National Association of Chevra Kadisha

Burial in a Kittel

There is a centuries-old minhag to bury a man in the kittel he wore during his lifetime.

Today, however, it may be preferable to use the kittel that is included in the traditional set of tachrichim. It all depends on what the kittel — and the tachrichim — are made of.

The kittel was originally established in the Ashkenazic world as a Yom Kippur garment. Its connection to the Day of Judgment was two-fold: the kittel is white, representing purity, and it also resembles tachrichim, reminding the person wearing it of the Ultimate Day of Judgment, in the next world.

Just as men were buried wearing their tallis, they were buried wearing their kittel, both garments having been infused with the merit of their prayers.

Tachrichim have been standard burial apparel for nearly 2,000 years, ever since Rabban Gamliel requested to be buried in simple linen garments.

It has always been an important hiddur to use tachrichim made exclusively from linen, not only in order to follow Rabban Gamliel’s example, but also for Kabbalistic reasons. (See Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deiah 352:2) and Yalkut Me’am Loez, beginning of Sefer Yehoshua)

Unfortunately, for centuries, linen was both expensive and difficult to obtain, and tachrichim were more commonly made of cotton or muslin.

Today, however, linen is readily available and reasonably priced, and the hiddur of linen tachrichim has returned to regular practice throughout the Torah-observant community. Linen kittels, however, are relatively rare.

And, so, we often find ourselves in a quandary: What do we do when someone is being buried in linen tachrichim, but the family has brought in his non-linen kittel?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, paskened that it is better to use the linen kittel of the tachrichim. It is recommended that families be told this, and given a choice of taking the kittel back or having it placed at the foot of the aron, where it will not come in contact with the linen tachrichim.

When using the person’s own kittel, any buttons or snaps should first be removed. Care should be taken not to cut the material of the kittel when doing so.

Given the relative ease with which linen kittels can be obtained today, if someone is purchasing a kittel, there is good reason for them to purchase one made of linen.

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