jewish Funeral Guide

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Jewish Burial Society

Chevra Kadisha - Past and Present

In the past, membership in the Chevra Kadisha / חברה קדישא — Sacred (burial) Society was usually handed down from father to son. As a rule, a burial society was one of the first community institutions to be established in the founding of any Jewish community. The Chevrah Kadishah was responsible for everything related to burial - from pronouncing death to Jewish cemetery maintenance. The Chevra Kadisha had the responsibility to provide burial for all the members of the community, rich and poor alike. The family of the deceased was charged for the burial in accordance with their financial means. Only poor families were served free of charge.

Nowadays, burial societies that work with local mortuaries are organized by the synagogues to assure proper Jewish burial of the deceased members of their congregation. There are also Chevrot Kadisha who serve an entire Jewish population in a particular geographic location. As in the past, Chevra Kadisha members are volunteers, but today their powers and responsibilities are more limited.

However, not every synagogue has such a society. In major metropolises, many Jewish Funeral Homes have people who perform the functions of Chevra Kadisha members. Oftentimes, a Jewish mortuary is actually called Chevra Kadisha, especially in Israel. We should note, however, that Funeral Homes, even Jewish ones, serve a wide range of people. Among the clients of a funeral home are observant, traditional, secular and assimilated Jews, and some of the funeral directors are eager to accommodate any lawful request. Therefore, certain funeral and burial arrangements they offer may be incompatible with Jewish law and tradition. While arrangements such as flowers and funeral music are simply not in the spirit of Jewish tradition, other things like embalming, cremation and most types of mausoleums and aboveground burials are expressly forbidden by Jewish Law.