|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
Tachrichim (burial shrouds) are traditional simple white burial garments, usually made from 100% pure linen, in which Jews are dressed by the Chevra Kadisha for burial after undergoing a taharah (ritual purification).
In Hebrew, tachrichim means to "enwrap" or "bind." It comes from the verse in Megilas Esther (Chapter 8; verse 15) "And Mordechai left the king's presence in royal apparel of blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen (tachrich butz) and purple, and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was happy".
The traditional clothing for burying the dead are tahrihim, simple white shrouds. Their use dates back to Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel II, who, in the second century CE, asked to be buried in inexpensive linen garments. According to the Talmud, Rabban Gamliel observed that the custom of dressing the deceased in expensive clothing put such a terrible burden on the relatives of the deceased, that they would "abandon the body and run."
The custom he initiated - which set both a decorous minimum and a limit on ostentation - has been followed by observant Jews ever since. "Whoever heaps elaborate shrouds upon the dead transgresses the injunction against wanton destruction. Such a one disgraces the deceased." The universal use of shrouds protected the poor from embarrassment at not being able to afford lavish burial clothes. Since shrouds have no pockets, wealth or status cannot be expressed or acknowledged in death. In every generation, these garments reaffirmed a fundamental belief in human equality.
Shrouds are white and entirely hand-stitched. They are made without buttons, zippers, or fasteners. Tahrihim come in muslin or linen, fabrics that recall the garments of the ancient Hebrew priesthood. There is little difference in appearance or cost between them; the funeral home may or may not offer a choice. Tahrihim come packaged in sets for men and women. Regardless of gender, they include shirt, pants, a head covering, and a belt. Men may also be wrapped in a kittel, a simple, white ceremonial jacket that some Jews wear on Yom Kippur, at the Passover seder, and under the wedding canopy.
If the body has been prepared for burial with ritual cleansing (taharah), the body will automatically be dressed in tahrihim. Jewish funeral homes and burial societies (hevra kadishas) in general have a supply on hand, and the cost may be covered by their honorarium.
In addition to tahrihim, some Jews are wrapped in the prayer shawl (tallit) in which they prayed. Every tallit is tied with four sets of knotted fringes (tzitzit), which symbolize the commandment (mitzvot) incumbent upon Jews. Before the tallit is placed on a body for burial, however, one of the sets of fringes is cut to demonstrate that the person is no longer bound by the religious obligations of the living. When only men wore tallitot, only men were buried in them; today, any woman who wore a prayer shawl during her lifetime — an increasingly common custom — is accorded the same treatment in many communities.
Tahrihim swaddle the entire body, including the face, so that the deceased is both clothed and protected against the gaze of other people. If shrouds are used, the body is placed in the coffin, which is then closed. In Israel, it is customary to bury the deceased (except soldiers) without a coffin.
The body is clothed in a white linen shroud and not street clothes. Shrouds are sewn without knots, and are a multiple piece garment. In earlier times, the sisterhoods or women's auxiliaries would make shrouds for their community; this practice may still occur in traditional communities. Today, virtually all (Jewish) mortuaries carry shrouds. The prices vary, depending on whether it is cotton or linen, or whether it is hand sewn.