags, consult director. Place tags in clean dry place for insertion in aron, at end of Taharah.
  • If cutting clothing, cut on the right side first.
  • Turn the met/metah onto the left side, exposing the right back. Cut clothing or wraps which can then be pushed under to the other side for removal.
  • The met/metah is called by their Hebrew name and mehila (forgiveness) is asked in advance for anything we may do. (Mehila should not be asked in the presence of other metim).
  • With the face and genitals covered the body is carefully surveyed and inspected for blood and other oozing body fluids, as well as for abrasions and condition of skin. All blood should be cleaned with a damp cloth. Even stains of blood that are dry should be cleaned at this time. Announce all existing problem areas of concern; for example - "bedsores on her pelvis" or "puncture in elbow" or sensitive skin". Announce any problems and plan accordingly.
  • Once all blood flow has been stopped and covered, the Rehitza may begin.
  • Members stand on the side of the met/metah. Two members stand on the on right side, and two on the left side.
  • Rosh should be washing on right (a designated place to direct from, so the process goes smoothly).
  • During washing the right side always maintains a lead over the left.
  • The met/metah is taken in and out of the Taharah room feet first, if possible. While in the Taharah room, the met/metah is again placed with the feet facing the door, if possible.
  • Any time the aron is moved, two people should move it.
  • Hamol - the first t'fillah- is recited before the Rehitzah begins.
  • Light a yartzeit candle. Some say,  "Nishmat Adam ner Adonai". The human soul is God's. Some say "Or Zaruah la Tzaddik u'lyishrey lev simcha". Light is sown for the righteous, joy for the upright of heart. Some just light.

SEPHARDIM

  • Amongst the Sephardim it was customary to blow the shofar during the Taharah or at the funeral.
  • Rehitza begins with the reciting of Baruch Dayan Emet.
  • Entire body is covered with a sheet.
  • Head is washed 7 times with mayim, then washed once with warm water, then soaped and washed 3 times with pitchers of warm water poured over the head to rinse it. A pitcher of cold water is then poured over the head and the recitation of prayers is resumed.
  • The face is washed on the right side, and then the left side.
  • Body is washed: stomach, shoulders, right arm from the inside out, left arm; then turned on side; neck, shoulders, and entire body lengthwise. Private parts washed internally and externally.
  • Hevra Kadisha members are careful to never look at face after washing.

GENERAL RULES

  • Begin at the head and work towards the feet.
  • Right side takes precedence over the left.
  • Front takes precedence over the back.
  • At no time should the body be facing downwards.
  • Wash the met/metah with lukewarm water.
  • Taharah water is cold.
  • If there are multiple funerals, mark name of deceased on coffin.

REHITZA:

  • The body is never allowed to lie on the table face down (Gesher HaHayyim).
  • Do not stand at the head of the met/metah or pass anything over the body of the met/metah.
  • The met/metah is always handled as gently as possible and always referred to by their Hebrew name.
  • Ensure that the takhrichim are set aside in order that they be kept clean.
  • Once washing begins there should be no casual talking, interruption or pause unless there is a question that demands resolution.
  • If members of the team are unable to recite prayers in Hebrew they can be recited in English.
  • The mouth can be covered with a clean cloth to prevent water from running into it.
  • Hands of the met/metah may be immersed in warm water to make cleansing easier.
  • Some make sure the face is covered during the duration of the Taharah.
  • The body is placed on its back on the washing table, and is never placed face-downwards. Feet should be facing the door if possible. If the sink is stationary, place feet to face the sink in order for the water to drain into it.
  • Care should be taken to keep the body covered at all times, particularly the genitals, except when various body parts are washed. Some do not expose the body at all, washing entirely through the sheet.
  • Prayer for beginning of washing is recited. Some read psalms while others wash the body.
  • Eyes should be closed.
  • Some wash both sides at the same time (if 4 members are present) as long as 2 are keeping ahead on the right side.
  • Use lukewarm, soapy water, not hot. One washes, one rinses. Some use no soap. Some wash through the sheet. Some move the sheet aside to wash.
  • On each side one person pours the water, and one person washes. Be sure to clean under arms, in any creases. The pouring should be basically continuous, and should be poured backhand from a separate dipper if possible. The person pouring should hold extra cloths, separated between their fingers, to be available and easily pulled out. Care should be taken to keep cloths dry.
  • The t'fillot are said preferably as the correlating parts of the body is being washed. For this purpose it is helpful to memorize the t'fillot.
  • Use dippers to pour water over the met/metah.
  • Washing the head: wash the hair first, then the face, including ears, around eyes and nose.
  • Care should be taken not to pour water into mouth or nostrils. Do not pour water over the face. For the face, water is poured onto the cloth.
  • The body is inclined on its left side and the right side of the back is washed, from shoulder to foot.
  • When the met/metah is on the left side, wash the rectum, pressing the stomach, if necessary, to remove any material that may ooze. While the met/metah is still on its side, rinse the table using pans of water.
  • Then the body is inclined on the right side and the left side of the back is washed, from shoulder to foot.
  • Clean outside of ears (internal parts seen and cleaned when body is turned).
  • Nose and mouth should only be cleaned in front area, where you can see - don't poke inside.
  • If left side is not finished, the right side should wait for the whole face to be finished before going on to the neck. Throughout the washing procedure, the left side should watch and be sure to not get ahead of the right side.
  • Nails may be cleaned at any available time, if not already cleaned, after the side is cleaned. Toothpicks or orange sticks may be used.
  • Care should be taken that the rectum be clean, by checking with a piece of cloth. If, in the cleaning, blood flows, the rectum is stopped up after cleaning.
  • Some clean out the rectum with a hose. Wash table carefully after cleaning rectum.
  • Some wash right side first completely, and then wash left.
  • Take care that fingers or other parts of the body don't bend or close. The palms of the hand and soles of feet are rubbed to remove any accumulation of perspiration.
  • Straighten limbs and digits of fingers.
  • Be sure to check carefully for any make-up, which must be removed.
  • Clean especially well between fingers and toes.
  • Wash genital area by moving a cloth back and forth as water is poured over.
  • Use an orange stick to clean under nails, right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot.
  • If death was by violent means and body and garments are soaked with blood no Taharah is done. The body is placed in the casket without removal of clothes. Only a sheet is wrapped around it over the clothes. If any question, consult with rabbi.
  • Where only part of the body was injured and covered with blood and it might be possible to perform a Taharah on the remainder a rabbi should be consulted.
  • While the body is washed verses from Shir haShirim are recited. These verses extol the perfection of the human body, describing the head, and the hair, the eyes and the cheek, the lips, and neck, arms and thighs. The body, the seat of the immortal soul, is regarded as a creation of singular beauty.
  • Order of washing is:
    the entire head
    the neck
    the right upper arm, arm and hand
    the right upper half of the body
    the genitals
    the right thigh, leg and foot
    the left upper arm, arm and hand.
    the left upper half of the body
    the left thigh, leg and foot.
  • When washing the back: 2 members wash the back, 1 member holds, and the 4th member cleans the nails (right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot) or alternatively right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot).
  • Toothpick of orange stick is used to clean under nails.
  • Wash the hair and scalp well, taking care that no water goes into ears, mouth or nose.
  • Clean ear preferably with cloth, not a Q-tip. Do not clean beyond opening of inner ear. Use a Q-tip when absolutely necessary to clean out accumulation of wax/dirt by opening to inner ear.
  • Rectum is washed clean, packed if necessary. Surgical pads are preferable for packing rectum, as they stay in place better than cotton.
  • After rectum, wash leg and foot.
  • Before putting met/metah down pour water down the table to wash away any accumulation of dirt.
  • Put met/metah down carefully; watch the arm and leg.
  • Reverse the order to turn and wash the left side of the back in the same manner.
  • Finish washing. All water should be poured out (water may be poured into sink - it is unnecessary to pour over met/metah.

COVERING MET/METAH

  • Some never uncover met/metah. Some partially uncover, some uncover when washing, making sure genitals are covered except when being washed. Met/metah is always covered when not working directly on it, to maintain a level of modesty.

TURNING THE MET/METAH

  • Move the met/metah closer to the member who will be washing the back so they do not have to stretch across the table.
  • Cross ankles, turn right foot over left, and right arm across to the other side.
  • 3 members stand on the left side: 1 putting pressure against the shoulder, and 1 putting pressure against the pelvis, so the met/metah does not slide. The 3rd member (who is doing the actual turning) places their right hand on the right shoulder and left hand on the right hip, and in a pivotal action turns the body towards him/herself in a rolling fashion. (Where a met/metah is very heavy the 4th member may help by lifting from the other side). The first 2 members may now leave go of the met/metah and continue with Rehitza.
  • Never turn the met/metah more than halfway (90 degrees) so that the met/metah is never facing downwards.
  • Be careful that the underlying arm does not get caught underneath the met/metah. Where punctures exist in the underlying arm, keep the arm far enough away so as to avoid any pressure on the puncture point.

