A ST. JOHN’S WOOD CHEVRA KADISHA
The week in which this parsha of Tetzaveh is read normally coincides with the 7th Adar, the yahrzeit of Moses. It is significant, therefore, that this is the only sidra from the beginning of Exodus to the end of the Torah in which the name of Moses is omitted! His departure from the world is marked by his absence from the Book.
There is another association with the death that emerges from this week’s sidra: the bigdei kehuna or the garments of the priests.
The original priestly vestments could be worn only by priests and even then, only during their performance of the Temple service. Yet, it has been an old tradition in the Jewish community to reverentially prepare someone for burial, in garments that bear more than a passing resemblance to the white garments of the kohanim. This applies to both men and women. The garments are known as tachrichin or shrouds. They are respectfully clothed on the departed after a special washing procedure is performed. The entire ritual is known as a taharah, literally, ‘purification’ and is the special responsibility of a trained group known as a Chevra Kadisha or ‘holy fraternity.’ The taharah is a remarkable gesture of friendship that is extended with the greatest dignity and respect to every person in the community.
Because of the linkage of the garments of the kohanim and the yahrzeit of the most important Jew in our history, the date of the 7th Adar, has been chosen by many communities across the Jewish world, to be the annual occasion to mark the work of the Chevra Kadisha. Many chevras will have a voluntary fast, followed by a festive meal, to coincide with the yahrzeit of Moses.
Although the United Synagogue employs a professional Men’s Chevra Kadisha, many shuls have a voluntary chevra that will see to the taharah needs of the members of their own congregation and this is certainly the ideal practice. I know that there are women in this shul who already participate in the Women’s central Chevra Kadisha for the United Synagogue. Training has already begun for the St John’s Wood chevra and we hope to be operational soon. If anyone else is interested in joining us, please contact me.
The chevras take in it turns to host the annual seudah, on behalf of all the chevras in the United Synagogue. This year, the seudah was hosted, last Tuesday, by the Borehamwood and Elstree Chevra Kadisha. I look forward to the time when the St Johns Wood Chevra Kadisha will host the annual seudah on behalf of the United Synagogue!