November 15, 2019

She is Pure by Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky

Drop of Water

My first Taharah, ritual purification, was a trial of courage for me. I stepped in with little preparation, and it was new to me.

We met as the sun was going down, to prepare the metah (Hebrew for a deceased female) for burial the next morning. The difference between someone very ill, yet alive, and the shell that once had housed life is startling.

I didn’t know why, exactly, we were doing what we were, but followed the instructions of the team leader. We shared an intimacy with the metah, as we undressed and washed her, poured many quarts of water over her (bringing the mikveh or ritual bath to the metah), dried and dressed her in simple white garments, held her in our arms as we placed her in her aron, casket.

I felt as though I was getting to know her, and in caring for her in this way, I became attached to her. At the same time, I was frightened, and in a mild state of shock—continuing to function with the guidance of the team leader until our job was complete. And when we were done, she looked so peaceful, clothed in white, bonnet on her head, snug in her aron.

Afterwards, I walked out into the fresh air of the night, looked at the stars, noticed that my arms could lift all by themselves…. They didn’t need someone else to lift them! I cried for the preciousness of being alive in this dear world!

I recognized that I did not know or understand what we had done, though it felt important. During the ritual, together with the actions we performed, we paused at times to recite a liturgy unfamiliar to me. In its newness, and in my shock, I couldn’t absorb it. I felt I needed to know more about it, and now, through classes with the Gamliel Institute I have been taught why we do what we do, and learned this liturgy and find it exquisite.

What I learned is that the prayers for the Taharah ritual are a conversation between God, the team, and the deceased. The team asks God to help us in the difficult task ahead, to forgive any mistakes, omissions, or errors. We also entreat God to forgive the metah for the transgressions in her life.

We address the metah as a lover might when we wash her, reading to her from Song of Songs. We dress her as the high priest Joshua (Zechariah 3:4) was dressed as he prepared to go into the Holy of Holies (Isaiah 61:10, Zechariah 3:5), in the Temple in Jerusalem to meet God. Just so, we are preparing this soul before us to meet God. Many words of Torah are said to the deceased to comfort her (Isaiah 61:11, 58:11). We call upon sixty angels to surround both the casket and the soul on their journeys: one to the grave, the other to The World to Come.

The words of the liturgy raise a scaffolding to carry us over the liminal abyss, bringing us safely to the other side. They give us courage. They structure deep meaning into our actions and connect us with the timeless.

Rabbi Me’irah Illinsky graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2007. Both a rabbi and an artist, Iliinsky is the illustrator of National Jewish Book Award Winner, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, published by the URJ Press and the Women of Reform Judaism. She has served as a board member for Kavod V’Nichum, and been a student and instructor for the Gamliel Institute.


Gamliel Courses

The next course in the cycle of core courses offered by the Gamliel Institute will be Course 2 – Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah. It will be offered live online during the Winter from January 8th to March 26th on Tuesday evenings, for 90 minutes each week for 12 weeks. The classes will begin at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST. Primary instructor will be Rick Light, with guest instructors.

Registration is now open – click here.


Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to a free informal online session, held monthly. On the third (3rd) THURSDAY of each month, different person(s) will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is December 20th. More details will be sent out soon.

If you miss a Gamliel Café and wish access to the recording (if one is made) please send a request to receive it after the date of the session.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at,, or


Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

Gamliel Continuing Education  Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will usually be in groups of three ninety minute sessions (three consecutive Wednesdays) offered roughly twice yearly, with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms, and the second was on The World to Come and the Zohar.

The next live course will be November 28th, December 5th, and December 12th. We will continue to look at death as seen in the Zohar, with a focus on the Idra Rabbah mateials, taught by Beth Huppin. This is a stand-alone course – you do not need to have taken the prior course to register for this one.

Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for each three session series. Contact us for information, by email, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at

You can also register for prior courses and access them via recording.


Taste of Gamliel Series

The 2018 Taste of Gamliel series has concluded, but it is not too late if you want to access the recordings. You can Register for the 2018 series, Your’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone: Jewish Practices of Remembrance, or any of the series from prior years, and view them via recordings.  There are usually five sessions in a series, and each session is approximately 90 minutes.

The 2019 series is being planned now. Registration for Taste of Gamliel is mandatory to access the sessions. The Registration fee of $36 for each series helps us defray the out of pocket costs.
Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions. To register, click here: register.



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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,

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Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute] are recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, 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.

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