Being Buried with Your Tallit
E. Pitegoff, Chair
Temple Israel Chevra Kadisha/Cemetery Committee
In June 2004, I had the privilege of representing Temple Israel at the Second Annual North American Chevra Kadisha Conference, held in Las Vegas, just as I had participated in the conference the year before in Rockville, Maryland. Over the next few months, I will share some of the insights from that conference with you.
One profound discussion which blended end-of-life traditions with modernity and both the softness and the obsession with sacredness in Judaism was the topic of burial with a tallit. Today’s consensus is that if one traditionally prayed wearing a tallit during one’s lifetime, then one should be buried in the tallit, now male or female. When the burial occurs, one corner of the tallit is removed and also placed on the met/meta (deceased), so as to render the tallit no longer allowable for prayer use. In effect, the tallit is no longer kosher.
An understandable hesitancy with this custom today is that many who wear the tallit to pray may wish to bequeath that particular tallit to someone close or special in the family, particularly in a subsequent generation (“l’dor v’dor”, from generation to generation). One solution is for those who have multiple tallitot to designate one for burial and the other(s) for special inheritances.
The Chevra Kadisha in Victoria, British Columbia has its Bar/Bat mitzvah projects include making tallitot for eventual burial with deceased who wish to bequeath their primary tallit.
Some funeral homes and Chevra Kadisha groups keep on hand spare, new tallitot for use in placing around the deceased when the primary tallit is to be bequeathed. However, you cannot just unwrap a new tallit and place it on the deceased. The consensus at the conference, among rabbis and lay leaders, is that the tallit must be davened in, or prayed in, before it can be used for burial. Just as the cutting of the corner makes the tallit no longer kosher, the use of the tallit for prayer first makes it kosher and available for use in a burial. So, congregations that use spare, new tallitot for funerals, as needed, keep them in the Temple cycle for use in prayer services.
To be a tallit is not enough. Our actions with the tallit are what make it holy, sacred, and kosher. Once again, in Judaism, we are active partners in making the ordinary extraordinary. We are always part of the process that makes the world a holy place.
This is more than a lesson from the conference. It is a metaphor about our faith.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, may you be inscribed for a life of quality and length of days. As Yom Kippur approaches, may you be inspired to think about pre-planning, the end-of-life journey, and ethical wills. Please call our committee for assistance.