The Guide to the Hevrah Kadisha is to be regarded as complementary to the Guide to Funeral Practices of the United Synagogue. The Hevrah Kadisha is the name given to the congregational committee or organization whose purpose it is to perform the mitzvah of preparing the deceased for burial in accordance with Jewish tradition. The following suggestions are presented to all our congregations in the hope that they may prove helpful to those Hevrot Kadisha now functioning as well as to new ones which may be formed.
- The Hevrah Kadisha shall be a standing committee of the congregation functioning under the guidance of and with the cooperation of the Rabbi and Hazan. In some congregations, the Hevrah Kadisha is a separate corporation though legally associated with the congregation.
- Congregations may find it advisable to join with other congregations in forming a common Hevrah Kadisha to serve all associated for this purpose.
- The Hevrah Kadisha should be a committee distinct and apart from the Cemetery Committee. Where such separation is not feasible, the committees may be merged.
- The duties of the Hevrah Kadisha are among the most important mitzvot incumbent upon us. Membership should be regarded as a distinct honor carrying with it the appreciation and respect of the entire congregation. Members of the Hevrah Kadisha include men and women who serve and perform their duties willingly and piously.
In some congregations, members of the Hevrah Kadisha are honored annually by a special congregational dinner, usually on the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the Yahrzeit of Moses and the traditional day for the annual meeting and Seudat Mitzvah of the Hevrah Kadisha.
- In the areas where there are Jewish funeral establishments, the Hevrah Kadisha stands in readiness to arrange for the funeral of the deceased, the date and the hour, in consultation with the bereaved family, the Rabbi and the Hazan.
- In areas where there are no Jewish funeral establishments, the Hevrah Kadisha shall, with permission, relieve the family of this task and together with the Rabbi and Hazan make the arrangements itself.
- The Hevrah Kadisha shall arrange for the Taharah, the ritual washing of the body. The Taharah rite should preferably be performed by members of the Hevrah Kadisha. This is the practice in most Hevrot Kadisha. Where this is not possible, persons hired especially for this purpose may be used.
- Tachrichim (white linen shrouds) shall be used to clothe the deceased. Other garments shall not be used. This is in keeping with the Jewish tradition that in death all are equal.
- Every adult male shall, in addition to the tachrichim, be buried with a kipah and a talit which has been rendered pasul, namely in a talit from which one fringe has been removed.
- A Jewish tradition requires that the deceased be attended to continuously from the moment of death until burial and that his/her memory be honored by the reading of Psalms during the night before the funeral by shomrim (watchers).
- Shomrim are usually drawn from friends of the deceased. If this is not possible, the Hevrah Kadisha shall provide the shomrim.
- Interment traditionally occurs no later than one day after death. Under exceptional circumstances, the Rabbi should be consulted.
- To emphasize the equality of all in death, Jewish tradition calls for simplicity and bars ostentatious display. The Guide to Funeral Practices of the United Synagogue should be consulted and followed.
- The Hevrah Kadisha shall offer assistance in arranging for a burial plot in conjunction with the Cemetery Committee.
Period of Mourning
- During the Shivah period, the Hevrah Kadisha or other appropriate committee shall assure wherever possible that a minyan convenes morning and evening at the home of the mourner.
- It should provide prayer books, talitot, kipot and tefillin.
Adopted by the Committee on Congregational Standards. Revised June 1998 from 10/27/65.
Originally published on The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and republished with permission.