jewish Funeral Guide

Preparation for Jewish Burial

Shrouds - תכריכין

Dressing the deceasedHalbashah / הלבשה. The deceased is then dressed in Tachrichin / תכריכין — the traditional white burial shrouds, preferably made of linen. They are traditionally sewn by hand by pious women because it was Eve, the first woman, who caused death to come to the world (Genesis 3:16-19). Everyone is buried in the same set of white garments that includes a Mitznefet / מצנפת — a hat, a Ketonet / כתונת — a shirt, Michnasayim / מכנסיים — pants, a Meil / מעיל  — a jacket, which is usually called Kittel / קיטל, an Avnet / אבנט — a belt, which is called Gartel / גרטל or גארטל in Yiddish, and a Sovev / סובב — a wrapping sheet. As their names suggest, these garments resemble the linen vestments worn by the Cohen Gadol / כהן גדול — the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

There are only minor variations in the style of the shrouds for men and women. The exact number of garments and their style depends on local customs, but white socks or slippers, common in non-Jewish burials, are not part of this set of garments and should not be used. Permanent, double knots are not used at all, even to tie the thread when stitching the shrouds. Everything is either twisted together or tied with a bow tie / slip knot, which is a temporary knot, to show that the burial is "temporary" until the resurrection of the dead.

Shrouds have no pockets to carry man’s material possessions into the next world. Their simple uniformity symbolizes equality and purity. Wealthy or poor, all are equal before God. This practice was instituted about nineteen hundred years ago by Rabban Gamliel / רבן גמליאל, the head of the Sanhedrin / סנהדרין, so that the poor would not be shamed and the wealthy would not compete with each other in displaying the costliness of their burial clothes (Talmud, Tractates Moed Katan 27b, Ketubbot 8b).

A male deceased is buried wrapped in his Tallit / טלית — prayer shawl, of which one of the Tzitzit / ציצית — fringes, is cut to symbolize that death ends the obligation to perform Mitzvot / מצוות. This is the prevalent custom in the Diaspora, but not in the Land of Israel.

Shrouds are of such importance that a burial will be delayed in order to obtain them. However, those murdered by anti-Semites for the only reason of being Jewish should be buried in the clothes they wore at the time of their martyrdom Al Kiddush HaShem / על קידוש השם — to sanctify God’s name. Their garments are like a badge of honor of a fallen soldier who heroically fulfilled his duty.