By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
Close to 300 innocent people lost their lives as flight MH17 was downed in a cruel act of terrorism. But the aftermath of this tragedy just added insult to injury. With bodies strewn around the crash site for days and personal effects scattered everywhere, Ukrainian separatists were seen pocketing valuables and electronic equipment from the site.
This tragedy also pushed out the boundaries of acceptable journalism, with one reporter rummaging through suitcases in front of the camera, displaying the victims’ personal effects for all to see. It is hardly surprising these scenes were a source of incredible pain and heartache to already-grieving families and friends. Judaism places great value on respect for the dead, which is known in Hebrew as kavod hamet. We go to great lengths to ensure that due honour is shown to the deceased.
Halacha places great value in arranging the funeral in a timely fashion and avoiding invasive post-mortem examinations wherever possible. The men and women of the chevra kadisha are known to accord the greatest respect for the body as they prepare it for funeral and after having done so, still ask the deceased for forgiveness in case they made any mistakes during the tahara process. Those who are involved in preparing the dead for burial are considered to be doing one of the greatest acts of kindness possible.
This is known as chessed shel emmet, coming from a place of true altruism, as the deceased can never repay the favour, or even say ‘thank you’. One reason why we accord such great respect to the body is because it houses the soul during its lifetime and will be united again with it at the end of days, at the time of the resurrection of the dead.
Furthermore, it is an expression of recognition of acts of goodness and kindness that the body does during its sojourn in this world. Our display of respect is in essence an act of faith that the body and soul will be united again in the future.
The contrast between these ideas and the disrespect shown to both the bodies from the stricken MH17 and their property is a stark one and a source of much consternation. We hope and pray that the families receive comfort in the fullness of time and long for the time when all of mankind will dwell in peace and harmony.
• Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is an educator at Aish UK. Twitter: @rjroodyn