Judaism has many rituals to help transition the body and soul of the deceased, and no doubt also to help the living come to terms with their loss.
In the Sephardi world one of the important places where these rituals took place was the “House of the Circuits” (Casa de Rodeos or Rodeamentos). This building served the same purpose as the House of Tahara in Ashkenazi cemeteries, and was where the ritual washing of the body was performed. In the Sephardi tradition, after the body has been purified, the burial service starts with the men present walking seven times around the body.
This is the reason, by the way, that in the case of marriages between Sephardi Jews and Ashkenazim, the former are often not keen to follow the Ashkenazi custom of the bride walking seven times around the groom. It is simply too similar to the Sephardi burial rite! There are many “sevens” at the Jewish wedding celebration, but the Sephardim draw the line at this one!
Picart’s eighteenth-century drawing depicts this ceremony in the House of the Circuits in Amsterdam’s Beth Haim Ouderkerk. The original seventeenth century tahara house was replaced in 1705 by the current building, which was renovated in 1966.
Interestingly the distinctive and haunting death’s head shown in Picart’s illustration is preserved today.