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In Bereishit ch 50 v 2 we read of Joseph embalming Yaakov:

"וַיְצַו יוֹסֵף אֶת־עֲבָדָיו אֶת־הָרֹפְאִים לַחֲנֹט אֶת־אָבִיו וַיַּחַנְטוּ הָרֹפְאִים אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

Then Joseph ordered the physicians in his service to embalm his father, and the physicians embalmed Israel. "

Embalming is not practiced today. Is there an approach to embalming that Joseph could have used that would be Halachically permissible? This site talks about Halachically acceptable forms of embalming, but does not go into much detail:

As time goes on, and our knowledge of chemistry advances, other methods may be developed which Jewish law may consider legitimate.

Perhaps there was a Halachically acceptable approach to embalming that was used by Joseph. If so, what might it have entailed?

Addendum: When searching the web using some of the information in the answer below, I ran across this site which asks, "Was Joseph Punished for Embalming Yakov's Body?"


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    Do you mean vaychi? Wouldn't "mummification" be a better translation? – Double AA Dec 16 '18 at 15:03
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    You may be interested in hakirah.org/Vol23Landa.pdf – Double AA Dec 16 '18 at 15:05
  • @DoubleAA Several translations say embalm. Why do you suggest mummification? – Yehuda W Dec 16 '18 at 18:23
  • Probably it's worth asking about possible Halachical issues with mummification. – Al Berko Dec 16 '18 at 21:13
  • Don't know why that link does not give the answer of the Malbim when he uses the question – sam Dec 18 '18 at 15:01
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The Malbim 50:2 asks this question . He wonders why Yosef would allow such a process if it seems to stem from Egyptian religious beliefs. The Malbim explains that usally when a person dies there neshama leaves the body immediately, but the ruach does not depart right away . The ruach departs after the body decays ,this happens because one was not able to make his ruach into a purely ruchni thing. Yaakov on the other hand achieved completeness in this area he was able to actualize his whole being into a ruchni existence and hence did not need his body to decay, since his ruach departed at the same time as his neshama.

The Malbim also notes that the passuk says that they embalmed Yisrael and did not use the term Yaakov since it was Yisroel who over came this idea to become a complete neshama (ruach). So Yaakov who was a unique case since he did not require decomposition, so mummification would be fine .

[Disclaimer: This is not an easy Malbim to read so if anyone has any further insight please contribute. ]

For halacha l'maaseh the Rashba discusses this .The Radvaz 1:484 brings the Rashba ,they seem to hold that if it is done to honor or for some vaild purpose then it would be permmited. (On a side note: there is a teshuva from the Radvaz 3:979 about eating a mummy if it is mutar or not ).

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This is a very good question, as we should understand why the Torah tells us that Yossef embalmed Israel. There are two approaches:

  1. Israel truly died and the Egyptian doctors made effort to preserve his body till his burial in the Holy Land (Rashi, Ibn Ezra). According to this approach, the embalming is Halachic (though it is not clear to what extent, as the Torah does not specify the details) - as long as all the organs are buried and not wasted. Some suggest that the embalming was only external to provide the body a good scent (similar to Yossef when he was taken down to Egypt).

  2. Israel didn't really die (see Alshaich that brings the Sages' tradition). The embalmment was needed to pretend he died so the Egyptian will not turn Yaakov into their idol, so Yossef commanded to undergo the regular procedure that will deceive them to think so. According to this approach, we can't learn from this story to the Halachah.

"ויציו וכו'. והנה ארז"ל (תענית דף ה') כי יעקב אבינו לא מת ואיך נחנט? אך לזה נשית לב אל אומר את עבדיו את הרופאים מאי את עוד או' ויחנטו הרופאים כי ידוע שהרופאים חנטו אותו. והיל"ל ויחנטו את ישראל וגם אומרו ישראל מיותר והיה די יאמר ויחנטו אותו. וכו'"

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