National Association of Chevra Kadisha

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What makes a funeral “Jewish”?

By NASCK Staff
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Torah teaches that both the body and the soul are holy: the body was fashioned b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d, while the soul is actual G-dliness. Jewish burial practices accord both with respect. 

Shmira: From the moment of a Jew’s passing, their body is never left alone. A guardian stays with the body, day and night, reciting Psalms that comfort the soul of the deceased.

Tahara: While reciting prayers, members of the chevra kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, gently wash the body with warm water, and immerse it in a mikvah for the purpose of purification.

Tachrichim: The chevra kadisha dresses the body in a set of six traditional burial garments. These garments, designed over two thousand years ago, have deep significance.

Aron: If a casket is used at all, it is made solely of wood, in order to allow the swift return of the body to earth.

General issues of respect: 

  • At death, the body and soul have completed their missions in this life. The goal is then to allow each to return to its source as quickly as possible. For this reason, Jewish burial takes place as soon as possible after death, even the same day, if possible.
  • Jewish burial does not include embalming the body, an action that impedes the body’s ability to return to the earth.
  • There is no public viewing of the body. In the same way that a holy object such as a Sefer Torah is not left uncovered, the intrinsic holiness of the body precludes its being left exposed.

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