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52 Weeks of Mitzvot: The Hevre Kaddisha/Burial Society

Gen 47:29-30 And the time drew near that Israel must die; and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him: 'If now I have found favor in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt. 30 But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place.' And he said: 'I will do as thou hast said.'

Chesed Shel Emet, the truest act of kindness. Our tradition teaches that one of the greatest acts of loving kindness we can do for someone is to escort them to their final resting place. For us, that means being involved from the moment of death until internment in the earth. There are many rituals and customs that surround the preparation of the body for burial that date back to ancient times.

At some point in our history we established the concept of the Hevre Kadisha, the burial society. The burial society was a very private, somewhat mysterious committee formed by the community to attend to the needs of the deceased. In fact, it was often the very first committee that a community established once they settled in an area.

There are very strict and distinct rituals and rules that the burial society follows from the moment they take possession of the body until burial. The body needs to be watched, washed and enshrouded in a set order and in a precise manner. All of it done to help preserve the dignity of the body of the deceased and to purify it in preparation for burial.

This is not an easy task, both physically and psychologically and it takes a very special person to perform these sacred duties. Those that join the committee do it out of a sense of devotion, piety and an unwavering respect for the vessel that carried the soul of a person throughout his or her life.

We have a wonderful Hevre Kadisha committee that we share with Temple Beth Sholom. We have volunteers from both synagogues that are ready at a moment’s notice to help perform this special mitzvah.

We are looking for new volunteers. Are you ready to take on this challenge? In the coming months, we will be holding a training seminar to help refresh the practices of those already involved and to teach the next generation of members of the society.

Please be in touch with me,, if you think you might be interested.

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