Tahara, the act of washing and purifying the deceased, is paramount to Jewish burial. So when the pandemic descended on the United States in March 2020, members of a Pittsburgh-based Jewish burial society devoted to the practice made a difficult decision.
Given fears of COVID-19 transmission, members of the New Community Chevra Kadisha stopped traveling to funeral homes and performing the sacred act of tahara in person. Instead of physically washing and purifying a body prior to burial, members gathered on Zoom for what they called a “spiritual tahara,” a virtual service of readings, song and prayer, with men tending to men and women to women.
Between March 15, 2020, and June 21, 2021 — when the group resumed in-person practices — chevra kadisha members completed more than 100 spiritual taharas. During this time, many other Jewish burial societies across the country were similarly figuring out how to perform their sacred rituals safely.