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Home  »  Coronavirus and Jewish Death Practices

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Jewish Death Practices

This page provides a central forum for resources and news in relation to Jewish death-related practices and the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 virus.  If you have new information or resources that you feel would be helpful to others, please share with us so we can help others (info@Jewish-Funerals.org).

Here’s a lovely poem about pandemics to help you keep perspective.


Returning to “Normal”


Vaccination for Chevrah Kadisha Members

As the vaccination distribution for COVID-19 is slowed in many states, some are proposing that those who handle the bodies of deceased be among the first to get the vaccine.  Here are some articles around this idea.

  • Can you still get infected, and infect others, if you get vaccinated?

    Possibly. None of the vaccines tested so far have been 100 percent effective so some vaccinated people may still catch the coronavirus.

    What’s more, neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine trials tested whether the vaccines prevent people from being infected with the virus. Those trials, instead, focused on whether people were shielded from developing disease symptoms. That means that it’s not clear whether vaccinated people could still develop asymptomatic infections — and thus still be able to spread the virus to others.

  • Are we safe with vaccinations? Maybe not…

“I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on…”

… guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) named mortuary workers as “critical infrastructure workers.” Mortuary workers were included in the “Healthcare/Public Health” category along with doctors, nurses, people performing testing, and researchers

… National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released the “Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine,” which included funeral directors in the highest priority phase for vaccine allocation.

A funeral or visitation service can be held for a person who has died of COVID-19. Funeral home workers should follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions when handling a decedent who died of COVID-19.  [This article lists more details.]

If washing the body, shrouding, or other important religious or cultural practices are observed in a specific tribal community, families are encouraged to consider this guidance and work with their cultural and religious leaders and funeral home staff on how to reduce their exposure as much as possible.

If you participate in these activities, wear disposable gloves (nitrile, latex, or rubber). And you may need additional equipment (called personal protective equipment, or PPE). For example, you may need the following:

    • Disposable, waterproof isolation gown
    • Face shield or goggles
    • Facemask

Following preparation of the body remove PPE and throw away. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Shower after completing body preparation activities. If you did not wear any personal protective equipment while preparing the body, wash your clothes in the warmest setting possible and dry them completely.

For more information see CDC resources on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility or Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.

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Changing Practices as In-Person Taharah Resumes

Recommendations for Taharah Room Safety  – Also see Alternative Rituals Below

  1. Kavod v’Nichum Recommendations (updated March 18, 2022)
  2. Protective Equipment (PPE) Workshop video – more than just donning and doffing correctly (March 4, 2021)
  3. Kavod v’Nichum recommendations  (updated March 24, 2020)  
  4. The National Association of Chevros Kadisha recommendations  (updated March 25, 2020)
  5. Recommended book:  Health and Safety Precautions for Taharah – A Guide to Understanding Potential Risk and Injuries While Performing the Holy Work of the Chevrah Kadisha

Spiritual and Emotional Strength

There is an aspect of this new normal that we have not been addressing. Along with our physical safety needs of having social distancing, food in the house, transferring our work to be at home and online, etc, there are the emotional and spiritual aspects of this pandemic that are just beginning to be addressed.

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Articles on Infection Control in the Taharah Room

Click here to see over 20 articles spanning some 30+ years detailing the thinking about infection control and taharah practices.


Kaddish without a Minyan


Chevrah Kadisha Policies and Articles that Deal with Pandemic Response

We are collecting local policy ideas and practices that have been put in place to deal with our changing and challenging times. The list below might be of assistance to those attempting to establish new policies in this regard.  If you have a policy in place, please share it (info@Jewish-Funerals.org).

Articles from 2020


Alternative Taharah Ritual Ideas – Keeping teams safe while still honoring the dead

  • Rick Light has revised his well-respected Taharah manual, To Midwife a Soul, to now include new liturgies in addition to the established liturgy based on Ma’avar Yabbok. These include new liturgy for Taharah Ruchanit – when we must honor the dead but do not have or cannot be close to their body, and non-binary liturgy to support all gender identities.    
  • When no taharah can be performed, this new ritual created by Rabbi Lynn Greenhough, provides “completion” by offering a taharah-like ritual at the grave site, perhaps long after burial, when it is safe for teams to gather. She suggests that chevrot could perhaps perform this ritual between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You have permission to download this to use in your community.
  • Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston has created a Taharah Seder during COVID that includes modifications for a 1-person taharah.
  • The New Community Chevra Kadisha of Greater Pittsburgh has adapted their manual to create a new liturgy for the pandemic age. Here is the women’s version. You have permission to download this to use for holy work in your community.
  • The Chevra Kavod haMet of Portland, OR, has modified their existing taharah manual to create a new ritual called Tahara l’Nefesh, allowing taharah to be performed without the presence of the decedent’s body. See the men’s version here, the women’s version here. You have permission to download these to use them for holy work in your community.
  • The Chevrah Kadisha of Kehilla Community Synagogue, Piedmont, CA, shares their new alternative taharah ritual, as a work in progress. You have permission to download and use this, with the understanding that it is still being refined, improved, and completed.

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General Pandemic Articles of Jewish Interest

Articles from 2020


Scientific Articles and Research Related the Coronavirus

Relevant articles and papers from the scientific community in 2020:


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