jewish Funeral Guide

Preparation for Jewish Burial

Taharah / טהרה

PurificationTaharah / טהרה. It is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes 5:15“Exactly as he came, he must depart / כל עומת שבא כן ילך”. A newborn child is immediately washed after birth and enters this world clean and pure. The one who departs this world must also be washed and made pure through Taharah / טהרה — purification, in Hebrew.

The Taharah / טהרה — purification of the body, should preferably be performed as close to the time of the funeral as possible, ideally no more than 3 hours prior to the funeral. The body is thoroughly washed and then it is ritually purified preferably by immersion in a Mikvah / מקוה — ritual bath, or by pouring in a continuous flow a substantial amount (Nine Kabin / תשעה קבין) of water over the body. It is done by the Chevra Kadisha / חברה קדישא — the Jewish burial society, which engages God-fearing Jews, who are knowledgeable in this specific task. Men prepare deceased men and women prepare women.

In accordance with the Jewish tradition, Taharah is performed while reciting special prayers and relevant scriptural verses such as “Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness and from all your idols, I will cleanse you / וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם מכל טמאותיכם ומכל גלוליכם אטהר אתכם”  (Ezekiel 36:25). Usually one person recites the prayers loudly enough to be heard by each participant.

Those engaged in doing the Taharah, are careful to maintain the dignity of the deceased, immediately covering parts of body they washed. Additionally, at no time is the face of the deceased allowed to face downward. In some communities it is customary to wash the deceased under a sheet without uncovering any part of the body for washing. No objects are passed or handed over the deceased and all unrelated activities, such as eating, drinking, smoking or unnecessary talking, are prohibited. Since it is extremely rare that members of the family will do the Taharah, we shall omit a detailed description of the Taharah process.

Circumcision. An infant, who died before being named, must be given a name and, if the child is male, circumcised (without a blessing) before doing the Taharah.