A Chevra Kadisha is a dedicated group of Jewish men and women whose responsibility is to see that the bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish law and are protected until burial. Two of the main requirements are the showing of proper respect for the dead, Kavod ha-met, and the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial.
The task of the Chevra Kadisha is considered to be a mitzvah because tending to the dead is a favour that the recipient cannot return, making it devoid of ulterior motives. Its work is therefore referred to as a chesed shel emet (a good deed of truth).
At the heart of this is the ritual of tahara, or purification. The body is first thoroughly cleansed, and then ritually purified by immersion in, or a continuous flow of, water from the head over the entire body. Once the body is purified, the body is dressed in tachrichim (shrouds), of white pure cotton/linen garments made up of ten pieces for a male and twelve for a female, which are identical for each Jew and which symbolically recalls the garments worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Once the body is dressed, the casket is closed.
The Society may also provide shomrim (watchers) to watch over the body until burial. In some communities this is done by people close to the departed or by paid shomrim hired by UHMC. It is a way of honouring the deceased.
A specific task for the burial society is tending to the dead who have no immediate next-of-kin. These are termed a meit mitzvah (a mitzvah corpse), as tending to a meit mitzvah is an important commandment.
Our Chevra Kadisha holds an annual dinner and learning session on the 7th of Adar which commemorates the death of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses).