web analytics
July 6, 2015 / 19 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


The History Of The Chevra Kadisha

Katz-020714

Chaim Steinmetz, spiritual leader of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Montreal, tells a story about the time he was asked to perform a tahara – the ritual washing and cleansing of a recently deceased body before burial – at the same time as the Super Bowl. Steinmetz vacillated between fulfilling his duty as part of the chevra kadisha and missing the big game. He ultimately chose to do the tahara, even though he missed the first half of the Super Bowl.

A chevra kadisha – which translates literally to “holy brotherhood” – is an organization responsible for caring for the deceased. Members of these organizations supervise the body (an ancient Jewish custom to protect it from outside elements), cleanse it in a ritual bath, and oversee the burial. Ira Weinstock, a history professor at Touro College, says that the first known chevra kadisha was “probably Moshe and the Jews who carried the body of Joseph out of Egypt and through the desert, to bury it in Israel.”

Historians trace the first formal chevra kadisha back to the fourth century, according to Jewish Life in the Middle Ages. Authors Israel Abrahams and Cecil Roth quote the Talmud in Mo’ed Katan, which states that Rabi Chamnuna – who died in 320 CE – was in the town of Daro when he heard a horn sound, indicating that someone had just died. When he asked why the people around him continued to go about their business without stopping to attend to the deceased, he was told that there was an organization that deals with these matters.

According to the Aukland Chevra Kadisha’s website, the first formal organization that functions as most do today was formed in Prague in 1564. Nine years later, rules and procedures were implemented. The Aukland Chevra Kadisha, located in New Zealand, says that Jews began to immigrate there in the 1830s, and while burials took place for decades after, the first formal chevra kadisha in New Zealand was founded in 1906.

While chevrei kadisha had formed in other parts of the world much earlier, many were part of an umbrella organization, and not separate entities. In The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914, author Marsha Rozenblit writes that in 1852, the Jewish community of Austria had set up the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde – which translates literally to “Israelite Community” – to administer the various needs of the people. This included “the establishment and maintenance of synagogues, supervision of such religious concerns as kosher meat, ritual baths, Passover matzah … [and] a burial society.”

An article in an 1889 edition of Jewish Quarterly Review entitled “Letters from Austria” similarly lauds the community’s involvement in its chevra kadisha. “Most communities, it must be acknowledged, recognize the holiness of these duties, and assign a prominent place among their charities to the Chevra Kadisha,” writes the author, whose name is not given. The writer goes on to discuss the greatness of the chevra kadisha of Budapest, which performed not only the duties in which all the others are involved, but had opened “an Infirmary and a Home for the Aged Needy.”

With the influx of Jews into the United States during the mid-19th century, chevrei kadisha began forming by the dozens. Today, there are about 40 chevrei kadisha in New York State alone, and hundreds throughout the country. But among the best known is the Hebrew Free Burial Association. According to The HFBA’s website, the organization started in the 1888. Back then, when people died and did not have money for a cemetery plot, they were buried in a mass grave, sometimes after having spent up to a month in a morgue. The HFBA wanted Jews to have dignified, as well as prompt, burials in keeping with the tradition of burying a Jewish body as soon after the death as possible. The organization still exists today, and according to its website, has buried 60,000 Jews according to halacha.

About the Author: Barry Katz is a college administrator and adjunct professor who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children. He can be contacted at iambarrykatz@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

8 Responses to “The History Of The Chevra Kadisha”

  1. after i began performing tahara in denver,my mother,ah,told me her father,ah [who i am named after] was the head of the chevra kadiasha in our hometown,portsmouth,va.

  2. what’s this got to do with the ritual burial of the dead?

  3. Sabbat Shaloam, sabbat Tov.

  4. Victor Weisz says:

    as an x member of the Chevrut Kaddisha in Finchley London , as far as i remember
    one cannot use a mikveh(ritual bath) for a Teharah, as this would make the Mikvah
    as this would deem the milvah unclean

  5. 1. not accurate, 2. there are mikvaot just for tahara

  6. Was hoping to find out the reason for tradition of placing rocks on Jewish tombstones..anybody?!?

  7. Mindy Eisen says:

    As far as I understand, it stems from ancient times, when as a kindness passers-by would add stones to maintain grave markers, which were susceptible to deteriorate over time, if not attended to.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Rings with Islamic State slogans on them.
Shin Bet Foils ISIS Terror Cell in Negev Bedouin Town
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

Orlando was once a place where people came only to visit and vacation. Now it is home to a burgeoning Torah community, a place Jewish families can be proud to call home.

Neuman-Rabbi-M-Gary

You’re not seeking perfection. You’re seeking a life that an average person can manage and feel good about. Don’t feel pressure to change everything at once.

South-Florida-logo

The smuggler’s life has been changed forever. He is faced with a major criminal charge. He will probably be sent to prison.

book-Culture-Shock

In Culture Shock, readers will also come to identify with a culture from the other end of Orthodox Jewry’s spectrum.

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Executive Function Disorder (EFD) have trouble keeping themselves organized and on-task.

Our Sages have told us exactly how we should act – and how our children should act – in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers.

A second supposed difficulty actually becomes a reason to corroborate that Amestris is Esther.

I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other.

“Thanks to a local philanthropist who shares our core mission, we now are able to connect more Jewish teens to Israel than ever before,” said Todd Cohn, executive director of Southern NCSY.

In September 2013 he was appointed head rabbi of the IDF Central Command and is currently in charge of special projects for the IDF chief rabbinate.

How efficient to kill two birds with one stone – or booking. Actually three birds, since I invited a man I had commiserated with while waiting my turn to join me.

My children encouraged me to date and even set me up with a very special man.

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

Marceau suggested a dark reason for his wordless art: “The people who came back from the [concentration] camps were never able to talk about it…. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

More Articles from Barry Katz
Katz-010215

There are several reasons – aside from the aesthetics – why big shuls should continue to exist.

Katz-020714

Today, there are about 40 chevrei kadisha in New York State alone, and hundreds throughout the country.

The spectrum of special-needs children ranges from mental to physical to psychological and sometimes all three. A 2008 study by the United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 14 percent of children in this country fit into this category, and about 20 percent of families have at least one special-needs child. The definition of a special-needs child can range from one who is diagnosed with a mild learning disability to one who has a life-threatening condition, such as cystic fibrosis. This article will focus on the more severe categories.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/the-history-of-the-chevra-kadisha/2014/02/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: