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Preparing the Body for Burial
For most Jews in North America who live in or near large cities, a Jewish funeral home or synagogue burial society (called a "hevra kedishah" in Hebrew) perform the preparations of the body for burial. These include watching the body between the time of death and the funeral ("shmirah") and ritual washing of the body ("taharah"). In some Jewish conceptions of life after death, the burial society accompanies the soul on the first part of its journey from the body.
Jewish law mandates prompt burial and respectful treatment of the body; ideally, the body should be buried within 24 hours of death. It is acceptable to delay burial only in limited circumstances. These include observance of the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday evening), and allowing immediate family members to travel a long distance to be present for the funeral. If you are the family member making funeral arrangements for someone who has requested a Jewish funeral, consult a rabbi or a Jewish funeral home for advice if you have a question. It is their job to provide knowledgeable and compassionate help.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.