The Jewish religion has a ritual for washing and dressing the dead for burial. This ceremony, called a tahara, is conducted by volunteers with the Chevra Kaddisha, which translates to “sacred society.” During the washing part of the ritual, there’s a beautiful Jewish tradition to read poetry from the Song of Songs.
The poems are different for men and women. Both use loving descriptions to evoke images of the human form in the prime of life. These poems are recited as water is poured over the body.
Here is the section of the Song of Songs that is read for a man:
His head is like the most fine gold; his heaps of curls are black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves beside the water-brooks, bathing in milk and fitly set.
His cheeks are like a bed of species, towers of sweet herbs.
His lips are roses dripping flowing myrrh.
His arms are golden cylinders set with beryl, his body is as polished ivory overlaid with sapphires.
His legs are pillars of marble set upon foundations of fine gold, his appearance is like Lebanon, as select as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet and he is altogether precious.
This is my beloved and this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.
Here is the section of the Song of Songs that is read for a woman:
How fine you are, my love, your eyes like doves’ behind your veil
Your hair – as black as goats winding down the slopes
Your teeth – a flock of sheep rising from the stream in twos, each with its twin
Your lips – like woven threads of crimson silk
A gleam of pomegranate – your forehead through your veil
Your neck – a tower adorned with shields
Your breasts – twin fawns in fields of flowers
How fine you are, my love, my perfect one.