jewish Funeral Guide

Preparation for Jewish Burial

Treatment of the Remains

While both the mourners and the Chevra Kadisha / חברה קדישא share responsibility to prepare the deceased for the proper burial, it is the Chevra Kadisha who does the actual work. The mourners fulfill their duty by making all necessary arrangements and hiring competent people to do the job.

Removal of the remainsHotzaah / הוצאה. Usually, the deceased is removed from the place of death by members of the Chevra Kadisha — the Jewish burial society.

Unless it was already done, they perform Hashkavah / השכבה — a ceremony of lowering the body to the floor: They close the eyes and the mouth of the deceased, straighten the limbs and lower the deceased onto a sheet that is placed on the floor. The feet of the deceased are placed pointing to the door, the head elevated on a pillow and the whole body completely covered with another sheet. A lit candle — a symbol of the soul — is placed at the head of the deceased.

Chevra Kadisha collects all effects that must be buried together with the deceased (e.g., blood saturated bandages, linen and clothing) and transports them together with the body to the funeral home.

VigilShemirah / שמירה. The deceased must be at all times accompanied by a Shomer / שומר — a watchman or, rather, an honor guard, who is usually one of the Chevra Kadisha members. This obligation stems from Kavod HaMet / כבוד המת — honor due to the dead and serves several purposes:

- Showing respect and providing consolation to the soul by not leaving
  the remains unattended like a useless vessel.
- Guarding the body from becoming prey for rodents and insects.
- Comforting the soul with the Psalms recitation, which also helps
  to prevent negative influences from invading the body.

In some communities the vigil is done by relatives, friends or students of the departed. The Shomer may neither sleep nor engage in idle talk. Even when there is no danger of insects or rodents damaging the body, he has to stay in the same building, preferably in the same room with the body and recite Psalms. It is better to appoint two watchmen so that they may relieve each other, but when absolutely necessary, the watchman may leave for very brief periods.