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I've heard that one vector for the spread of Ebola is ceremonial contact that family members have with the body of their deceased relative. That led me to think about how Judaism deals with this issue. The tahara (purification) process has volunteers, who aren't medical professionals, working with the body.

Now, I'm certain that the principle of pikuach nefesh would preculde any tahara activities that would endanger the lives of the volunteers involved. I'm wondering how this is implemented in practice and whether it's addressed explicitly in the literature.

  • Do people participating in a tahara take special precautions if the deceased had an infectious disease?

  • Are there situations in which a tahara is simply not performed for this reason?

  • Are these concerns dealt with in the Halachic literature?

  • Note that Y.D. 364:4 has several cases where no tahara is performed for reasons other than pikuach nefesh, so there is an established non-tahara procedure in general. – Yishai Oct 2 '14 at 14:47
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  • @GershonGold Reading ... Who's the writer? I just came across "אטיולוגיה" and had to look it up in Hebrew, and then in English! – Isaac Moses Oct 2 '14 at 17:02
  • Rabbi Simcha Roth from Herziliya – Gershon Gold Oct 2 '14 at 17:06
  • The answer to all your points is yes. But I bet you were looking for more than that in an answer... – Double AA Oct 2 '14 at 20:22
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I asked a member of the Greater Washington [DC] Chevra Kadisha about this, and she told me that when they receive a deceased person who had an infectious disease, they can be directed to do a procedure called a "lay-over." In this case, they do not wash or dress the body or otherwise come in contact with it. Instead, they say the appropriate prayers and simply lay the shrouds over the body.

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    +1. Note that you don't answer the OP's question "Are these concerns dealt with in the Halachic literature?" ;-) – Shokhet Nov 23 '14 at 3:00
  • @Shokhet, I agree that this is a partial answer. I am still hoping to get answers for the other parts. – Isaac Moses Nov 23 '14 at 3:01

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