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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Dennis-Harburg

Rosehill Tahara

Rosehill Tahara
image by David Ridge

This week the Rosehill Tahara was severely damaged by a fire. The cause of the fire is as yet unknown. Although the building hasn't been used as a burial house since 2006, it is the last Jewish building in Doncaster and so has huge cultural significance for the community.

What is a Tahara?

A tahara house (bet tahara; "purification house") is where the body of the deceased is purified and prepared for the grave. The body is washed (rechitza), purified (tahara), and dressed (halbasha). Prayers and passages from the Torah are read at various points throughout the ritual preparation of the body.

Rosehill's Tahara

Records show a small Jewish population in Doncaster from the 1820's, however the community was not formally established until 1913. An agreement was reached with the Leeds Old Hebrew Congregation for burial services in Gildersome. The purification house in Rosehill Cemetery was completed in 1936 , funded by Alderman Samuel Morris, who served as Mayor of Doncaster. It allowed the community to inter their loved ones closer to home, in the Rosehill Cemetery off Cantley Lane rather than making the 30+ mile trip to Leeds.

image by David Ridge

Despite the congregation falling under the Sheffield United Hebrew Congregation, and being adopted by the New Central Vilna Synagogue in Leeds after the dissolution, Rosehill continued to be used for tahara until 2006. The value of being able to prepare loved ones for burial close to home cannot be understated.

After the last funeral the building was gifted to Rosehill Cemetery and has been used as a storeroom for the grounds workers' tools. In return, the staff look after and maintain the Jewish burial plots in the cemetery.

This building is the last physical reminder of Doncaster's Jewish population. It carries cultural and emotional significance. The Jewish population in Doncaster has never been large - in 1979 when the synagogue closed the Jewish Chronicle recorded just six families living here. But to lose the tahara will effectively erase our presence entirely. Over the coming weeks we must find a way to protect and sustain Jewish heritage in Doncaster. The tahara is more than just bricks and mortar, it represents a small, yet perfectly formed community which still has much to contribute to our city.

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