Literally “sacred society,” the chevra kadisha is the volunteer group that performs the final rites for the Jewish deceased. According a Jew with a proper Jewish burial is considered a sacred duty and a great kindness, and it is an honor to be included in this group of dedicated volunteers.

The contemporary chevra kadisha often works hand-in-hand with funeral parlors, cemeteries, hospitals and families to ensure that the Jewish dead are accorded the highest form of dignity and respect. While the work of the chevra kadisha may begin with visiting people at the end of their lives and continues through the burial (and beyond), some of their tasks have been taken over by funeral directors and cemetery staff.

Read What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral


An important duty of the chevra kadisha is the taharah (“purification”), which entails gently washing the body with water, grooming it, and clothing it in a plain white kittel (“shroud”) and other garments. The chevra kadisha treats the body with utmost respect, uncovering the body only as necessary and even begging for forgiveness for the intrusion. In the spirit of modesty, women perform the taharah on women, and men do the same for men.1

Some ancient Jewish cemeteries had a dedicated shed (“taharah shtibel”) where the chevra kadisha did their work. Today it is often (but not always) done in funeral parlors.

Read One Woman’s Experience Doing a Taharah

A Great Honor

Chevra kadishas have been in place since Talmudic times.2 In Europe of yesteryear it was an honor to be a member of the chevra kadisha, and great Torah scholars and communal leaders were admitted to this society as a mark of distinction.3 In communities around the world the dedicated men and women of the chevra kadisha are the unsung heroes of the community, quietly and humbly performing their sacred duty night after night.

In Israel, where terror has become an unfortunate part of everyday life, ZAKA is a chevra kadisha that specializes in retrieving and caring for the remains of the victims of suicide bombings and other violent acts. They go to great lengths to ensure that every drop of blood is collected and buried in the most honorable fashion. Reaching well beyond Israel, in 2005 ZAKA was recognized by the United Nations as an international volunteer humanitarian organization, and it is often called upon to assist other countries following disasters.

Read More About ZAKA

A Celebrated Cause

In times of famine and plague, Jews would risk their lives in order to collect the Jewish dead and provide them with a Jewish burial. When Jews arrived in new lands, the chevra kadisha was often among the first institutions founded, along with a mikvah and a synagogue.

Assisting the deceased on their final earthly journey is considered a great mitzvah. Indeed, we are told that since Moses cared for the remains of Joseph, he merited that G‑d Himself oversaw his burial. This is considered chessed shel emet, the ultimate kindness, since the deceased are not able to repay their benefactors.

Many chevra kadishas have the custom to fast one day a year—often on 7 Adar, the anniversary of Moses’ passing—and then to hold a celebratory feast that evening. Others hold this fast/feast on 29 Shevat or 15 Kislev.4

During the course of the fast day the members of the chevra kadisha visit the cemetery, where they pray, ask forgiveness from the deceased, and check for needed repairs.