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Spirituality of Tahara - the Jewish Burial Practice
We have a moving "Belief and Practice" segment this week on the Jewish tradition of tahara, the washing and purifying of a dead body, which is considered one of the greatest of all good deeds — mitzvot. Those who perform taharas are volunteer members of the burial society, chevra kadisha. Women attend to deceased women, men to men.
In Jewish practice, if possible, a body is buried within 24 hours. There is no embalming. Our producer Susan Goldstein found three women in Westchester County, New York - Rochel Berman, Nancy Klein, and Mina Crasson - who have been doing taharas for more than 20 years. They agreed to describe their work and demonstrate it on a mannequin, in keeping with the tradition of respecting the dead.
ROCHEL BERMAN (Chevra Kadisha, Jewish Burial Society of Westchester, New York): No matter whatever is going on in my life, before I walk into the tahara room, no matter how troubled or obsessed I might be about something, it totally disappears during the time of the tahara.
It is the most profound connection with my Judaism. Both task-oriented and spiritual at the same time, and so intensive that it's almost a lesson for how to do other commandments.
I think it's considered the greatest mitzvah because the person that you are serving, the deceased, can't say, "Thank you".