November 20, 2018

Kavod v’Nichum’s Expired And Inspired: Who may Prepare Whom for Burial?

You may recall that some weeks back I described a new feature of the Expired and Inspired blog; the option to submit a question that would be researched and written up. This is the first response to such a question.

The Question Asked

The question for this blog came up in several ways. It has been a part of the ongoing discussion concerning who should/could be included in a Chevrah Kadisha team, and how a Chevrah Kadisha team might/should deal with encountering a transgender meit/ah. The answer to that issue is not yet fully clear, nor is there universal agreement.

It is fairly widely understood that the traditional practice has been that men could only prepare men for burial, while women could prepare either women or men (in an ‘emergency’). This practice has been used to choose to have teams of women as the Chevrah Kadisha in some instances, for example in times of war, when no men were available, or, more recently, for the preparation of some transgender persons.

The question that is being considered here is not about the transgender concern (I mention that only because that was the context in which the question came up), but simply, how did it come to be that women could serve on/as the Chevrah Kadisha team for men?

Credit where credit is due

I turned to our volunteer researcher, Isaac Pollak, a student of the Gamliel Institute, and a long time, very experienced member of several Chevrah Kadisha teams, who has also studied and participated on Chevrah Kadisha teams worldwide. Thanks and appreciation to him for his efforts on this question.

Please note: I am summarizing Isaac’s work; I have done my best, but it is quite possible that I have misunderstood or misstated something, so if there are any errors, I have introduced them – don’t blame Isaac, it is my fault. — JB


It turns out that there isn’t a great deal of information that supports the custom that women may perform a Taharah for men.

The earliest basic text found to start with is Chapter 12:10 of Evel Rabbati (first part of minor tractate Semachot), which reads:

“A man may shroud and gird the corpse of a man, but not that of a woman. A woman may shroud and gird the corpse of a man or of a woman.

A man may attend another man suffering from intestinal illness, but not a woman. A woman may attend a man or a woman suffering from intestinal illness.”

Other later textual sources such as the Tur (Jacob ben Asher, Arba’ah Turei), the Shulchan Aruch (Joseph Caro, Code of Jewish Law), Nachalat Yaakov (Yaakov ben Binyamin Aharon, on Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah), and the Taz (David Halevi Segal, Turei Zahav) build on this position, and all state that the reason that a man cannot shroud women is because a man has a tendency to have immediate prurient thoughts  upon the sight of a woman’s body, whereas a woman does not.

More, the subsequent responsa literature seems to all repeat the same thing, with no additional information.


The finding is that the early source, Evel Rabbati 12:10, continues to be the basis upon which this allowance of women to prepare men stands, and the only additions after this text are apparently assertions of the (we might think questionable) reason for the allowance.

We can speculate that this was at one time arrived at as a practical answer: I can imagine that in a time of war, when most men were away for extended periods for work or travel, when there were restrictions on the gathering of men in groups, or for other reasons; there may have been times when only women would have been available to perform the essential mitzvot around Taharah, whether the deceased was male or female.

That might have given rise to pressure to find a way for women to be permitted to do this task for men instead of men doing it. Women would have been engaged, even though this could be seen as fulfilling a time-bound mitzvah (one to be completed as soon as possible, and preferably within a day to permit speedy burial); a category of mitzvot for which women are generally not obligated, and some say prohibited, in halachic thought.

This is a fascinating question. We don’t have a complete answer, but the underlying ‘why’ is most intriguing.

If you know any more about this question, please feel free to be in touch or submit an article for the blog.

Do You Have a Question?

And if you have a question you would like us to look into, please send it to me at

Rabbi Joe Blair serves two small congregations in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bridgewater College, and serves as webmaster and coordinator for Jewish Values Online. He studied at, and was one of the first group of graduates from the Gamliel Institute. He serves as a staff and board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and as a faculty member and Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute. He is the editor of the Kavod v’Nichum’s blog, Expired and Inspired, which appears on the L.A. Jewish Journal blogs website. He is involved in several Chevrot Kadisha.

Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair



From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

In 2017, Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are again sponsoring a six part “Taste of Gamliel” webinar. This year’s topic is From Here to Eternity: Jewish Views on Sickness and Dying.

Each 90 minute session is presented by a different scholar. Taste of Gamliel gives participants a “Taste” of the Gamliel Institute’s web-based series of courses. The Gamliel Institute is the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute offers five on-line core courses, each 12 weeks in length, that deal with the various aspects of Jewish ritual around sickness, death, funerals, burial and mourning. Participants come from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America, with a few Israelis and British students on occasion.

Upcoming Taste of Gamliel Webinars are on February 19, March 19, April 23, May 21, and June 25. Learn from the comfort of your own home or office.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and students can see each other’s live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, ask participants to raise their virtual hands to ask questions, and call on and unmute participants when appropriate. We’ve been teaching using this model for seven years (more than 250 session). We use Zoom, a particularly friendly tool.

Webinar sessions are free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all six sessions. Online sessions are 90 minutes. Sessions begin at 5 PM PST; 8 PM EST.

Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions. Those registered will also reveive access to recordings of all six sessions.

The link to register is:

You will receive an automated acknowledgement of registration. Information and technology assistance is available after you register. Those who are registered are sent an email ahead of each webinar with log on instructions and information.

You can view a recording of the sessions after each session, so even if you need to miss one (or more), you can still hear the presentation.

More info – Call us at 410-733-3700   

Attend as many of these presentations as are of interest to you. Each session is about 90 minutes in duration. As always, there will be time for questions and discussions at the end of each program. 

The entire series is free, but we ask that you make a donation of $36 or more to help us defray the costs of providing this series. That works out to $6 for each session – truly a bargain for the valuable information and world class teachers that present it.

Click the link to register and for more information. We’ll send you the directions to join the webinar no less than 12 hours before the session.

Suggestions for future topics are welcome. 





Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama [Comfort], online, evenings in the Spring on Tuesdays (and three Thursdays – the day of the week will change in those weeks with Jewish holidays during this course). The date of classes will be from March 28 to June 13 2017. Please note: due to holidays, classes will meet on Thursdays on April 13th, April 20th, and June 1st. There will be an orientation session on Monday, March 27th, 2017.


If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the free one-time online PREVIEW of Nechama session planned for Monday evening March 6th, 2017 at 8-9:30 pm EDST. The instructors will offer highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes. You can RSVP to or call 410-733-3700.

You can register for any Gamliel Institute courses online at A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website. Please contact us for information or assistance. or, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.



Looking ahead, hold June 18-20, 2017 for the 15th annual Kavod v’Nchum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

15th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference

At Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, California June 18-20, 2017

Registration is now open. Advance prices are good through the end of February. Group discounts are available.
The conference program will include plenaries and workshops focused on Taharah, Shmirah, Chevrah Kadisha organizing, community education, gender issues, cemeteries, text study and more.

The conference is on Sunday from noon until 10pm, on Monday from 7am to 10pm, and on Tuesday from 7am to 1pm. In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six Kosher meals as part of your full conference registration. There are many direct flights to San Francisco and Oakland, with numerous options for ground transportation to the conference site.

We have negotiated a great hotel rate with Embassy Suites by Hilton. Please don’t wait to make your reservations. We also have home hospitality options. Contact us for information or to request home hospitality. 410-733-3700


Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (



If you would like to receive the Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.



If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.