Strange to find an article about Jews caring for the dead, but there it was in the New York Times on a Shabbat Christmas Day. It seems there is a national movement wherein volunteers care for deceased Jews and prepare them for burial.

At the funeral home, the volunteers, women from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun’s hevra kadisha, or holy society, prepared Ms. Freireich’s body for burial by gently cleansing it of the remnants of medical intervention, ritually washing it and then clothing it in simple white shrouds before placing it inside an unadorned wooden coffin.

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  • Why is this strange, TM? Even my largely secular family took enormous comfort from knowing these people lovingly prepared my father’s corpse for a proper Jewish burial.

    Compare this to Protestant burials: the embalming, the make-up and clothes, the casket Cadillacs and public viewings. I find that garish and creepy.

  • Perhaps it’s something I have been fortunate not to have to think about before. I think it might also be my personal discomfort with the thought of caring for a dead body.

  • As a Christian I find myself drawn to the Jewish burial ritual, or Tahara. It is no small thing to have people care for the corpse of a loved one in such a way. As I see it, there is as much a physical transition to make into the afterlife as the spiritual.

    Recently I had the opportunity to witness a similar ethic when my stepfather, a Native American, passed away. Members of dad’s Tiospaye, or spiritual community, drummed, sang, and danced for four days as his body layed in state. In preparing his body, naturalists cleansed dad under constant prayer. His body was washed lovingly, rubbed with sage and sweet grass, and draped in a blanket depicting the colors of humanity (black, white, yellow, red). In essence, dad’s body was purified with prayer, supplication, water, and sweet smelling botanicals –prepared properly to meet his Creator.

    When my time comes I should be as fortunate as my father, and yours, to be given such a send off!