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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayechi

The Embalming of Yakov & Yosef: Does Jewish Law Allow It?

Rabbi Stewart WeissTevet 16 5781
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Embalming is the filling of parts of a dead body with (aromatic) substances to prevent decay & putrefaction. Egyptians, experts at this ancient art, believed an embalmed body insured a pleasant after-life. Some poskim hold embalming is allowed in certain circumstances, such as for a delayed burial like Yakov’s, due to honoring the dead (kavod ha-met).Others allow it only if no cuts are made in the body, while others prohibit any type of embalming whatsoever. This is the normative Halacha today, because the decay of the body is a necessary element in the granting of kapara, atonement. In fact, if the deceased left orders to be embalmed after his death, we disregard those instructions. As for Yakov & Yosef, both of whom were embalmed, some say Yakov asked to be embalmed; others say Yosef erred by allowing/ordering Yakov to be embalmed; still others say that, as VIP’s in Egypt, the ruling authorities would have insisted that these great men, like the Pharaohs, should also be embalmed.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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