A dead body is considered in the Bible to be a source of ritual contamination. Anyone who came into contact with a corpse or a grave in which a corpse lay buried became contaminated and was forbidden to enter the Sanctuard until he had undergone the rites of purification by the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19). A priest, Kohen, was forbidden to come into contact with a corpse other than of one of his near relatives (Leviticus 21: 1–4).
Respect for a corpse is another matter. The Talmud compares a corpse to a Scroll of the Torah, a Sefer Torah, that has been destroyed; meaning, presumably, that, while the person was alive he carried out the precepts of the Torah with the body, now lifeless, and hence the body, like the scroll, must be buried with reverence. Thus a corpse must not be left unattended before the funeral (see DEATH and BURIAL) and must be ritually cleansed and dressed in special white shrouds. It is forbidden to enjoy any benefit from a corpse or to make use of a grave or shrouds.
Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.