BLEEDING:

  • Laws pertaining to bleeding and loss of blood are numerous and quite complicated. The usual standard is to avoid losing any blood whatsoever, and to save all dom, all blood, even when flowing prior to death.
  • The Halachah Seforim that deal with Taharah speak in very vague terms at best. They speak of bleeding by childbirth and death by accident, which until very recently were the circumstances most often leading to the existence of blood at a Taharah.
  • The advances of modern medical technology has given us the capability of prolonging life through all kinds of sophisticated surgical procedures, aided by intravenal, gastrointestinal, tracheal tubes and catheters, and the frequent use of ostomies. Taharah has thus become more complex.
  • Monsel's solution is a blood coagulant (causes blood to clot) that is used in medical treatment in certain instances (mainly in stopping superficial bleeding over a large area, such as the scraping of skin in a biopsy). To be effective you must: Shake very well before each use; Use Monsel's generously. Never put a used or wet Q-tip back into the bottle.
  • To control puncture bleeding: Saturate a wet Q-tip with the solution and insert into the puncture, spreading the opening of the puncture with the Q-tip, thus allowing the greatest area of raw flesh to come in contact with the solution. This will cause a thin scab to form immediately. It will stop any flow of blood. It is best to repeat the procedure 2 or 3 times, leaving a residue of solution on the surface that will be washed away during the washing or Taharah. It will not stain the skin.
  • Care must be taken not to pull at or agitate the skin around the puncture site after this procedure or the scab that was formed can be torn, allowing further bleeding to erupt. (Should that happen, repeat the procedure). Where the puncture site is likely to be rubbed or pulled by the takhrichim (mainly in the neck area) it is advisable to cover the puncture with a small piece of tape after the Taharah.
  • For areas of skin that are torn or abrased (scrapes, torn blisters or early-stage bedsores) clean and dry area with a cloth and simply paint on the solution over the affected area with a well-saturated Q-tip, covering all areas of the flesh that are oozing blood. To get better saturation it is advisable to pull or agitate the cotton on the Q-tip so it is fluffy.
  • When a puncture is very deep and the flow of blood is heavy, it is helpful to apply pressure with a finger about an inch from the puncture site and pull the skin a bit very gently thus clamping the vein or artery and stopping the flow of blood. It may also be worthwhile to pull fluffed cotton off the Q-tip after saturation and insert it into the puncture with the edge of a scissors or clamp.
  • For heavy flow of bleeding from larger openings, (nose or rectal bleeding, or the bleeding at the edge of an autopsy Y-cut), saturate a piece of combine dressing (surgical pad) or compressed cotton in solution and plug tightly into opening.
  • When using Monsel's solution after the Taharah, the excess of solution should be removed by dabbing at it with a dry cloth. This will avoid soiling the takhrichim.
  • Monsel's solution will permanently stain clothing. Be careful not to get any solution on your clothing or clothing of other Hevra Kadisha members.
  • Monsel's comes in pint containers. A recommendation is to pour into smaller 2 ounce opaque bottles with leak-proof caps, with the use of a funnel. These are available at any pharmacy. Make sure to transfer only after shaking very well.
  • To order: MONSEL'S SOLUTION, FERRIC SUB-SULFATE SOLUTION
    AMEND DRUG AND CHEMICAL CO. LIVINGSTON, NJ. 07111
  • Blood that flows before death is not a problem. Dom nefesh, blood that flows after death needs to be saved.
  • Dry dom on the sheet or clothing is cut out and placed in the aron.
  • Dry dom on the met/metah is wiped off with a damp cloth, which is placed in the aron.
  • If wet dom is found it is absorbed into a dry cloth and placed in the aron. Find the source of bleeding; place a folded, quilted cotton pad over the source of bleeding and apply pressure to prevent further bleeding. Clean entire area; area around cotton is dried; place waterproof surgical tape over cotton to secure bandage.
  • If necessary menstrual pads can be utilized to contain excessive flow of fluids, feces, blood.
  • Clothing that does not contain blood does not need to be buried.
  • Usually all bandages are removed - with the exception of second skin. If it seems likely that blood will flow if a bandage is removed, bandage is retained.
  • Blood which flows at the time of death may not be washed away.
  • Gauze bandages can be used to stop flow of fluids.
  • When there is other blood on the body, which flowed during the lifetime of the deceased (from wounds, or as a result of an operation) the washing and Taharah are theoretically performed in the usual manner.
  • In practice it is sometimes difficult to determine when the flow of blood occurred. It is customary to wash away all the blood on the body of the deceased and to pace the cloth used for this purpose in the casket for burial.
  • Cotton can be buried with the met/metah. Plastic can be used to line the coffin if there is a great deal of blood.
  • If there has been an autopsy blood may come out of the mouth. Cotton can be put in the mouth to absorb it if necessary.
  • As you are washing if any blood appears to be flowing in the water towards the drain, catch the blood before it reaches the drain and work up to the source, not vice versa.
  • For burnt or decomposed bodies there will be no washing or dressing.

 

TUBES AND CATHETERS

Tubes can be removed as follows:

  1. Any tape holding them in place is carefully and gently removed, pour warm water over the tape and rub the tape.

  2. While holding the catheter in place, any stitches holding the catheter are carefully cut and removed.

  3. While still holding the catheter in place, the area around the catheter is thoroughly cleaned and dried,

  4. A folded quilted cotton pad is placed over the point where the catheter enters the skin.

  5. While firmly pressing the cotton, the catheter is carefully pulled out.

  6. Waterproof surgical tape is firmly placed over the cotton to hold it in place and prevent any further bleeding.

  7. While this is being done, another person examines the catheter for dom. Any dom on the outside of the catheter is wiped off and placed in the aron.

  8. If there is dom on the inside of the catheter, the part containing the dom is cut off and placed in the aron. The rest of the catheter is discarded.

 

  • Fluids in mouth are usually gastric juices and do not require burial.
  • Bedsores and open wounds are handled by removing bandages carefully, if possible. If it is felt that just lying on the table may disturb the wound, a surgipad may be placed between the wound and the table. Wash very gently. It may be necessary to place a dry surgical pad between the wound and the takhrichim, to keep them from becoming soiled.
  • Rectal bleeding: should be packed with a 2" by 8" piece of surgipad which is twisted and inserted. If there has been an autopsy, the rectum should NOT be packed as this may cause uncontrollable bl
  • For AIDS/ HIV, hepatitis B and other highly contagious diseases, the following is recommended. Wear appropriate protective clothing; after the Taharah wash everything used with a bleach solution; a doctor or nurse on the team may provide helpful guidance.


INTERNAL CLEANING

  • Some do very minimal internal cleaning; some leave it up to the judgement of the team leader. Where there is a likelihood of the takhrichim becoming soiled, internal cleansing is done.
  • If the takhrichim becomes soiled after the deceased is already dressed they should be left that way. Greatest care should be taken to ensure they do not become soiled.
  • Some use a hose placed to the rectum to clean internally, then carefully washing away all feces.

 

T'FILLOT

  • A series of T'fillot are recited throughout Taharah; they can be said in Hebrew and English, individually or by group as a whole. The name of the deceased is to be read in Hebrew with her father and mother's Hebrew name. Use English names if Hebrew name is not known.
  • Prayers and verses are recited word for word by all members in Hebrew (or in English).
  • Once we have said the Hamol, where we plead with God to have mercy upon the neshamah of the met/metah, the t'fillot have an awe-inspiring tone. We focus on the sanctity of out work through their symbols.
  • As the met/metah is unwrapped a verse from Zeharaya is read. After the Jews returned to Israel at the end of the exile in Babylon one of the first things they set out to do was to re-build the Bet haMikdash. However a series of obstacles delayed the building, and they became discouraged. The re-building was abandoned.
  • Several years later, Zeharaya had a very positive and joyous vision. In his vision he was assured that the Bet haMikdash would be rebuilt. He is then shown a vision of Yehoshua, the Kohain Gadol. However, Yohushua is wearing filthy clothing - symbolic of transgressions, which may disqualify him from resuming his post in the Bet haMikdash. Yehushua now stands before the angel of God to be judged.
  • In the verse (read as the met/metah is unwrapped), the angel of God asks the assisting angels to remove the filthy clothing from Yehoshua. Once this is done, the fine garments, which have been underneath, are now in view, indicating that Yehoshua is forgiven for those transgressions.
  • Similarly the use of this verse suggests that just as we are removing the physical covering of the met/metah so should God remove from the neshama any transgressions of an external nature, and thereby reveal the pure spirit of the soul.
  • As we wash the met/metah we read several verses from Shir haShirim. In these verses King Solomon describes the most anthropomorphic of analogies, the wonderful qualities of God - qualities to which the Jewish people find themselves so strongly attracted. As we wash the face of the met/metah we focus not merely on the physical aspects of what we are doing, but rather on the beauty and spirituality of the neshama. At the same time we are suggesting that God do likewise.
  • As soon as we are ready to do the actual Taharah. Omar Rabbi Akiva is said. In this t'fillah Rabbi Akiva tells us that we are very fortunate, for it is God who purifies us. As it says in the book of Yehezkel, when we will be returned to Israel after our long exile, it will be God who will purify us of our most severe transgressions. By saying these words we suggest that as we pour water for the Taharah and thereby purify the met/metah of transgressions for which the Taharah is effective, so too should God purify the met/metah of all other transgressions.
  • As the egg white and vinegar is placed on the met/metah we repeat the verse from Yehezkel and reaffirm our belief and desire that God will purify the met/metah of any transgressions for which the Taharah was not effective.
  • The met/metah is dressed in takhrichim next. These white garments, a symbol of the Bigdei Kehuna  - the clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol in the Bet haMikdash. Once the met/metah is fully dressed we read a selection of verses, which refer symbolically to the met/metah in a positive manner.
  • The first verse is from Yeshayahu. In this verse we are told in magnificent terms that the Jews will be restored to their land and the nation of God will receive great honour and respect.
  • We will be overwhelmed with joy because God has dressed us in 'clothing of salvation' and wrapped us in 'robes of righteousness'. The robe of righteousness is symbolic of the kittel in which we have dressed the met/metah. This verse continues by telling us that God will have adorned us with the glory associated with the Kohen Gadol.
  • Since the met/metah has now been cleansed of all transgressions we can return to Zeharaya and continue with the vision of Yehoshua. After seeing that Yehoshua is dressed in fine garments Zeharaya intercedes in his own vision and requests that the office of Kohen Gadol be restored to Yehoshua, and that he be dressed in the full regalia of the Kohen Gadol.
  • We now return to Yeshayahu where we are told of the wonderful things we will experience upon or return to our homeland. We are told as well of the constant leadership of God, from which we will benefit so greatly. This too we wish for the met/metah as he/she is going on his/her final journey.
  • If the takhrichim are made out of linen we say certain phrases fro Torah as we dress the met/metah. Each of these phrases refers to one of the articles of clothing worn by the Kohen Gadol as he entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.
  • As the met/metah is finally placed in the aron, we say a verse, which refers to the holy vessels of the Mishkan as they were placed in their coverings in preparation for their journey. This verse is followed by a verse, which refers to the merciful and forgiving qualities of God. We affirm our desire that as God recognizes the sanctity of the neshama, God will deal with the met/metah in a very merciful and forgiving manner.
  • As the Israel earth is sprinkled we express our desire that the earth of the land of Israel should atone for any transgression still remaining.
  • After the aron is closed we read a t'fillah, which begins with two verses from Shir haShirim. By reading these verses we compare the sanctity of the neshama to that of the Mishkan, which was guarded by the faithful and diligent Torah study of the entire Jewish people. We then wish for the met/metah all of the blessings which the Kohanim bestow upon the Jewish people.
  • This is followed by several verses about the return of the Jewish people to Israel and the rebuilding of the Bet haMikdash. These verses refer to the peace and security as well as the glory and divine watchfulness that the Jews will experience. This t'fillah concludes with two verses, which refer to the merciful and forgiving nature of God, as well as to God's honour and respect.
  • As the aron is taken out of the room we say a t'fillah, which begins by referring to the sanctity of the Mishkan and the care that was taken when it went on a journey. The t'fillah then describes the divine protection that was promised. This is of course what we wish for the met/metah as he/she embarks on his/her final journey.

PREPARATION FOR TAHARAH

  • Make sure enough sheets and towels are on hand for drying of met/metah and table.
  • In order of preference Taharah is done by:

 

1. Stand met/metah up,

2. Immerse in mikvah,

3. Sit met/metah up in an upright position on the table,

4. Lie met/metah on boards.

 

  • Boards should be first washed off and then dipped in pails of water or some water is poured over the boards for Taharah during Rehitza.
  • Not all use boards.
  • Some use three, some four across the table, at head, shoulders, buttocks, and knees.

 

TAHARAH

  • Hands are washed again as at beginning of Rehitzah. Hands may be washed with gloves on; some remove gloves, wash and then re-glove. No b'rachah is said. Some recite al'netilat yadaim.
  • Some use towels for washing and drying. Some use sheets. Cut/tear sheets in preparation for covering and washing the met/metah. Make sure there are some large and some small pieces for covering the face while washing.
  • Amount of nine kavim has been interpreted by R. Feinstein as 14 quarts. Some use 24 quarts. Most use at least 18 quarts. We use three large, 8 quart buckets - stainless steel.
  • Water must be poured in continuous stream. Do not use more than 3 pitchers/buckets.
  • Remove all covering from the met/metah for pouring of the water. Some pour through sheet.
  • Do not pour water over the face, just over the hair.
  • Do not rush the pouring.
  • Every part of the body must be wet from the shoulders to the toes.
  • Use cold fresh water. Water is poured continuously in such a way that before the first vessel is emptied water is poured from the second and then the third. In succession, not simultaneously.
  • Some pour all buckets at once. One begins Taharah at the right side of the body, immediately followed by the next person at the middle of the head, and then the third person at the left side of the head. Work downward with continuous uninterrupted pouring as a merging of the three bodies of water. If any blood appears stop and catch it. The process must begin all over if there has been any interruption in flow of water.
  • Some do as follows:
  • 1 person stands at the head pouring one bucket continuously over the forehead;
  • 1 person stands on right side and 1 person on left;
  • Each pours out some of the water on respective shoulders (only where necessary - thereby making sure the bucket is not too heavy to handle) and then pouring the remaining water down the side of the body. (This method is preferable to pouring water up and down the met/metah).
  • If it is difficult to raise the bucket high enough to pour over the head, it is recommended to stand on a chair or a stool.
  • If the met/metah is in a standing position all of the water is poured over the head.
  • If the met/metah is in a sitting position in the middle of the table, the first two buckets are poured over the head. The third bucket begins at the head and then showers over the rest of the body.
  • If the met/metah is in a sitting position at the end of the table, all 3 buckets are poured over the head.
  • If the met/metah is in a lying position, one bucket is poured over the head. Simultaneously one bucket is poured from each shoulder with sufficient force to cascade the water over the rest of the met/metah. All 3 buckets must pour simultaneously if the met/metah is lying down.
  • One person says the t'fillot and stands ready to remove the covering sheet right before the Taharah pouring. This person should have a clean covering sheet ready for after the Taharah procedure.
  • When both sides are finished, the person at the head shoots whatever is left in the bucket down the length of the met/metah.
  • It is not necessary that the water cover every bit of the met/metah, as long as the poured water covers most of the body.
  • There should be no break in the pouring of the water. If there was a break and no one was pouring for a split second, then as long as 14 quarts were poured continuously, the Taharah pouring does not have do to repeated.
  • If for any reason the continual flow of water is interrupted, the nine kavim should be poured a second time. Start pouring at the head, then incline the body to the left and then to the right so that the entire body may be washed during the flow of water. While the water is being poured recite:
  • For a deceased male: Tahor hu, tahor hu, tahor hu. He is pure, he is pure, he is pure. Pronounced three times.
  • For a deceased female: Tehorah hee, tehorah hee tehorah hee. She is pure, she is pure, she is pure. Pronounced three times.
  • Ideally the body should be raised to stand vertically on some straw or wood on the ground and the water poured over the head, to flow over the entire body.
  • Body may be placed on wooden boards that have been soaked in the buckets, prior to Taharah. Under shoulders, arms, buttocks and legs, to lift body from table.  Under the upper back, lower back (buttocks) and feet. Two people raise the met/metah and one places the boards underneath.
  • Some pour water on the boards, and then place the body on its side and begin pouring. Then the body is placed on the other side and the pouring is completed.
  • Some pour water over sheet, some remove sheet.
  • Do not pass water over body; walk around table with buckets.
  • Remove the boards in the reverse order of being placed, with two people lifting and one removing, and they are placed on the side.
  • The Taharah procedure should NEVER be repeated unless there was something lacking in the pouring process (not some oversight in the washing for example).
  • After pouring is completed, a clean sheet is used to dry met/metah. Some use towels.
  • Some use a mixture of wine and egg to wash hair - or vinegar, (during Pesach, use kasher l'Pesach vinegar). Many do not do this.
  • Table is completely dried before and after the Taharah.
  • Body is carefully dried, and a clean dry white sheet is spread over it.
  • All jewellery should be given to family.

 

THE DRYING

  • While the Rosh attends to the preparation of the aron, the other three members dry the met/metah.
  • Some do not dry, but dress immediately. Some completely dry before moving on.
  • Some do not dry or comb hair.
  • The drying starts at the head, with the right side first and ahead and then the left side simultaneously and following a little behind, as in the washing. The feet and legs may be dried simultaneously, once the head has been started.
  • Turn as before to dry the back; first right side and underlying table, and then the left side and table.
  • Only sheets or towels are used to dry the met/metah. Paper towels may be used to dry the table only, which needs drying, including the sides of the table.
  • Where skin is sensitive or where sores or punctures exist, dry by patting, not rubbing. Observe the area you are drying carefully.

 

SETTING UP THE ARON

  • The setting up of the aron may take place at any time during the Taharah that the Rosh or another member is not needed by the met/metah. Usually, this will not occur until the drying. The aron should be in a clean part of the room.
  • The cover is carefully removed and placed in a secure position, noting which side goes by the head.
  • If necessary remove the lining, which is designed to go under the met/metah, not the lining designed to go over the met/metah. Remove the bulk of the excelsior, or straw.
  • Some straw or excelsior should be around the sides of the casket so the met/metah does not slide around. This is especially important around the head. This is particularly important if the met/metah is to be shipped by air to another jurisdiction. In this circumstance ask the staff of the funeral home for extra pillows to cushion the met/metah.
  • Extra straw should be saved for when there is insufficient straw in the future.
  • It is preferable that there be at least 3 small holes in the floor of the aron. If possible, they should be drilled at this point.
  • The pillow from the takhrichim set is well packed with straw, flexible enough to support the head in an upright position. The straw may be sprinkled with Israel earth and is positioned in the casket so that the head is straight and elevated.
  • The sovev is laid on the aron on the diagonal, with one corner at the top, one on the bottom and one on each side. There should be enough left at the top to cover the head, even if that does not leave enough to cover the feet. A larger sovev does not need to be laid on diagonally as it will be large enough to cover the entire body.
  • The tallit should be laid on the sovev so it is worn in a normal fashion. Position the tallit so that it will be worn over the shoulders, unless it is known that the person wore it over their head, in which case it is positioned that way.
  • The tallit should be made 'pasul' (rendered non-kosher) by tying a regular knot at the tip of the tzizit and by tying another knot (slipknot) in one of the 4 corners. If there is a metal atarah on the tallit it must be removed and returned to the family. Plastic ones, with silver paint, or with the b'racha on the, do not need to be removed.
  • Some tie the tzitzit through the avnet and then render the tzitzit pasul.
  • Bring the articles of clothing in one by one; avoid the risk of a garment falling to the floor.

HALBASHAH: DRESSING THE DECEASED

  • A special recitation is made during the Halbashah, the dressing.
  • Some have a special blessing for each garment as it is put on.
  • Remember to use leverage to advantage with rolling motions to move clothing onto the body.
  • Some may put Israel earth on groin area and on chest before closing the pants and under-shirt.
  • The egg white and vinegar mixture is put on first (one part egg white/one part vinegar), shake well. Some mix in eggshell.
  • Using fingers apply to hairline, eyebrows, temple, sideburns and area of facial hair for men. This is repeated 3 times. V'zarakti is repeated 3 times while applying egg mixture.
  • For men: Some tie the thumbs: The thumbs are put into the palm of the hand, encompassed by the other four fingers, and in order that the thumbs not come out from their proper places they are tied with the tzizit of the tallit.

TAKHRICHIM

  • The takhrichim are the burial shrouds. These garments have neither hem nor knot.
  • The word takhrichim is from karakh, to 'wrap up'. They represent the garments of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest in the Temple (Tripp, 1980, p.326).The garments are first described in Exodus 28 as "vestments of sanctity" for Aaron and his sons, the first Kohanim.
  • The fabric for takhrichim is one where the laws of shaatnez (prohibition against mixed fibres, of wool and linen or wool and cotton) do not apply. The dead are freed from all of their obligation to observe the mitzvot. "When a person dies, he is freed from carrying out the commandments," Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Batra 17a. The laws that apply to the living therefore do not apply to the dead (Kolatch, 1993, p.35).
  • The Zohar states that in Olam haBa, in the World to Come, the righteous will be dressed in the Haluka de-Rabbanan (the Robe of the Sages). "This heavenly robe is woven of the mitzvot (good deeds) that were performed by the deceased during his or her life" (Weiner, 1999, p.41).
  • The burial shrouds worn by the physical body are the garments corresponding to this mystical garb of the soul. The fabric, always white, can be linen or cotton or a muslin/cotton blend. The garments should have no knots and neither should the thread used to stitch the garments be tied in knots.
  • The intertwining, fastening, and securing that knot tying implies is entirely contrary to the releasing that is a primary symbolic focus of Taharah. Ancient superstitions reflected a belief that tying of knots invited difficulties and problems and should therefore be avoided. Certainly the transition from this world to the next could be adversely affected by such a powerful influence. Thus knots, with their potential to adversely affect people's lives, were forbidden for use in any aspect of the making of burial shrouds (Kolatch, 1993, p.36). 
  • To further aid in the propitiation of evil spirits and to also avoid the possibility that women in a state of niddah (ritual impurity due to menstruation) takhrichim were customarily hand-sewn by post-menopausal women.
  • Takhrichim consist of several different garments, and are put on in the order that is custom. For example, the met/metah is first garbed in a mitznefet, the headdress. This is usually a hood for men and a bonnet for women. Next to be put on are the mikhanasyim, trousers, the bottoms of which are sewn to entirely encase the feet. The mikhanasyim are tied at the waist. Then the met/metah is dressed in a k'tonet, a long shirt with sleeves. A cloth ribbon is drawn through the neck seam and tied. The last garment is a kittel, an overshirt, which is drawn over the k'tonet. This garment is very similar to the k'tonet and is symbolic of the kittel ritually worn on Yom Kippur. It will usually have a collar, will reach down to the knees and is also tied at the neck.
  • For the women there will usually be a masveh, a face-veil tied around the neck and sometimes an apron as well that is tied over the kittel. The avnet is a belt that is wound around the kittel and tied in the front in the shape of a shin.  Finally, strips of non-hemmed cloth are tied just below the knee for women and at the ankle for men.
  • The sovev is the sheet used to drape the body in the coffin. After the dressing is completed the met/metah is then laid in the casket, which has been prepared with a sovev and tallit, prayer shawl.
  • The ties are never tightly knotted, but tied to easily slip free.
  • There are varying customs about how to tie the avnet around the kittel as well as the ties over the mikhanasyim.  
  • Most of the interviewees described their counting with letters of the alef-bet (alef-bet-gimel-dalet) as they crossed the ties of the avnet hand over hand.
  • Usually the two ends of the avnet are crossed over 13 times and then tied to resemble the Hebrew letter shin. But here, as with many of the customs, variations abound. 
  • Some participants described twisting the avnet seven times, some four times.
  • Zev also described how his group tied the hands and feet. "We would tie around the thumb and the big toe, then tie the thumb around the wrist, do the same with the big toe and the foot, and then tuck in the ends."
  • One man wondered why the takhrichim included trousers for women, as most religiously observant women would not wear such attire. As noted, the takhrichim symbolize the garments of the Kohen Gadol and as such apply to both men and women.
  • However, differences in where the bendlach, the ties are wound around the trousers may serve to indicate gender differences. For men the ties are wound around the ankles to represent their shoes. But for women the ties are wound just below the knees. This tying below the knees is understood by some to represent pantaloons, long undergarments worn under a dress, an anachronistic custom specific to a particular historical period (personal communication, Rabbi Zohn, September 11, 2000).
  • Several participants I spoke with described their commitment to continuing to make hand-sewn takhrichim, while in two other communities the shrouds were stitched using a sewing machine. All other participants used standard factory produced takhrichim, usually ordered through a funeral home. One sewing group, once with a membership of over 100, now consisted of six women and one man. They met once a month to hand stitch all the takhrichim needed in their community. They usually kept one small sized shroud for children and one extra large sized shroud in stock.
  • Some people prepare their shrouds in their  own lifetime based on the verse from Amos: "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (4:12).
  • Our sages teach that the dead shall rise in the same garment in which they were buried. It is for this reason that in very early times relatives spent lavish amounts for the most beautiful burial garments. This put the poor in a difficult position. While they too were anxious to show their high respect for their dead, they were often unable to do so due to their financial status and were embarrassed when using cheap garments. In some cases they even deserted their dead.
  • The shrouds thus became the barometer of a respectable funeral and also as an indicator of difference between the wealthy and the poor.
  • To rectify this Rabban Gamliel 11, the grandson of Rabbi Hillel, (second century C.E. about 50 years after the destruction of the second Beit haMikdash) ordered that he be buried in simple linen garments.
  • Rabbi Papa who lived in the fourth century declared that (by then) the dead were buried in garb worth only one zuz (a small Palestinian coin) Moed Katan 27b.
  • Takhrichim used to be of different colours, but from the 16th century white shrouds became the general practice.
  • The white shrouds are a sign of purity and forgiveness. Also symbolize equality; also signifying purity of the neshama that once occupied the body.
  • No one should be shrouded in less than three garments.
  • The takhrichim are the same for everyone - symbolizing equality and simplicity.
  • They are made to resemble the Bigdei Kehuna (garments which the Kohanim wore when they served in the beit haMikdash), thus symbolizing the majesty and kedusha with which we are dealing. We even use the same terminology for the takhrichim that are used for the Bigdei Kohuna. Indeed we are told to envision the met/metah as a Kohen Gadol.
  • In Olam HaEmet, the World of Truth, the world the deceased is about to enter, one is not defined by material acquisitions, but by good deeds and the kind of person one chose to be. The shroud has no pockets, further symbolizing our inability to take along any material possessions on this journey.
  • Takhrichim symbolize values of simplicity, appropriateness and uniformity,
  • With our belief in an Olam HaBah, an afterlife where we will all face the Final Judgement, we dress as did the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest for the holiest service of Yom Kippur. The burial shrouds replicate the garments of the Kohen Gadol, and therefore linen, which he wore, is the preferred material.
  • To reduce competition Rabbi Gamliel introduced the shroud as an absolute requirement, thus allowing even the poorest Jews to bury their dead with equal dignity and honour. Jews have been buried in takhrichim for over 2000 years.
  • Traditionally, pious women who were past the age of menopause sewed the shrouds by hand. Shrouds had no pockets, no knots in the garments or in the threads. Never any knots or ties in the secular sense. May be sewn at home on a machine. Some suggest that women who are sewing takhrichim go to mikvah that day.
  • Not all sets of takhrichim are the same style. Variations are acceptable.
  • Shrouds must be clean. If they have become soiled they must be washed before use.
  • Takhrichim should have no binding, seams, knots or pockets.
  • Hevra Kadisha should have several sets on hand for emergencies, especially Erev Shabbat and over Yom Tov, when time is short.
  • In Talmud there is no reference to a specific number of garments, so customs vary. In most communities there are 7 or 8 garments.
  • Garments are ideally hand-sewn, made without any knots, seams and bindings. This serves as a reminder that the deceased takes no material wealth with them into Olam haBah, other than the mitzvot s/he accumulated during their lifetime.
  • If takhrichim garments become soiled after dressing they should be left that way. Greatest care should be taken to insure that takhrichim remain clean.
  • Some allow that after the body is covered after the Taharah, relatives may participate in the dressing in takhrichim - in some places this is local minhag. What is considered is the effect on the relative. If the relative strongly insists on participating and one can see they will not be harmed he may participate (R. Solveichik).
  • Niftar is dressed in following order:
  • First the face covering; tied with a slipknot.
  • Verses recited only if takhrichim are linen. If cotton these verses would seem to be telling an untruth.
  • Mitznefet, the headdress is placed on head and draped over hair (women) or drawn down to cover head, neck, and nape of neck. Some cover the face with a face veil first - tied with a slipknot. Some cover the face with fine netting.
  • Next is k'tonet: A shirt with sleeves, which covers the entire body and hands. Sleeves are put on first after which the garment is slipped over the head and drawn down over the body. The band at the neck is tied with a slipknot.
  • Some put on the michnasayim after the mitznefet: these are the trousers that have the pant legs sewn shut at the feet. They should be large enough to reach the belly. These are fastened with a long band, wound around 3 or 9 or 10 times (local minhag) and tied with a shin. Trousers fit over the k'tonet.
  • Bendlach is tied around the knees (women) and the ankles (men), and tied with a slipknot.
  • Kittel an upper garment much like the k'tonet. It may remain open at the neck or be tied with bands similar to the k'tonet. The kittel should reach the knees, and is put on over the k'tonet.
  • Avnet (gartel) is tied around the waist of the kittel; alef, bet, gimel dalet twists are counted and then tied into a shin.
  • Sovev: a linen sheet with which the deceased is wrapped. Sheet is draped over the met/metah in the following manner: around the feet; the left side, the right side; and finally over the head.
  • Before the coffin is closed all articles to be buried with the deceased such as loose hairs, false teeth, and any clothing containing blood are placed at foot of coffin.
  • Tallit: all ornaments have been removed (including all metal that may be part of the atarah) and from which one of the tzizit has been cut.
  • One explanation of the removal of tzizit is that in Olam haBa, mitzvot are not performed.
  • Met/metah may have had her own set of takhrichim. It has been custom for women to give their husband a set of takhrichim when they married. Women may have been given a set when they were born. Some sets have lace on the takhrichim, shirring as on a dress. Some sets may come with a shawl for women.
  • One Hevra Kadisha had a set of takhrichim arrive, for an old lady, with a bar of soap placed inside.

DRESSING CHILDREN

  • A child of less than one year is wrapped in four swaddling cloths. The body is wrapped with the first from the armpits to over the feet. The second cloth is folded into a triangle and is wrapped over the head and neck. The third cloth is also folded like a triangle and placed over the nape of the neck, like a scarf. The two ends are pulled to the front and the shoulders and arms are covered with them. The fourth cloth serves as a bed sheet.
  • A child of less than thirty days is wrapped in three swaddling cloths.
  • Takhrichim for older children can be made or bought in smaller sizes. We had one set cut down to scale for a small child.
  • Aborted foetuses, which possess a human form, are required to receive the same burial procedures as adults.
  • Some say that a child that wore tzizit while alive must be clothed in an arba kanfot, from which one of the tzizitot is torn off.

