I will conclude today’s newsletter with an item that might be no less unsettling, but is decidedly more gruesome. Yet, like the story of the young Israel policeman, it contains an element of heroism—and more importantly, an element of holiness. Dovid Efune explains the special requirements that Jewish law imposes on the burial of those who have died “for the sanctification of God’s name.” That is, those who have died because they are Jews:
Burial of the dead is a meticulous process in the Jewish tradition. Bodies are thoroughly cleaned, groomed, and nails are cut. Then, in a ritual known as “taharah,” or “purification,” the body is immersed in a pool of cold water known as a mikveh. Not so for the more than 1,300 victims of Saturday’s assault on southern Israel. They are considered to have the unique status of “k’doshim” (holy ones), or martyrs, in Jewish law.
“When it comes to someone who was killed [for the sanctification of God’s name], Jewish law dictates that we don’t touch anything,” explains Rabbi Elyada Goldwicht. “The way the person is found is the way that he’s buried. He is buried with his clothing, with his shoes, with his pants, with everything that’s on.” The deceased martyr doesn’t need purification because he or she has have already attained the pinnacle of holiness due to the nature of their death, explains Rabbi Goldwicht.
There are few men who have come into contact with the bodies of as many martyrs as Rabbi Goldwicht has. As a reservist in an Israel Defense Forces search and rescue unit, he’s been working since the weekend in twelve-hour shifts at the IDF rabbinate’s Shura base, near Ramle in central Israel, to identify and prepare hundreds of bodies for burial.
Showing utmost respect in the handling of the bodies is also fundamental, Rabbi Goldwicht says. Bodies are never thrown or dropped. “We ask for forgiveness” if a body is moved. Stepping over a body is also forbidden. “If a drop of blood comes out, we collect it and wipe it off the floor so that it can be buried” with the deceased.