Rabbi Yohanan Zohn, from New York, is an authority on taharot. He recently held a discussion in San Antonio. **** **** attended, and we will later see a video of this discussion.
Through out the discussion the term person - not body - is used. The deceased is still a person, and all due respect should still be given the person during the procedure. Thus you should only handle the person as necessary, and when handling treat the person gingerly. Out of respect, all concentration should be on the procedure, and only that discussion needed to fulfill your duties should go on. Also you should be prepared to do the taharah without interuption. This means having all of your instruments available beforehand and leaving the person only when absolutely necessary. Never turn your back on the person unless necessary. Walk to and from the person always facing them.
There are several general rules that are followed throughout taharot. First, although not given in this presentation, there is a liturgy that goes with taharot. This should be done along with the taharah. Also through out the procedure several ritual washings of the hands are done by pouring clean water over each three times, none of these are accompanied with brachot. Also, taharot generally procedes go from head to toe; right side to left side. Where this does not happen, it is clearly noted. Finally, health precautions like mask and gloves should be followed at all times.
A person is buried with ONLY those items that are necessary for a Jewish burial. A person's special suit or favorite shoes should not be buried with the person. It is the practice of the Chevra Kadisha of ******* to discourage this practice strongly, but they will place items at the feet of the person if the relatives really insist. This is in order to encourage someone who might not have strong ties to the Jewish community to have stronger ties (otherwise we might alienate them further). Also the Chevra Kadisha of ******* will do taharot - even if a non Jewish procedure will be done to the person (such as cremation).
Among the things to be buried are anything stained with the person's life blood. Life blood is that blood necessary for the sustaining of life. Thus any blood lost before death - but did not cause death - need not be buried. But any blood lost during or after death is considered life blood and must be buried with the individual. It is the practice of Chevra Kadisha of ******* to bury any blood and blood stained material found with the person, since at the time of performing the duties it is impossible to be sure of this distinction.
Taharot consist of three general steps. Washing the Person, showering the Person, and finally dressing the person.
Before you begin you should contact the person's family to find out any special things about the person. You should find out the person's Hebrew name and if there is a special tallit for burial. Chevra Kadisha of ******* has a form they fill out with this information and other information (such as places for people who do the taharah and Shomrim to sign).
_____________ ben/bat _______________ (or English name ben/bat Abraham if Hebrew name unknown), we of The Chevra Kadisha ask your permission to perform a taharah on you. We ask your forgivenness for any disruption we cause you, and for any error we might make.
You are now ready to prepare the person for the initial washing.
Verify that this is the proper person by checking the toe tag. Place the person before you, face up with his hands on his side, palms up in a supplicatory position. Make sure that no procedure has been done to the person (such as tying closed the mouth). Close the eyes. The person should be made bare of all artificial adornment. You should remove the clothes (cutting if needed in order not disturb the person), remove all makeup, nail polish, fake nails and eyelashes, etc. Be aware of glass eyes, false teeth and artificial limbs. False teeth should remain in the mouth if there. If they are not there, but available, they should be placed at the bottom of the coffin by the feet. Glasses should not be included. You now need to staunch all bleeding, usually by placing gauze over sores. Purging from the mouth can be stopped by placing a block behind the head. Bleeding from orifices can be stopped by packing with gauze (There is a special gauze for this use).
Now you start the washing of the person. Keep the water - as much as necessary - in a container nearby. You will start at the head, moving down the right side of the person (right arm then right leg) and then the left side. Always use clean water. You pour the container slowly over the area to be washed, be careful that you tip the container towards the foot. Be sure to effectively clean the person, watch especially the ears, fingernails and anus. You should carefully cut the fingernails and comb the hair.
Start by removing your gloves and performing another ritual hand washing (no bracha). Fill up your containers with cold water. Traditionally 3 kabbim of water is used. This is about 10 quarts. The buckets you use should have no spout.
The purpose is to do a 'total' immersion of the person. We may place the person on small riser blocks so the shower can reach underneath him. These are 3 blocks 2'' X 4'' x 14'' plus four small rectangular ones. These blocks are immersed in the shower water so that they get completely wet (so that the part of the body resting on them gets 'showered' too). Place the long supports under the upper body and under the rump. A third block may be placed mid body if the person still rests on the table. The small blocks are then placed under the arms and legs to raise them.
You now shower the person throwing the water over the head, down over the body. If you are using more than one container for all your water, you must make the shower continuous. This is done by starting the next container before the first container is finished. If the shower is not continuous, it is necessary to do the shower over. Now dry the person, first the head, then the right side, and finally the left. Dry off the table and cover the person with a blanket or sheet.
Now you begin to dress the person. Comb and set the hair. If the person is male, place the hood completely over the head (covering the face). If the person is female, tie on the bonnet and use the small apron to cover the face. Now put on the pants, first the right leg, then the left, at the waist of the pants tie the knot in the following fashion. With a member of the Chevra on either side of the person twine the knots four times by the Chevra members passing the ends over saying "aleph, bet, gimel, daled". The ends are then tied in a slip knot. The head of the knot should face the heart (as with all knots on the garment). Now put on the inner jacket (the one without the collar). First the right arm, then the left; the front then the back turning the body first right then left. Now put on the outer shirt the same as the inner one. Now take the straps and tie down the leg ends like you did with the waist strap earlier. At the ankle for men, just below the knee for women. Now tie the waist, this time twining thirteen times. The long end of the strap is then made into a 'shin' (from shadai) with slip knots. It is consider a honor to tie the last leg of the 'shin' and the most honored member of the Chevra should be allowed to do it. It is also the practice in some areas to tie a 'daled' with the remaining piece of strap.
Now place the person in the coffin. Place him face up with his hands by his side, palms up in a supplicatory position. Stuff the pillow with some straw and place it under the sheet beneath the persons neck. Sprinkle more Israeli dirt over the eyes, the heart and the private parts, being careful to keep the shroud a clean as possible. Place broken pottery shards over the eyes and mouth (broken earth over a broken life). Any extra items that are to be buried with the person should be placed between the legs (items that Jewish law require like cloth stained with blood, false teeth, etc.) . Fold down the undersheet over the head, then up at the legs. Then over the left, then the right (NOTE this is a violation of the first right rule). Now tuck the sheet in as tight as possible. In Israel people are buried without coffins, and this should be a close resemblance of that. If you are including items that should not be there, place them at the feet. Close the coffin, being careful to mark the head.
Push the person out feet first and position the person with his feet towards the door. Light a light at the head of the person (a yahrzeit light is good). Then standing at the head of the person ask forgiveness :
_____________ ben/bat _______________ (or English name ben/bat Abraham if Hebrew name unknown), we of The Chevra Kadisha ask your forgivenness for any disruption we caused you, and for any error or omission we might have made in performing the taharah.
Walk out facing the person, then take off your gloves and ritually wash your hands again (no bracha). Tihillim (psalms) are said over the person until burial. It is the practice of the Chevra Kadisha of CITY to make sure tihillim are said on the hour every hour for fifteen minute so mourners know when they are said if tihillim are not to be continual. When leaving bid farewell to other members of the Chevra by saying something along the lines of "May we meet again at simcha's".
Last updated on 1/12/96
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copyright 1999 - Steven Ross Weintraub