In the last issue of the Jewish Voice, a question was asked of Mr. Smith of Shalom Memorial Chapel about the process of tahara. As a member of the Rhode Island chevra kadisha (holy burial society dedicated to providing everyone who wants a Kosher Jewish burial), I would like to add to his answer.
Our tradition teaches that death is the beginning of the separation of the soul from its body. The soul stays close to the body, which has housed it for the duration of its life in this world. We consider both the body and soul as holy. The chevra kadisha works tirelessly to help the soul transition to the next world and for the body to be prepared for burial.
In Jewish wisdom, the body must be returned to the ground from which it came. When preparing a person for burial we follow an ancient and holy procedure. Every person in our care is treated equally, with dignity and respect. The chevra kadisha wash and dress the deceased. Everyone is dressed in the same white linen clothing, which resembles that which the high priest wore on Yom Kippur in Temple times. Prayers and Psalms are recited throughout the process. Finally we make sure the person in our care is transferred to the casket ready for burial, usually the next day.
Since we believe the soul stays close to its body until burial we are careful to always act respectfully while in their presence. If you or your community/friends would like to know more about this beautiful and life affirming practice please do not hesitate to be in touch.