The Chevra Kadisha is generally responsible for obtaining a burial permit, collecting the body from the place of death, and taking care of the body until burial.
Transporting the Body to the Funeral Home
Every city and town has a place near the funeral home where bodies are taken prior to burial. Generally, the deceased is transported by the Chevra Kadisha free of charge. This is the case even if the death occurred in the home or on the street, and even when the body was brought to the Center for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir for identification or to determine the circumstances of death.
If the death occurs in an area beyond the geographic region of the specific Chevra Kadisha, or in other exceptional cases, the family must hire a private hearse or pay the Chevra Kadisha for transportation, according to specific rates fixed by National Insurance.
Digging the Grave
The Chevra Kadisha is responsible for allocating a gravesite, digging the grave, and bringing the necessary equipment to the funeral – a bier to carry the deceased, shovels to cover the grave, etc.
This ceremony, performed to show respect for the deceased, includes washing the deceased’s body, dressing him or her, and preparing the body for burial. The tahara is done in a specially designated room, generally located near the funeral home. Members of the Chevra Kadisha, called mitaskim, perform these tasks. Men perform the tahara for men and women do so for women. These mitaskim show the utmost respect for the deceased.
The deceased is placed on a special plank, with his legs pointing in the direction of the door and his head toward the interior of the room. This position represents that in death, humans abandon their temporal existence and impurity (symbolized by the legs), leaving only the soul (symbolized by the head). While the mitaskim wash and clean the body they recite verses related to these processes such as, “Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean, from all your uncleanness and from all your idols, I will cleanse you,” (Ezekiel 36:25). These verses are recited both because of their relevant content and to prevent the mitaskim from idle talk while the deceased lies before them.
The mitaskim are careful to maintain the deceased’s dignity, covering his or her body while they wash and comb the hair. They cut the deceased’s nails and wash him. The custom in some locales, most notably Jerusalem, is to complete the tahara by immersing the deceased in a ritual bath (mikveh). After bathing him, the mitaskim dress the deceased in special burial shrouds– garments made from simple white cloth, called takhrikhim. The shrouds include pants, a shirt, cloth shoes, and a hat. On top of the clothes, the mitaskim wrap the body in a large white cloth. In Israel, it is not customary to wrap the deceased in a tallit, as is done outside of Israel. If the family requests, the deceased can be wrapped in a tallit during the funeral, but it will generally be removed before burial.