Washing the Dead for Jewish Funerals

Jewish Burial Practices
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, PBS (February 6th, 2004)

Last week on the Death Reference Desk I wrote about American Muslims washing the dead body before a funeral. A friend from graduate school, Jakki, saw the post and sent me a fantastic PBS segment on the Jewish tradition of washing the dead. Jakki summed up postmortem body washing for both Islam and Judaism this way: “Jews do the same (another example of our common heritage).” And she is absolutely correct. Indeed, of the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) it is the Christian Church which has moved the furthest away from washing the dead body. There are many, many historical reasons for the move away from body washing and I have a hunch that the practice might return.

Until that time, however, the contemporary practice of corpse washing falls mostly to Muslims and Jews. Check out the video linked above, and as with last week’s Muslim body washing post, note the combination of both traditional prayer and public health required protective gear.

Happy Passover to one and all.

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