National Association of Chevra Kadisha

Participating in the Tahara of a Parent

The minhag followed by many chevros, and brought by many poskim, including the Gesher Hachaim and Zichron Meir, is that a child should not take part in the tahara of their parent. This applies to certain other relatives as well: a grandfather, stepfather, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and uncle. These are the same relatives one avoids going to the mikvah with, as brought in Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’ezer 23:6). Some chevros extend this to women of similar relationships. This minhag applies even if the child is an experienced member of the chevra kadisha, and even if they cared for their parent’s physical needs during the parent’s lifetime, including if they bathed their parent.

I believe this is not only a halachic matter; there are chevros that follow this protocol for all relatives, not just the ones listed above, because of a more practical concern: a family member’s presence in the tahara room will very likely make the members of the team uncomfortable as they perform certain aspects of the tahara. Not only does this add stress to the process, it opens up the possibility that their discomfort might lead them to make a decision they would not otherwise have made, thus compromising kavod hameis. This is the practice of the Chevra Kadisha of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, as well as many others.

Nevertheless, when there is a request for a family member to participate, chevros will generally allow and even encourage family members to stay outside the tahara room and recite Tehillim while the tahara is being done. In addition, some chevros will allow children to enter the room when the body is already in the aron, or even once it is completely dressed. The child will then help with the twisting of a bendel or the gartel, or with tying one of the slip knots. There are, in fact, communities and chevros where the minhag is always to have a child tie a slipknot, usually on the foot.  

In the Bukharian community, children and other family members come in to pour water on the body before the tahara begins, but while the body is appropriately covered. At the conclusion of the tahara,
the child of the niftar also places the earth from Israel on the eyes, and the sharbelach (broken pieces of pottery) on the eyes and mouth.

On a related topic, people often ask if someone can observe a tahara. The answer is that only members of the tahara team are permitted to be in the room during a tahara. If there is a compelling reason that someone else has to attend a tahara, the chevra’s posek may choose to allow it. However, in all such instances — even if someone is there simply to observe for the purpose of learning — they should take part in the tahara in some way; for example, by filling buckets or joining in the tefillos that are recited. Under no circumstances may an observer discuss different practices or ask questions during a tahara.

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