National Association of Chevra Kadisha

When to Perform the Tahara

The early poskim ruled that a tahara should be performed as soon as possible after death. However, this came from their concern that delaying a tahara might result in the body deteriorating to the point where a complete tahara could not be performed. In modern times, however, this is seldom a consideration.

Today, however, a tahara should generally be performed on the day of the kevurah, as close as possible to the burial. This maintains kavod hameis by minimizing opportunity for the tachrichim to become soiled.* Some chevras make an effort to perform the tahara within three hours of the burial (or, at least, of the levaya). If the chevra is available only in the evening, and the burial will take place the next day, they should do their best to perform the tahara after dark, so that it is performed on the same Hebrew date as the burial. 

The question of when to perform the tahara often comes up when the body will be transported to another location for burial, and sometimes leads to a misguided concern about when the funeral service should take place. Delaying the tahara does not necessitate delaying the funeral service. For example, consider the case of a person who has lived in Florida for many years but wants to be buried in their family’s plot in New York. Their family is free to hold the funeral service wherever they wish; they do not have to schedule it for after the tahara. The service can be held in Florida —  with the aron present  — even though the tahara has not yet been performed. 

There are exceptions to this rule. The tahara should be performed closer to the death in the following cases:

  • The body cannot be kept cold enough to prevent decomposition before a tahara will be performed in the city of burial. (This is seldom the case when the body is being transported within the US.)
  • Having the tahara at the place of burial will cause the burial to be postponed by a day or more. 
  • The chevra kadisha available to perform the tahara at the place of the death maintains higher standards for tahara than the chevra available at the place of the burial. These standards include:
    • Having a fuller, more experienced team available for the tahara
    • Having a chevra kadisha composed only of people who are Shomer Shabbbos

In these cases, when the tahara is performed in one city, and then the body is transported to a different city for burial, the chevra kadisha must make arrangements with the chevra kadisha or funeral director in the city of burial to ensure the body will be  completely removed from the pouch it was transported in before it is buried.

The issue of when to perform the tahara also comes up when a person dies in chutz la’aretz, and will be buried in Eretz Yisroel. In these cases, the tahara will almost always take place in chutz la’aretz, since the state of Israel requires a certificate of tahara in order to provide a transit permit for the nifter to enter Israel. This is consistent with the guidelines listed above, and has other practical and halachic considerations as well.

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*This is important because, as Chazal tell us, when a person stands before the Beis Din shel Maalah, they appear in their earthly garb, and should be as clean as possible.

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