In the Jewish tradition, the death and the final farewell of a loved one are considered an essential part of human existence. That existence does not end when life departs from the body. For the deceased person, a new day arises in a future celestial world.This principle of faith forms the basis for Jewish rules and traditions in dealing with death.
The panels in this washing house give a bird's eye view of some of these rules and traditions.
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You are now inside the washing house which was used for the ritual cleansing of the deceased. In addition, a funeral sermon was usually given here before burial in this cemetery.
As the cemetery filled up, the number of burials in The Hague declined and the ritual house was used only sporadically. In 1906, the Jewish community consecrated a new cemetery in Wassenaar.
In the late 1980s, as part of an intensive restoration of the cemetery, this building was restored to its original state. A new stained glass window depicting the Star of David was installed in the front and rear gables.
Jewish belief demands that the dying be undisturbed. The Talmud (commentaries by rabbis on the Hebrew Bible) for example, prescribes that woodcutters in the vicinity must rest their axes so that the sound of their chopping won’t disturb the dying person. Dying undisturbed also means that the dying process may not be accelerated or slowed down by the outside world. Nor shall any action be taken which may give the impression that the end is near. When it is clear that life is draining away, nothing must stand in the way of death. The soul must be able to leave the body in peace.
The eyes of the deceased are closed and his or her arms are placed along the body. Then the corpse is covered with a simple white sheet. Looking at a dead person, even of the face, is considered to be an attack on the spiritual integrity of the concept of man. It is better, also for the process of mourning, to cherish the memory of the living face.
As the first sign of mourning, close relatives, especially if they are religious, make a rent of about ten centimeters in the collar or lapel of their clothing.
A Jewish community has a chevre or burial society, a group of volunteers who look after the remains immediately following the death. There is a male and a female chevre. The family of the deceased then does not have to worry about the organization of cleaning and burial.
The time of the funeral is decided in consultation with the family. The funeral must take place as soon as possible.
In the Netherlands, this means as soon as possible after the legally prescribed period of 36 hours between death and burial.
The members of the chevre undress and wash the body in the washing house according to ancient regulations and their traditions. Disrobing, washing, and dressing are done while the body is hidden from view by white sheets. No words are spoken during cleansing, other than the instructions from the head of the chevre.
After cleansing, warm water is poured over the body, the actual Taharah. Then the body is pronounced clean and may be dressed.
Both clothing and coffin are as simple as possible. The Talmud calls for no distinction to be made in material wealth when paying last respects.
Before the coffin is closed by members of the chevre, the body is sprinkled with earth from the holy land of Israel.
The Torah obliges the body to be buried in an intact state. This stems from the belief in the eventual resurrection of the deceased. Also, the body as the shell of the soul may not be damaged. For these reasons according to Jewish religious laws, cremation is not allowed.
During the levaya - literally 'accompaniment' - a sermon is usually said in the washing house. The coffin is then carried to the grave by close family and friends and lowered there. Male attendants take turns throwing three shovels of sand into the grave, followed by a prayer for the peace of mind of the deceased.
According to Jewish tradition, for the sake of simplicity, the grave is not adorned with flowers or wreaths.
Immediately after the funeral, religious Jews, in particular, observe shiva ('shiwwe' in the Dutch Jewish tradition), a week of mourning during which visitors come to the family of the deceased to offer comfort. Services are held in the home. Children of the deceased follow a year-long mourning period in which, for example, they do not attend festive occasions, buy new clothes or listen to music. Only after this period may they resume their own lives.
During the year of mourning, the kaddish prayer is said by relatives at the synagogue services, in which the divine name is sanctified. The grave is visited annually on the date of death (the 'yearly time').
Jewish belief assumes an eventual moment of resurrection. Bodies rest until that moment, the time and form of which are beyond human comprehension.
Thus, Jewish cemeteries must be in perpetual rest, which is why clearing Jewish graves and transferring the remains elsewhere are not permitted, barring exceptional situations.
A stone (matzeivah) is placed in the first year after death.
On the stone, sayings from the Talmud are used to describe the virtues of the deceased and possibly his or her role in the Jewish community. The last line is often a Hebrew abbreviation of the wish that the "soul of the deceased will be bundled into the bundle of eternal life", a reference to the Jewish belief in a later resurrection.
A grave must be clearly recognizable not only for the sake of the family but also because the kohanim (cohen, priests) are forbidden by the Torah to be near graves. By staying away from graves, the kohanim maintain their ritual purity.
One custom is to leave a small pebble on the grave when visiting, as a reminder of the deceased, the funeral, and the visit.