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The Secret Jewish Burial Society

June 20, 2012 | By

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The hevra kadisha, or “holy fraternity,” is a group that ritually cleans a dead body before it’s buried.

A hevra kadisha exists in virtually every Jewish community. Participating in one is rarely a high-profile job, and even in the most observant Jewish communities it can be difficult to find people to volunteer for this unnerving task. Members of a hevra kadisha often keep their participation a secret–you might know someone for years before discovering that he or she is part of this mitzvah team.

Although the funeral workers take care of most burial logistics, the hevra kadisha handles many of the smaller details. When nobody else can, they stand guard over a body from the time of death until the time of burial; they wash and dress the body in a burial shroud.

In Jewish tradition, participating in a hevra kadisha is said to be the highest form of kindness–an act of charity that can never be repaid. In fact, it’s so important that the Torah commentator Rashi says (Deuteronomy 24:6) that when Moses died–alone, atop Mount Nebo–there was nobody around to perform the duty of the hevra kadisha, and so God stepped in and did the job.

To find out how to start your own hevra kadisha, click here.

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