The light of life is an infinite flame. Like the Shabbat candles, life is kindled, grants illumination for a time, and all too quickly fades. We are the same.
As the Shabbat comes to a close we find ourselves looking forward to the next Shabbat. We are the same.
As we approach the end of our lives we contemplate gilgul neshamot (rebirth) or the Olam Haba, the Shabbat that will never end.
The sacred service of the men and women of the Chevra Kadisha (the Sacred Burial Society) is to prepare for this transition by insuring the dignity of the body and the peace of the soul.
What To Do:
Jewish tradition suggests that burials take place as quickly as possible, preferably within 24 hours. Sometimes burials may be delayed to allow family and friends time to gather, to transport the body (or the met) to another location, to honor the Shabbat (when burial is not permitted under Jewish law), and so on.
SHMIRA: Honoring and Protecting the Met
Jewish tradition requires that the deceased not be left alone prior to burial. Shmira is the practice of sitting with the met or body until the funeral service begins. This service of the shomrim ("guardians") maintains the dignity and physical safety of the met. During shmira psalms or other meditative prayers are read. Among the appropriate Psalms are Rebbe Nachman's Tikkun HaKlali (Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150). It is preferable that the shomrim be family members or friends of the deceased. When this is not possible the Chevra Kadisha will make every effort to be there as part of our service.
TAHARA: Ritual Preparation of the Met
Jewish law requires that the met be prepared according to a prescribed ritual. This is the main service of the Chevra Kadisha.
TACHRICHIM: Shroud and Burial Garments
Jewish law requires burial in plain white simple garments (tachrichim) demonstrating our shared human equality before the Eternal.
In order to avoid interference with the natural process of "returning to the earth," Jewish tradition requires that our coffins be made entirely of wood, without nails or metal decoration.
Routine autopsies are contrary to Jewish law since they are viewed as desecrations of the met. In cases where an autopsy is required by law, it should be carried out under the supervision of a qualified rabbi.
Jewish authorities typically view organ donation as k'vod ha-met, bringing healing to the living, rather than as desecration. For this reason, most authorities permit the practice. Since some types of organ donations remain in question under Jewish law, the rabbi should be consulted in all cases.
According to Jewish tradition, embalming and the use of cosmetics on the deceased are not permitted.
Cremation is not permitted in Jewish law, however some non-Orthodox Jews do choose this option. Consulting with the rabbi of the deceased or ones own rabbi on this topic is advisable.
Make Your Wishes Known!
Physical death is inevitable. Making your wishes known ahead of time will let loved ones know how to proceed, will bring them peace of mind, and will enable the Chevra Kadisha to better afford you the honor and dignity you and your loved ones deserve.