ORDER OF DRESSING A WOMAN:

  • If a woman is very large, a men's set of takhrichim can be used. The Hevra Kadisha should preferably ensure there are always extra large sets on hand for both men and women.
  • Hair is left loose, neatly without knots. Combing is permitted only to achieve neatness, and should be kept to a minimum. Some do not comb.
  • Some dress immediately, without first drying the deceased. Some dry the metah before dressing.
  • Some dress one piece at a time. Others dress the metah as quickly as possible, with different members of the team dressing her all at once.
  • The masveh, a veil is placed on the forehead and tied at the back with a slipknot. If there is no face cover, use the 'apron'.
  • The mitznefet, the headdress is placed on top of this. Some cover the entire face. The mitznefet is put over the entire head, with the seams at the side. The bonnet is tied at the neck. Some put the veil on after the mitznefet. Some put on the mitznefet after the ketonet, michnasayim and kittel. Some tie the cap and face cover with 4 twists and double loops.
  • The michnasayim, the trousers are put on. They are to reach the waist. The bands are to be tied around the waist wound around 4 times with bows pointing towards the head. Flap is closed first on the left side leaving the right flap on top. The shin is tied with two loops on the right side and one on the left with the loops pointing head-ward.
  • Bendlach are tied with a shin just below the knee.
  • The k'tonet is put on, sleeves first, then slipped over the head. The k'tonet is placed on the torso of the metah, with the top of the k'tonet facing towards the feet, the backside facing upwards. Close the left side first and place the right side over the left flap.
  • To put on the shirt, on each side, the dresser's hand goes up and through the sleeve of the shirt, which is then brought through the arm of the metah. The arms are then raised as high as possible and the material of the k'tonet tucked into the underarm in order to lift the shirt over the head. While arms are lifted adjust the seams of the garment under the armpit.
  • One member raises the head slightly while the other slips the gathered up material over and back under the head of the metah. At this point the 3rd member holds the head, and two members on either side lift the shoulders of the metah by lifting the arms and then pulling the k'tonet as far as possible.
  • Remember to cross the legs in order to turn the metah to facilitate the pulling down and straightening of the back of the k'tonet so the k'tonet can be tucked over the pants neatly. Some tuck in. Some draw the k'tonet down the length of the body.
  • The metah is turned to pull up the michnasayim up and to simultaneously pull the k'tonet down. The bottom of the k'tonet goes over the top of the michnasayiom. Not tucked in. Some tuck in.
  • When turning the met/metah by the dressing the procedure is slightly different from turning during the Rehitza and the Taharah.
  • There is no need for anyone to counter pressure by shoulders or pelvis while turning.
  • The member turning is the one who was on the left side putting on the k'tonet. The member grasps the right hand of the met/metah by the wrist with their right hand, and the right hip with their left hand. Care is taken that the position of their left hand does not impede the proper positioning of the takhrichim. The metah is now rolled towards that member on the left.
  • The metah should not be rolled more than 45 degrees. The person on the right now pulls up the michnasayim and pulls down the k'tonet, over the michnasayim. The metah is returned on to their back and the procedure is reversed. It is repeated as often as is necessary until the pants and shirt are properly positioned.
  • A third member should steady the head while two members are turning and dressing the metah.
  • There is no need to lift up the legs to pull up the michnasayim - this is accomplished while the metah is being turned for the k'tonet.
  • The kittel is placed over the shirt.
  • The avnet is passed under the head and under the body while held flat and taut until it is at waist and then is wound and tied in a shin.
  • The chagurah or avnet is tied over the kittel. Equal amount of material on each side. The ends are wound around 4 times and tied in three bows in the shape of a shin, the bows pointing towards the head.
  • Some twist 13 times.
  • If there is an apron, it is put on over the kittel and tucked into the avnet. Some tie on either side of the apron.
  • Women have generally not worn tallitot, but if it is their custom may be buried with tallit. If family asks for tallit to be included some will consult rabbi to poskin. Remember to make tallit posul.
  • The sovev is spread in the casket, in a diamond like slanting position. Some spread straight across the casket.

ORDER FOR DRESSING A MAN:

  • As above except for:
  • Kippah is placed on head, and then a tallit is placed upon his body. Care should be taken to cut off one of the tzizit corners, also to remove the atarah. (Plastic atarah need not be removed).
  • The mitznefet is placed on the head and drawn down to cover the head, neck and nape of the neck.
  • Tie bendlach at the ankle. The right ankle is tied before the left. Some tie just two loops, some three.
  • K'tonet is put on, sleeves first, garment slipped over the head and drawn down. Band near the neck is tied. Close the left side first and place the right side over the left flap.
  • The kittel is put on the same ways as the k'tonet. Sleeves must extend to the wrists.
  • The avnet is tied around the waist as a belt. The ends are wound around 4 times and tied with a shin, bows pointing to the head.
  • Some wind the tzizit into the avnet and then tie with a 4 bowed shin.

 

Z'RIKAH, EGG/WINE WASH

  • The last custom that I asked participants to describe, involved washing the hair/face with egg and wine. This is one of the more esoteric and, I discovered, contentious of customs.
  • Eggs have an inherent connection with life force. Especially when humans are directly confronted with death, round foods like eggs, act to symbolize the eternity of life.
  • We are thus reminded that Olam haBa has no beginning and no end. In some communities the egg is actually beaten in its shell with shape and content indicating such life force.
  • Talmud teaches that since eggs are round they have no 'mouth', which may symbolize the voiceless grief of the mourner. Use of an egg during this death-ritual implies that mourners should accept their loss without protest (Press, 1990, p. 83).
  • When Jews hear of a death it is customary to recite a blessing, the words of which end with the words "Dayan ha'Emet," words that acknowledge God as the true judge of all life. As with words, so too does a mere egg bear witness to the supremacy of God in matters of life and death.
  • It is thought that this custom originated as an olfactory means of identifying the corpse as Jewish. In certain circumstances bodies may have been sent to a cemetery without any written identification. To insure correct identity an egg-vinegar mixture was brushed on the heads of Jewish corpses prior to arrival at the cemetery. This strongly smelling mixture ensured correct identification and separation of Jewish from gentile corpses.
  • There are some Hevrei Kadisha that continue to use a mixture of egg white and vinegar; they may apply such a mixture to the forehead, which was an old way of identifying the body of a Jew, when a body had to be transported and sometimes switched by non- Jews. The smell of the vinegar would prevent any threat of blood libel being perpetrated against Jews.
  • The vinegar has a strong smell, and the egg is sticky, so by either feel or smell, Jews could tell if the body was switched (Rabbi Zohn, personal discussion, January 1, 2000).
  • Thus, not only could Jewish corpses be clearly identified, non-Jewish corpses, by the very absence of such an egg wash, were also identifiably not Jews. Therefore, the potential for inflammatory charges that Jews were stealing the bodies of Christians was diminished.
  • The met/metah was smeared with egg and vinegar, strong smelling. Often there were no graveyards nearby and needed to be sent to next city for burial. The smell ensured there would not be a mix-up in burial. This is discussed in Masechet Zachot.
  • The white of a raw egg is mixed with vinegar and the head is washed with this mixture during which the statement, "V'zorakti alechem mayim t'horim..." is said. "Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you"...
  • Only one community continued with this particular custom. As was the case with other customs, there were a variety of attitudes towards this custom.
  • Shlomo strongly disapproved of such a custom. "We don't do egg white on the eye. We do a dignified Taharah."
  • In Rona's community however, Hevra Kadisha members combed an egg white and wine mixture "through all the hair on the head and on the body."
  • Interestingly wine was now used rather than vinegar. Egg and a few drops of wine were mixed together in the eggshell and the head, and then either the face or the hair, or both was washed with the mixture.
  • This mixture combined the sweetness of wine with the life-giving force of the egg, to aid the journey of the dead. The mixture is said to symbolize the wheel of fortune "that makes revolutions in this world" (Ganzfried, 1927, p.99).
  • One individual described washing the face of the met/metah with an egg/wine mixture. He mixed the egg and wine in the shell. He described the softness of the face after the egg was washed away and he repeated several times that the wash left the face unbelievably beautiful.
  • A mixture of only egg yolk and wine was also used to wash on a forehead, to symbolize the revolving wheel of life.

  • A Sephardic custom is to wash the head of a righteous person seven times using seven different vessels: 1.plain water  2. soda and water 3. soap and water  4. hyssop water  5. myrtle in water  6. rosewater and finally 7. plain water.
  • Aside from the basic order of washing, pouring of water and dressing the body it is clear from the variations in the practice of these customs that there is no right or wrong way to approach understanding of their function and application.
  • Some use egg and vinegar.
  • Some mix the egg and wine in the eggshell.
  • Some wash the face; some wash the hair.
  • Some use vinegar and egg, but not during Pesach. Then only wine that is kasher l'Pesach is used.

COVERING THE FACE

  • The mystics referred to the altered face of the deceased as mar'eh letusha, or a 'hammered image' (Lamm, 1969, p.31).
  • While the face of the dead may still be physically recognizable, it does become only an image of what was once entirely unique and expressive.
  • However, the soul of the met/metah is considered to still be present, hovering above the body until burial. The face covering is understood to protect the soul of the met/metah from our possible adverse reaction to such a transformation; a reaction that the mystics suggest might add even more pain to an already anguished soul.
  • The face covering may also provide emotional protection for the Hevra Kadisha members. Rona talked about how there were two things that were still difficult for her, even after many years' membership in the Hevra Kadisha. "I try not to take down the sheet for the first time, and I don't pour the water over the face."
  • The face and the eyes are considered by many societies to be a window to a person's soul. Rona's reluctance to literally 'face' such loss is understandable.
  • The responses from participants regarding this custom were mixed. Dov described how his group didn't cover the face with the hood of the takhrichim but covered the face with a tallit.  "We put on their tallis, wrap it around their shoulders, and then wrap it over their faces, over the kittel." He hadn't heard of any other community covering the face of the met quite like this.
  • Amos described leaving the face uncovered, the only covering provided by the sovev, the sheet that covered the whole body in the coffin. He described how they would "extend (the sovev) about three feet above the head, and then fold it back like an envelope."
  • Others covered the head with a hood when dressing the body, but also covered the face during the washing.  Gershon described the reason his group had for covering the face throughout the Taharah: "We cover the face to give a sense of modesty. We cover with a terry cloth towel, over the face."
  • The women also had variations on head and face coverings. Hannah described her group's methods. "We put the bonnet on, and tuck her hair in. The cloth goes over and is tied behind the neck and tied in front."
  • However in Malka's community even though the head covering is put on immediately after the body is dried, "it is not tied until the sheet is draped over the coffin."
  • Rona described a practice that seemed to be particular to their community. "We seem to be one of the few communities that do this. We take very fine netting and cover the face, tuck it in under the bonnet and the collar of the shirt. It softens the face. The top jacket has a collar that is ruffled - it looks very feminine with the face veil. The netting is wrapped softly around the face."
  • Some women's groups have unwittingly mistaken the head covering for an apron. Certainly the custom in our Hevra Kadisha has been to use this covering to tie around the kittel to symbolize an apron. This custom has continued for years, even over the protestations from some women that they certainly did not want to be buried wearing an apron.
  • When I discussed this matter with Rabbi Zohn, he laughed heartily and said that the apron/face covering discussion had been going on for some time. Apparently we were not alone in our error. He told me a funny story that a woman had relayed to him about this very discussion, as it moved from Philadelphia to New York and back again. The consensus was that "in Philadelphia it may be an apron, but in New York it is never an apron. Who cooks in New York?" (Personal communication, Zohn, September 11, 2000).
  • There may also be an apron in the set of takhrichim, but the primary purpose of the squared fabric with ties is for a face covering.
  • The variety of customs regarding types of face coverings should not preclude an understanding of the relative consistency of their function.
  • Just as we are not to close the eyes of a dying person even a moment before death, so too are we to respect the dignity of the soul of that same person, a soul reflected in their face. We are also enjoined to only stand at the sides of the body while conducting the washing and dressing. It is understood that God is present at their head and so we as their agents of transition stand at their side.

