Traditional Burial Preparations
In communities where it exists, the Chevra is responsible for many of the rituals performed on the body of a loved one who has died. Funeral Directors will coordinate these rituals for those who desire them.
In many communities, there is a volunteer group called the Chevra Kaddisha (meaning ‘holy society’). This should not be confused with the mortuary in Los Angeles of the same name, which is not a volunteer society.
Traditional rituals done before burial may include:
Taharah – A person who has died is ritually bathed so as to leave the world as pure as he or she arrived. Prayers and psalms are recited. The deceased is then dressed in tachrichim. To preserve modesty even in death, men perform taharah for men and women perform taharah for women.
Tachrichim – A person who has died is clothed in a white cotton or linen burial garment. Today, many people are buried in their own clothes. Many men – and women, if they usually wore one – are buried wearing their tallit (prayer shawl). When a person is buried wearing a tallit, one of the tzitzit (long corner fringes) is cut off so it is unfit for ritual use. This also shows that the person who has died is no longer responsible for doing the mitzvot. Many people are also buried with a small amount of earth from Israel under their heads.
Sh’mirah – Traditionally, a Jew who has died is not left alone from death until burial. Sh’mirah can be translated as ‘watching’ or ‘guarding’ and a shomer – a person who guards the body – can be hired to perform this ritual.