The Tachrichim—Maintaining the Jewish Belief in Human Equality
In the Jewish faith, there’s a fundamental belief in the basic equality of all human beings. Under Jewish law and tradition, if we are all made in the image of God, then we all come from the same mold and must, accordingly, be equal in the eyes of God. If we are equal in the eyes of God, we must then be equal in the eyes of each other.
The unwavering commitment to the equality of all human beings extends even beyond the life of every individual. It is, in fact, visually represented in the Jewish traditions governing burial garments.
The Tachrichim—The Simple White Shroud Used for Burial in the Jewish Faith
The traditional clothing used to cover the body for burial in the Jewish tradition is the tachrichim. It’s an inexpensive white garment, typically entirely hand-stitched without buttons, fasteners, zippers or tied knots. The tachrichim is customarily fashioned out of linen or muslin (an homage to the ancient Hebrew priesthood), and includes pants, a tunic, a hood and a belt, irrespective of gender. The pants may be long enough to cover the feet, or the tachrichim may include cloth “booties.” The face is typically covered with a linen square or handkerchief/veil called a “sudarium.” The deceased is dressed in the burial garments by members of a Chevra Kadisha, or burial group, often associated with the decedent’s synagogue.
Other Garments or Items that May Be Included
It’s not uncommon for men to have an additional garment, known as a kittel, wrapped around their bodies. The kittel is a white linen or cotton ceremonial robe usually worn on Yom Kippur, at a Passover seder or at one’s wedding.
Additionally, many Jewish men are also interred with a prayer shawl, or tallit, wrapped around them. A fringed garment, the tallit is usually cotton or wool, but may also be silk. When a tallit is included in the burial dress, some portion of the fringe (tzitzit) is cut to indicate that the person has died and is no longer bound by religious customs required of the living.
The History and Meaning of the Tachrichim
Scholars agree that the tachrichim dates from the 2nd century of the Common Era, when Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel II asked to be interred in inexpensive linen garments. Rabbi Gamliel cited Esther 8:15 as his guidance from the Bible:
“And Mordechai left the king’s presence in royal apparel of blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was happy.”
Rabbi Gamliel expressed concern that the tradition at the time, of dressing the dead in expensive garments, imposed unnecessary burdens on the family of the deceased, and particularly inflicted harm on the poor, causing them to “abandon the body and run.” The practice he instituted has been common practice ever since:
“Whoever heaps elaborate shrouds upon the dead transgresses the injunction against wanton destruction. Such a one disgraces the deceased.”
The use of simple white shrouds ensures that everyone is viewed the same in death, and that no one is perceived differently because of lack of financial resources. The shrouds have no pockets, signifying that wealth and financial status are inconsequential and cannot and should not be expressed in death.
Gutterman’s—Helping the Jewish Community Grieve for More than 125 Years
At Gutterman’s, with funeral chapels in New York and Florida, we have served the needs of the Jewish community for more than five generations. We understand the different funeral and burial customs, and can assist you with any concerns arising after the death of a loved one, from the details of the memorial to the selection of a casket or monument, from the careful preparation of the body according to Jewish law and practice to the traditions for grieving and remembering, including Shiva practices and the creation of a Yahrzeit calendar.
At Gutterman’s, we put people first. We understand the importance of a funeral and burial in the grieving process, and we recognize the public health concerns posed by the coronavirus pandemic. We strictly adhere to the public health recommendations set forth by experts at local, state and federal agencies. We will strive to find ways to allow you to pay your proper respects to a loved one, honor Jewish laws and customs, and stay safe.
As we move toward a post-pandemic world, with the promise of a return to a greater sense of community, our convictions remain unchanged—Gutterman’s will be there to help you grieve and pay your respects to loved ones, in ways that honor your traditions, and in ways that protect you and others from unreasonable health risks. Accordingly, we continue to maintain special protocols at our funeral chapels. To see a statement of the current safety measures in place at our chapels, go to our website.
To learn how we can help you in your time of loss, contact us online or call us at one of the numbers listed below. At the present time, because of the COVID crisis, we remain available only by phone, text message or videoconferencing. We will take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.