SHERBLACH AND GERBLACH

  • The practice of placing sherblach, shards of pottery, over the eyes of the met/metah, has its origins in Torah and in Psalms.
  • They symbolize the earth to which the met/metah is being returned.  "For dust you are and unto dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Also, "God is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14). (Kolatch, 1993, p.39).
  • The mystics were concerned that the eyes should be covered because eyes that could still look upon this world could not focus on the next.
  • The sherblach also acted to prevent the deceased from seeing any possible misdeeds of their relatives, while fragments placed over their mouth ensured that when in the next world the met/metah would not speak ill of any person who may have insulted them (Weiner, 1999, p.48).
  • Another interpretation of their function is that our life in this world is seen to be as frail as the fragility of pottery (Press, 1990, p. 43).
  • The Kohanim, the priests, were responsible for setting up and covering the vessels in the sanctuary. No one else was even permitted to look at these objects, thereby protecting their sacredness (Kolatch, 1993, p.39).
  • Covering the eyes also has a connection to Aaron and the Kohanim, the priests in the Temple. As the sherblach are placed over the eyes, some Hevra Kadisha members may recite "Let them not draw near to see the sanctuary being dismantled, lest they die" (Numbers 4:20).
  • The sherblach and the fabric face covering thus act to protect the vision of the soul about to enter Olam haBa and the sight of those still living in this world.  Any form of pottery can be used - broken dishes, preferably kosher, or clay flowerpots.
  • Only four participants described their Hevra Kadisha actually using sherblach.
  • Myre described how they added the sherblach after the body was put into the casket; "we put white of egg and crockery from broken dishes at the shul over the eyes."
  • The white of egg might have practical purpose as well as symbolic purpose, in that it might have a slightly gluing effect.  Zev also recommended putting a little Vaseline on the eyes to hold the shards in place. Tzvi remembered hearing as a child about pebbles being placed on the eyes but his group did not do this.
  • Reizl had a beautiful story about sherblach. Her father had Alzheimer's disease for about ten years before he finally died. During those years whenever he forgot someone's name or did not recognize someone he would always blame his eyes, saying, "I'll just have to go to Rochester and get new eyes. I'm going to get blue eyes this time." Years passed with her father increasingly often saying he was heading off to Rochester for new blue eyes. After he died, she went with her sister to see him. He was all prepared for burial, but the sherblach were missing. She asked the member of the Hevra Kadisha who was standing nearby, "What about the pottery?" He didn't say a word, but left the room and came back with a hammer and a cup. He smashed the cup and handed a piece of the crockery to both the woman and her sister. Reizl said,"Finally, my father had his blue eyes, magnificent blue eyes."
  • An early tradition, one that I believe to be now almost entirely forgotten, had members of the Hevra Kadisha place gerblach in the hands of the met/metah.
  • Gerblach were small forked sticks or branches. It was thought that when the Mashiach did arrive and Jews were collectively at the point of resurrection, the righteous could tunnel and dig their way to the land of Israel with the help of the gerblach.
  • In the Jerusalem Talmud it is noted that Jeremiah asked to be buried not only with a wooden staff in his hands, but also to be buried upright, so that he might more readily leave his grave at the time of resurrection (Press, 1990, p.44).
  • However the Schulchan Aruch notes that this is a 'foolish custom', and adds that if this must be done, then the branch should at least be placed alongside the met/metah and not in their hands (Ganzfried, 1927, p.99).

SPRINKLING EARTH

  • Unlike the use of sherblach, sprinkling earth in the casket was a much more universal custom. The earth used is nearly always earth imported or brought from Israel.
  • Sprinkling the earth on the met/metah and around the aron also has symbolic and mystical import.
  • Earth from Israel is sprinkled on the body, which on a spiritual level helps the soul to start its ascent and separate itself from the material world.
  • The earth is added to symbolically hasten the decomposition of the body, thereby reducing the "anguish suffered by the departed soul" (Weiner, 1999, p.41).
  • Also there is a mystical belief that the souls of those who have been buried in exile, outside of Israel, must be returned to Israel before they can be resurrected. Adding soil from Israel to the aron is understood to aid in this future resurrection of the person when the time of the Mashiach (the Messiah) arrives.
  • Participants sprinkled earth in a myriad of ways.
  • Some people have the custom of putting earth on eyes, heart and genitals of met/metah, while saying "God's earth shall atone for God's people, "V'heepair admatoe amoe"(Deut. 32:43).Some sprinkled it around the head.
  • Some do not put earth on face or near the takhrichim.
  • Some put afar inside the pillow with some straw.
  • Some spread afar in the coffin.
  • Some put earth on eyes, mouth, heart, and genitals.
  • Some put earth and straw in a small linen bag or pillow under head.
  • Some left the small sack of earth on top of the face.
  • Others took the earth out of the packet and sprinkled it in various combinations of the following: a little over the cloth covering the face, over the chest, on the pillow, over the heart, eyes and genitals, and around the body but not over the head.
  • However this is done, care should be taken not to dirty the face or the takhrichim with the earth.
  • Amos mentioned that if the Hevra Kadisha thought a family member might be viewing the body, they would not sprinkle the earth on the body.
  • Some groups allow family members to add the afar and sherblech after the Taharah is completed.
  • Dov's Hevra Kadisha had a custom of not using earth from Israel but earth from their own cemetery. "We get the earth from the consecrated ground at the cemetery. We place a bag [of earth] from the actual grave of the person we are preparing, within the coffin."

 

CLEANING FINGER AND TOENAILS

  • Some use a wooden implement, such as a toothpick or orange stick.
  • Some cut fingernails and toenails, many do not cut at all.
  • Nail polish is removed, but if nails are glued on they are left as the undernail may be severely damaged.
  • There is also Kabbalistic thinking about the cleaning of finger and toenails.
  • It is thought that the nails as well as the skin beneath the nails are particularly susceptible to residual impurities, and must therefore be cleaned prior to burial (Weiner, 1999, p. 37).
  • Most of the study participants described giving a light cleaning to the nails of the met/metah.
  • Several cut the nails and some did not clean them.
  • Nail polish was always removed. Hannah said they did neither. "Most people have died of old age; their hands are usually very clean." Dov said they did a very superficial cleaning, "more to say we've touched on this."  False nails were left on. The use of toothpicks or a wooden cuticle stick (orange stick) was recommended for cleaning.
  • Occasionally a met/metah has arrived with their surname written directly on their body (calf of leg) as a means of identifying the deceased. While this is a sacrilege of the body, and should be addressed with the director of the funeral home, nail polish remover will take off most inks.

PLACEMENT IN COFFIN

  • If possible, turn the table so the feet are facing the door. The foot of the aron should also be facing the door.
  • Place arms at side, palms up in a supplicatory position.
  • In the case of a heavy met/metah, a draw sheet can be placed under the met/metah in order to facilitate transfer into the aron. This sheet is placed under the torso; people then assist in the transfer to the area. One person holds the head, one the feet and one person holds either end of the draw sheet. After met/metah is placed in the aron, the draw sheet is removed.
  • To move met/metah all 3 or 4 members should be on same side, lift and pivot to aron.
  • All members should work in unison to smoothly evenly and gently place the met/metah in the aron. The feet are placed in first, and the entire torso and head must reach the floor of the aron in the same instant - so as to not let one part drop.
  • Once the met/metah is in the aron, the met/metah is centred at the shoulders, waist and buttocks. The head is to be squarely on the pillow. The limbs and takhrichim and all ties are straightened and smoothed out to give as neat an appearance as possible.
  • Place any packets of collected skin and blood beneath the shroud at the foot of the aron. False teeth that were not in the mouth should also be placed at the feet.
  • After body is placed in coffin, afar, a small amount of earth from Israel, is placed by some over eyelids, heart and genitals as per custom. The takhrichim are pulled back so the afar can be applied directly to the skin.
  • Sherblach are placed on eyes and/or over the mouth.
  • In some communities, twigs - gerblach- are placed between the fingers of deceased.
  • Tallit is wrapped around body and sovev is then wrapped around the head - the left and then the right, ending with the feet.
  • When the body is placed in the casket a liturgical selection is recited. Some recite "and they shall not come in to see the holy objects lest they die." V'lo yavoeoo lee r'ote k'vahlah et hakodesh vamaytoe" (Numbers 4:20).
  • The Hevra Kadisha asks the deceased for forgiveness for any indignity he or she may have suffered at their hands, notwithstanding the loving care and concern which they have exercised, during the Taharah procedures.
  • Any valuables, jewellery should be returned to the family. (R. Solovechik)

CLOSING THE ARON

  • The tallit is placed across the chest. The Hevra Kadisha member on the left wraps the tallit first and then the member on the right side does the same, with the right side on top.
  • Sovev is wrapped: left side then right side, with right side on top. The part of the sovev over the top of the aron is placed over the face, over the rest of the sovev. The same is done for the feet, if the sovev is long enough.
  • Check to make sure all items containing blood have been inserted into the aron. Cover is placed and gently put into position.
  • If there is any reason to suspect that the aron will be reopened at a later time, it should be closed 'on condition' (al t'nei) to avoid any sheilos.
  • Members then call met/metah by name and ask for mehila (forgiveness)
  • Aron is wheeled out, feet first.
  • Outside building, and beyond any roof overhang, wash hands ritually with cold water from drinking cups. Do not dry hands or water plants with this water. Cups may be disposed of at home if no wastebasket is provided.

