Main piece: There’s a tradition of washing your hands after a funeral so you don’t bring death into the house. If you’ve been near a dead body, you want to get the death off your hands. You don’t want to bring death into your house. Even after my dad’s funeral, friends of my mother, who had stayed back to help with the catering and the flowers, they put a pitcher outside. I was impressed by all that actually. It’s what you do. Some cemeteries have a water fountain. Outside Jewish funeral homes there’s a place to wash your hands.
Background: My informant is a 51 year-old Jewish woman. The majority of the funerals she has attended have been in Jewish cemeteries with Jewish burial practices. She doesn’t remember where she learned the practice exactly, but she recalls vividly seeing the pitcher of water outside a Jewish funeral home at her aunt’s funeral when she was fourteen. The logic makes sense to her, and she has partaken in this ritual many times before.
Context: I was talking to my informant about Jewish traditions, and this was the first one that occurred to her.
Analysis: This practice makes a lot of sense. A funeral is a liminal space, as it is the final celebration of the life of someone who is now deceased. With that comes a lot of uncertainty, and fear that death can come for anyone else next. By washing your hands before entering a home, you don’t cross the doorway between a graveyard or a cemetery – a place of death, and your house – a place where you live/where life happens. This also promotes the idea that death can linger/cling to a live person, and having a ritualistic cleansing of death from your hands encourages a sense of protection, and that it won’t come for you next.