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What is a Chevra Kadisha?

Most simply, a chevrah kadisha, or "holy society," is the group of people within a Jewish community who attend to the dead by performing shmirah* and taharah**.  In all instances, the chevrah’s goal is to provide kavod  hameit (honoring the dead), and nichum aveilim (comforting the mourners).

Not sure that you want to participate in the Chevrah’s core rituals? Not sure how comfortable you are with the idea of death, but open to learning more? Don’t worry, the Chevrah is more than happy to have you as a member! Think of the Chevrah as a community of people who are interested in finding ways to affirm life without denying the realities of death; who want to honor the life-cycle in all its manifestations. There are many ways to participate! In addition to the care we show the deceased and their mourners, BHA’s Chevrah also provides educational (and, yes, entertainment!) opportunities for the BHA community around end of life issues. Here’s just a partial list: Death Cafes, in which a safe space is provided to talk about death-related topics; Eth Cafes addressing the writing of ethical wills; living will/advance directive workshops; tachrichim (shrouds) sewing circles; movie nights and more. We also have a robust and engaging chavurah called Ruach that meets once a month, (see the description also linked under “Get Involved”). 

For more information, use the contact form on this page or email Matt Harle at matt.harle@beaconhebrewalliance.org.

Shmirah

In Jewish tradition, the dead are never left alone between the time of death and burial. Shmirah, from the Hebrew word "to keep" or "to guard," is the practice of accompanying the body during this time. Traditionally, people performing shmirah (usually in two hour shifts) will read Psalms or other literature in a present, mindful way. Ideally, shmirah continues 24 hours a day, before and after taharah, up until burial. 


Taharah

Taharah, “purity,” is the practice of preparing a body for burial, and includes the following steps: 

  • Washing the body 
  • Reciting prayers throughout the process 
  • Pouring water over the body (or immersing the body in water) 
  • Dressing the body in traditional white cotton or linen garments called tachrichim 
  • Placing the body in a plain wooden casket 
Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyyar 5784