COFFIN:

  • The Hebrew word for coffin is aron; although this word is used many times in Bible it is only once used to mean a coffin (Gen. 50:26).
  • The word for coffin, aron, is the same as the word used for the Holy Ark, the Aron Kodesh. It corresponds to the Holy of Holies in the First Temple, where the Ark (also Aron) with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and a Torah scroll was kept.
  • The Ark is described in First Samuel as a simple wooden chest, occasionally carried to sites of war. At the time of the destruction of the First Temple the Ark was probably destroyed. Therefore the Second Temple could not house the Ark, but the absence of the Ark became its own prevailing presence. Mishnah (Yoma 5. 1-3) suggests rituals were enacted as if "the holy of holies" was present (Kaufmann, 1960, p.302). Today the Aron haKodesh, "holy ark" in a synagogue houses the Torah scrolls.
  • In Biblical times coffins were not generally used. Instead the dead were carried to the burial place upon a bier
  • In Mishnah (Mishnah Eduyot 5:6) and in Talmud (Yerushalmi Kilayim 9:4, Rabbi Judah Hanasi instructed: "Lower my coffin" (deep in the earth).
  • In Talmud we read of two receptacles for burial. The first is a mita (bed) or bier and the other is an aron, or coffin.
  • The bier looked like a stretcher and was used to carry the niftar from the Taharah room to the cemetery, at which time the body was removed and placed in the kever. The mita was then used for the next niftar.
  • This practice is still in use in Jerusalem. Beresheit 3:19."For you are earth and to earth you shall return". - hence, the body is placed in contact with the ground.
  • In earlier times coffins were only used when the body was carried great distances.
  • In medieval France it was the practice to use as coffin boards the table upon which food for the poor had been used.
  • The Kabbalists took the phrase "for dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return" (Gen. 3:19) literally and did not use coffins for burial. This was also the general custom in Eastern Europe before the Shoah.
  •  Our Sages, in Midrash suggest we use a wooden box, a plain pine box. Preferably a plain, wooden, pegged box, without metal nails, without ornament or lining. (Ma'avar Yabbok)
  • Some coffins arrive with straw (excelsior); 1/3 should be removed - take care none falls to the floor. This straw with some of the afar will be used to fill the pillowcase - first remove the ties that may be inside the pillowcase. The remaining straw remains in the aron, especially to cradle the head.
  • Now governments require the use of a coffin, if not a vault.
  • Coffins are made of many materials, including wood, plastic, bronze, concrete. Some are expensive woods, and some are simple pine boxes. Some are lined with fine materials, while others are plain.
  • Cover must consist of a single flat board.
  • Unpolished and unlined pine boxes are now the traditional Jewish coffins.
  • It is customary to drill several holes in the bottom of the coffin, each about the size of a quarter. Any number of holes and any size are sufficient. The holes may be bored while the deceased is in the room, and this is not considered disrespectful.
  • Shipment to Israel: laws usually require a double receptacle or a lined coffin. Once the body reaches Israel it is removed from the box.
  • Once the casket is closed it is not to be opened up again before burial. Some allow family to come and place sherblach on face before coffin is closed.
  • Some allow family members to open casket prior to burial.
  • If the deceased was not identified by a relative, prior to preparation, the identification can take place after the body has been placed in the casket.
  • Rabbi Zohn recommends a procedure to avoid any mix-up. The gabbait will write at head, on lid of coffin the name of the met/metah.
  • The aron is wheeled out feet first.
  • If casket is to be moved it must be moved feet first.
  • The faster the body decomposes the sooner the soul is forgiven for its sins.

 

COMPLETION

  • Upon leaving Hevra Kadisha members should again wash their hands well with disinfectant soap. Then wash in format of blessing, (R,L, R) but without the blessing and without drying them. This is to be done after leaving the met/metah but before entering another home.
  • Clean up supplies neatly. Make note of what needs replenishing.

PRACTICE IN ISRAEL

  • Customs differ. Jerusalem minhag is to bury without an aron.

CEMENT VAULTS:

  • Not needed by Jewish tradition.
  • Not required by law. Check local laws.
  • When a concrete liner is required by the cemetery due to conditions such as water seepage or shifting earth, it should be open at the bottom and filled with earth before covering.

MASOLEUMS

  • Some may equate mausoleums with the burials of the Biblical era.
  • Modern day aboveground mausoleums are not halachically comparable to the underground caves and crypts of Biblical and Talmudic periods.
  • While burial in mausoleums allows for the decomposition of the body it significantly retards and prolongs the process and the body never returns to the earth. This is in direct contradiction to the Biblical obligation of burial (k'vurah).

EMBALMING

  • There are Biblical instances of embalming (Gen. 50:26) however later authorities forbade this practice because it involves Nivul haMet (disgrace of the dead) and infringes on Kavod haMet.
  • The only method of embalming that is allowed (to prevent putrefaction) is that which leaves the body intact (GesherHaHayyim 1:73; Kol Bo'al Aveilut, p. 51).
  • Embalming is permitted when burial must be delayed (when the body must be shipped a long distance, if the person dies at sea and the delay prevents the usual burial at sea).
  • If the method used is such cases involves removing parts of the body (the blood being drawn out) these should also be included in the container and then buried (Gesher HaHayyim, 1:95-96).

 

CREMATION

  • Cremation is a transgression of Jewish tradition and law.
  • It violates the Biblical mandate of burial in the earth.
  • Cremains are not permitted burial in a Jewish cemetery. This would be seen to encourage the practice of cremation (Klein, 275).
  • Some permit burial of cremains. The Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) has ruled that cremation is not permitted.
  • A rabbi may officiate at a service in the funeral home only; cremains may be buried in a Jewish cemetery but the rabbi may not officiate at the cemetery. (Klein, 276).
  • Even the will of the deceased may be ignored: the will of God takes precedence. Family members may choose to override the deceased's wish to be cremated.

 

LEVAYAH: FUNERAL:

  •  K'vurah b'karka: burial in the ground is obligatory.
  • The obligation to bury the human remains as immediately as possible is a Biblical one and is one of the 613 (Taryag) Mitzvot.
  • Responsibility for burial generally falls on the closest family members, but in the absence of family, the community or the individual aware of the need must assume the obligation.
  • If a grave has been dug and afterwards another grave has been selected, the former must be filled up. Should anything prevent the funeral from taking place that day, the grave must be filled or covered, and not left open overnight.
  • To participate in filling the grave is a religious privilege and duty and is an expression of honour for the deceased.
  • Torah considers this right so sacred that it requires the Kohen Gadol to become defiled (and unable to fulfill his priestly duties) in order to bury a total stranger (met mitzvah) whom he finds unattended in a desolate place.
  • This takes on added significance when we realize the Kohen Gadol is forbidden to participate even in the burial of his own family.
  • It will be the responsibility of the cemetery contact person to arrive early at the cemetery to ensure all arrangements are in order.
  • Kippot need to be passed out to all men present.
  • No relative should be a pallbearer when there are others available. Others allow relatives to participate.
  • Coffin is usually covered with a black cloth, a pall or  mikseh. Members of  Ansche Hesed in NYC, has created a pieced community mikseh.
  • Some have Hevra members carry and lower the coffin into the ground.
  • Scissors will be needed for k'riah. Some continue to use black k'riah ribbons, some rip garments of mourners.
  • Kri'ah: father, mother, brother, sister, (includes half-siblings) son, daughter, wife, husband. Recite Dayan HaEmet and Adonai Natan...
  • Have copies of Burial and Mourner's Kaddish available in Hebrew and transliteration. Burial Kaddish is different from the more known Mourner's Kaddish. (Both are required, as on certain days the Burial Kaddish is not recited.)
  • See that chairs are available as needed in a safe position.
  • Scout the best route to the grave for the processional to follow.
  • Greetings should not be exchanged in a cemetery, as long as the body is unburied.
  • It is custom to not pass the shovel hand to hand but to place it after use in the ground. The next person will take the shovel from the ground in their turn.
  • Those attending the funeral should fill the grave until a mound has formed, and the aron is covered.
  • It is a comfort for the neshama to hear words of praise. The Hesped or eulogy is given by the rabbi or other officiant. Some encourage members of the family or friends of the deceased to also speak. A Hesped is an honest assessment of the life of the deceased and should not include false platitudes.
  • The use of a simple wooden casket encourages the body to decompose naturally and quickly. This process then helps the soul to free itself from the body and increases its ability to elevate. The casket should have no metal handles or decoration.
  •  Ensure the coffin is covered with earth before funeral continues. At the end of the service arrangements should be made to have members of the community completely fill in the kever.
  •  Flowers and music have no place at a Jewish funeral service.
  • Form two lines alongside pathway for mourners to walk through. As the mourner walks by persons should recite "Hamakom yenachem oshcho b'soch sh'ar aveilet Ttzion v' Yerushalim."

 

DISINTERMENT

  • Body must not be disinterred before the flesh is entirely consumed - about one year.
  • One can only disinter when it was the express will of the departed to be dug up afterwards to be buried in Israel, or if the dead can no longer remain in the burial place.
  • If the government for some reason no longer allows the place to be a burial ground the remains may be disinterred and carried to another place.
  • Otherwise disinterment cannot happen.
  • If the remains of several bodies are disinterred great care must be taken to gather the remains separately and not to mix them, so as to re-inter the remains of everyone as found.
  • The bones which are yet joined or which form a perfect skeleton must not be dislocated.
  • The old boards of the coffin must not be used; they must be buried or burnt on the same spot.
  • Even the earth upon which the corpse was laid must be taken out and re-interred with the remains of the dead.
  • Children are not allowed to personally disinter the remains of their parents, nor even touch them.

SHIPPING OF METIM

  • The use of Ziegler's and dry ice should be discouraged.
  • The remains should be packed into a lightweight plastic pouch with 6 frozen ice packs.
  • The pouch and the ice packs should be placed in the casket (at the foot) for burial with the remains.
  • Laws may vary for inter-province or inter-state shipping and international shipping.
  • When there has been an autopsy it is recommended that the Taharah take place at point of burial to prevent any bleeding on takhrichim.

 

SE'UDAH HAVRA'AH:

  • Arrange for the mourner's meal of consolation to be delivered. (Round foods, confirming the cycles of life, such as bagels, lentils, hard-cooked, peeled eggs are usually provided).
  • Have someone assume responsibility for providing supplies for ritual hand washing before the family enters their home after returning from the cemetery. A supply of water, a pitcher and a basin should be provided.
  • It is custom in many communities to provide meals for mourners throughout the shiva period.

LAWS AND CUSTOMS FOR A SHIVA HOUSE:

  • Kindle a 7-day Yartzeit candle, where the mourners are sitting shiva. This helps to honour the soul of the deceased. It is kept burning until the end of shiva.
  • Cover all mirrors in the mourner's home. Mirrors cause joy and the mourner is not rejoicing. It is forbidden to pray in front of a mirror, and people will be praying. Mirrors invite reflections of vanity, and the mourners are thus covered.
  • Some say that greetings of shalom are not exchanged in shiva house.
  • It is recommended that a large board with the traditional greeting for all those in mourning be placed near where the mourners are sitting, to aid visitors to give the greeting. "HaMakom yenakhaim etchem b'toch sh'ar avlei Zion v'Yerushalayim". (May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem).
  • Meals are brought in for mourning family.
  • Shoes are removed at door.
  • Door is left open or ajar so that comforters can let themselves in.
  • Tachanun is not recited throughout shivah.
  • It is customary to sit on low chairs during shiva.
  • Hallel is not recited.
  • It is customary to study Mishnah for the benefit of the soul of the deceased.
  • The mourner is forbidden to wash or iron their clothing.
  • During shloshim the mourner is forbidden to wear new clothing.
  • The mourners do not have their hair cut or shave during the entire first thirty days of mourning.
  • The mourners should not leave their home during the entire shivah.
  • After the first three days the mourner is permitted to leave to attend a funeral, to fulfill a mitzvah. The mourner is permitted to leave the house at night.
  • On Shabbat, during mourning, laws of mourning are suspended. The mourner may attend synagogue, but is not given an aliyah.

 

CONSOLING MOURNERS:

  • To console mourners is a mitzvah. If it is not possible to comfort the mourner in person, the mourner may be briefly called on the telephone.
  • The consoler is not permitted to begin speaking until the mourner speaks first. However, if the mourner does not speak one is permitted to say the customary condolence blessing: "HaMakom yenakhaim etchem b'toch sh'ar avlei Zion v'Yerushalayim". (May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem).
  • Greetings should not be extended to the mourner; upon leaving the consoler should again say "HaMakom yenakhaim etchem b'toch sh'ar avlei Zion v'Yerushalayim."

SHIVAH AND SHELOSHIM CANCELLED BY A FESTIVAL:

  • Yom Tov (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur) cancels the mourning of Shivah and Sh'loshim.
  • However the Yartzeit candle is left to remain burning through Yom Tov.
  • One is permitted to console mourners during a Festival.

SEVENTH DAY

  • On the morning of the seventh day the mourners walk outside, around the block, accompanied by comforters. This represents the beginning of sheloshim and the mourner's re-emergence into society.
  • The custom is to also go to the cemetery to visit the site of the burial of the deceased.

FOLLOW-UP:

  • Responsibility will also fall to the Hevra Kadisha contact person to follow up with delivery of copies of death certificates.
  • Print up and send a 10 year calendar of yartzeit dates
  • Send out a letter reminding family of unveiling date, Yartzeits, Yizkor services.
  • Send out a weekly list of Yartzeit dates to Rabbi for shul announcements.
  • Collection of the funeral expenses account is either the responsibility of the Hevra Kadisha contact person or Cemetery Director.
  • Bill sent after Shiva to be due after Sh'loshim.
  • Place of burial (and reservations) should be indicated on cemetery map and changes made to the cemetery directory as required.

SUPPLIES

  • Hevra Kadisha Coordinators are to routinely check quantities of supplies and re-order as necessary.
  • Takhrichim , Shiva candles, Israel earth, Tallitot can be taken from shul if needed. Use older tallitot.
  • Taharah manuals from: EKS Publishing, PO Box 9750, Berkeley, CA, 94709
  • Coffins usually supplied by funeral homes.
  • Source for shrouds and 7 day- candles
    US: Rose Solomon,                                    CANADA: Hesed Shel Emes
    Brooklyn Naval Yards                     Winnipeg, Manitoba
    718-855-1788                                   Rena Boroditsky

CONCLUSIONS

  • Just as Hevra Kadisha groups in pre-modern Europe evolved their own local customs, so too have contemporary North American groups.
  • There are many factors influencing a community's choice about which customs they have incorporated into their rituals. Regardless, each participant seemed proud of how they prepared each met/metah
  • Rona remarked on how they did the best they could. "We always comment once they are in the coffin, that each person looks so peaceful. Each person has something to say, to say goodbye."
  • Whether wrapped in netting, or covered in a hood, whether sherblach are covering the eyes, or earth from Israel is placed in the casket, these rituals served to mark the entrance of the soul of the met/metah into Olam haBa.
  • These symbols also served to demarcate the world of the dead from the world of the living. And, as one man's 'blue eyes' demonstrated, these rituals serve as a link between the dead and the living, between the physical and the spiritual, and between human souls and God. 

 

DOCUMENTS REQUIRED:

  • Funeral homes take care of filling in death certificate forms. When they arrive at the cemetery they will give a copy of the death certificate and the registration of death to the CK contact person or Rabbi.
  • The death certificate is given to a member of the family - usually not the immediate family in mourning. The registration is kept in the CK files. Make multiple copies for family - 10 to 12 will be needed for Veteran's benefits, Social Insurance, bank accounts, lawyer, safety deposit boxes, etc.

 

FEES:

  • Invoice needs to be prepared breaking down and detailing all expenses. Invoice is sent to the family after sheloshim.
  • Prearranged burials: letter is sent out outlining what this entails and provides.  Full membership must usually be maintained for any degree of discount to apply.
  • Most funeral homes can make arrangements for pre-payments to be held in trust.
  • Hardship cases are decided in consultation with Board.
  • Canadian federal government provides six times the monthly CPP contribution as a burial benefit, but family must apply for this. Forms are available at funeral home. There may also be private burial benefits to apply for, eg. BCAA, union funds, veteran's benefits. These funds usually must be directly applied for and are not automatically given.

 

METZEVAH:

  • Originates in Bible. See Bereshit 35: 19: "And Jacob set a monument by her grave; that is the monument of Rachel's grave unto this very day."
  • Metzevah: a lasting remembrance, or firmly established
  • Tziyyun: a marker. (Often a concrete surround, it indicates to kohanim to stay away. If the perimeter is clearly marked (plant-lined edges, a slab covering the entire grave) this function is served
  • Nefesh: a monument erected over a grave as a token of respect for the soul of the deceased, believed to frequent the area, particularly within the first year after burial.
  • A simple stone fulfills all three purposes.
  • Monument can be erected anytime after shiva period. Many authorities object to practice of delaying erection of monument for one year.
  • Send family a letter regarding their duty to make arrangements for metzevah.
  • Be available to meet with family to discuss appropriate lettering, choice of stone. Wording should not be excessive.
  • Includes name of person (English and Hebrew name).
  • Pey/nun - poh nitman," Here lies..."
  • Taf/nun/tzadee/vet/hay: Tehei nafsho(ah) tzerurah bitzror hachayyim (May his/her soul be bound up in the Bond of Life).
  • Date of death should be indicated as in Jewish calendar.

UNVEILING:

  • Make arrangements with Rabbi or other officiant.
  • Bring unveiling cloth, kippot, and copies of Mourner's Kaddish. Try to ensure a minyan will be present.
  • A brief hesped, a eulogy is recited, so care should be taken that unveiling is not held on a date where eulogies are forbidden. (Days when Tahanun is not recited).

RESOURCES

Web pages

Kavod V'Nichumhttp://www.jewish-funerals.org/

 

My Jewish Learning: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/lifecycle/Death.htm

 

"WE DO THE BEST WE CAN": JEWISH BURIAL SOCIETIES IN SMALL COMMUNITIES IN NORTH AMERICA, Greenhough,   http://www.jewish-funerals.org/greenhough-1

 

 

Core Library Books About Jewish Aspects of Death and Dying

Author

Title

Description

Date

Publisher

Goodman, Arnold M.

A Plain Pine Box

Return to simple Jewish funerals and eternal traditions. Essential for every Chevra.

1981

Ktav Publishing

Albom, Mitch

Tuesdays with Morrie

An old man, a young man, and life's greatest lessons.

1997

Doubleday

Handler, Jane

Give Me Your Hand - Traditional and Practical Guidance on Visiting the Sick

Traditional and modern guidance for visiting those who are ill.

1997

EKS Publishing

Roberts, Darryl

Profits of Death

An insider exposes the death care industry.

1997

Five Star Publications

Lamm, Maurice

The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning

From the moment of death through the funeral service, the burial, and the various periods of mourning. Explores organ donation, autopsy, the question of a woman's right to say Kaddish, mourning practices as they relate to the stillborn, the permissibility of converts to Judaism to mourn their Gentile parents.

2000

Jonathon David

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth

On Death and Dying

What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses clergy and their own families

1969

MacMillan Publishing

Kelman, Stuart

Chesed Shel Emet - The Truest Act of Kindness

Guidelines for Taharah with transliteration

2000

EKS Publishing

Carlson, Lisa

Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love

A practical handbook with consumer rights for every state in the U.S.

1998

Upper Access Books

Goldberg, Chaim Binyamin

Mourning in Halachah-the Laws and Customs of the Year of Mourning.

A scholarly and halachic work and a practical handbook.

1991

Mesorah Publications Ltd.

Broner, E.M.

Mornings and Mourning

Finding solace and respite in the quiet period of shloshim and strength in her daily battle to say the Kaddish.

1998

Harper San Francisco

Wolfson, Ron

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort

A Guide to Jewish Bereavement and Comfort

1993

Jewish Lights Publishing

Diamant, Anita

Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn as a Jew

How to make Judaism's time-honored rituals into personal, meaningful sources of comfort.

1998

Schocken Books

Riemer, Jack

Jewish Reflections on Death

Remarkable essays by outstanding thinkers.

1974

Shocken Books

Riemer, Jack

Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning

Finding strength and meaning in times of loss.

1995

Shocken Books

Aiken, Lisa

Why me, God? A Jewish Guide for Coping with Suffering

Traditional Jewish perspectives about suffering and practical advice for coping.

1997

Jason Aronson

Kay, Alan A.

A Jewish Book of Comfort

Over 175 inspirational readings to comfort the mourner. Explains traditions and rituals of mourning

1993

Jason Aronson

Kushner, Harold S.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

 

2001

Schocken

Gillman, Neil

The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought

Evolution of Jewish thought about bodily resurrection and spiritual immortality

1997

Jewish Lights Publishing