Chewra Kadischa (Aramaic חֶבְרָא קַדִישָא, German holy brotherhood or holy society ) or burial brotherhood is the name given to the burial societies that have existed in Jewish communities since early modern times and are dedicated to the ritual burial of the deceased.
The members of the Chewra Kadischa work on a voluntary basis, the societies are financed through donations.
Whether the Chewra Kadisha, which is exclusively dedicated to the needs of the dying and deceased, goes back to old Jewish traditions or was influenced by institutions of the Christian guilds , is disputed. Its origin is believed to be in medieval Spain. After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, it came to Central Europe via Italy. From Prague , where it is guaranteed in 1564, it made its way to Germany, where numerous burial societies were founded in the 16th and 17th centuries, for example in 1597 in Frankfurt, 1609 in Worms , 1662 in Mainz , 1670 in Hamburg or 1703 Königsberg (Prussia) .
In 1763 the Viennese Chewra Kadischa was founded. This event took place in spite of the restrictive laws of Maria Theresa for Jews and marks after the second expulsion of Jews from Austria by Leopold I . the beginning of a new era of Jewish life in Vienna.
The societies, which were organized as brotherhoods and accepted only men, fulfilled an important social function within the Jewish communities. Women appointed by the brotherhoods took care of the needs of dying women, and in some communities, for example in Berlin and Frankfurt, women founded their own societies.
The functions of the funeral societies later expanded to other charitable areas, in the 18th century they began to care for the sick, especially the seriously ill, who were preparing them for death.
One of the most important activities of the Chewra Kadisha is visiting the sick and praying at the dying man's bed. They ensure that ten Jewish men are present ( minyan ) who speak the creed ( Shema Yisrael ) to the dying person. At the same time, the relatives are also supported and comforted. After death has occurred, the corpse is covered with linen and placed on the floor. Candles are lit next to the dead man's head. Then everything is prepared for the burial in the cemetery, the grave is dug, the coffin is prepared and the funeral garb is prepared. The corpse is brought to the cemetery and washed there in the Bet Tahara , the house of purification, and cleaned according to the ritual regulations (warm water, adding an egg as a symbol of life, accompanying prayers). After the corpse has been sprinkled with wine, the clothing is made with the grave robes made of white linen ( Tachrichin ), consisting of a shirt, underpants, a smock with ruff and belt, stockings and a hood. The corpse is bedded in a simple and unadorned coffin and covered with its tallit , from which the tassels have been removed, as these are supposed to remind the living of their obligations, but have now become irrelevant. A bag with earth from the promised land can also be added to the coffin. The escort for the dead and participation in the funeral are considered mitzvahs , i.e. an essential religious obligation. During the funeral procession, a dignitary of the Chewra Kadisha goes ahead to collect donations, followed by the relatives, the coffin itself and behind it the board of directors of the burial brotherhood and the rabbis , last of all the other mourners and finally the women. A funeral speech by the rabbi can, but does not have to, be given. The members of the Chewra lower the coffin into the grave and raise a burial mound. The burial should take place as soon as possible, if possible on the day of death. After the funeral is over, the participants wash their hands at a well because the body is considered unclean. Another task of the Chewra Kadisha is to visit the bereaved during the seven days of mourning.
The Chewra Kadisha is an important institution within the Jewish community. Participation in it is perceived by the most respected men and is considered religiously very meritorious. In general, all agendas related to burial and cemetery are in their hands. Analogous to the brotherhoods, there are also associations for women, for example, some Jewish communities have a women's chewra, which takes over the ambulance for women, supports families in the event of death and accompanies the mourners in the cemetery. In Würzburg, where a Chewra Kadischa had been founded in 1835, the Israelite Female Sick Support Association was added as a female counterpart in 1845 .
A well-known organization was the Prague Burial Brotherhood ( Chewra kadischa de-gomle chasadim ).
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