South Berkshire Community Hevra Kadisha

The South Berkshire Community Hevra Kadisha is a Jewish burial society consisting of trained volunteers who care for and prepare the deceased for burial. In accordance with Jewish tradition, they ensure that the body is treated with the utmost dignity, care and respect. The term taharah is used to refer both to the entire process of burial preparation, and to the specific step of cleansing and ritual purification.

Step One: Sh’mirahVolunteers from the community provide an ongoing vigil in the presence of the deceased from the time of death until burial. This devotional act called sh’mirah is understood to provide spiritual comfort to the soul as it begins its journey away from the physical world. Jewish tradition teaches that the separation of the soul from the environs of the body is a process that occurs over time. The shomer/shomeret provides comfort to the soul by accompanying it at this critical juncture in the spiritual journey. The volunteer acts as a kind of spiritual anchor and escort for the soul at this time.

Traditionally, the volunteer recites psalms aloud. Singing gentle songs can also be soothing as well as reading aloud from other sacred texts, poetry or books that were meaningful to the deceased or particularly anchoring and inspirational to the shomer/shomeret. We read aloud because it is taught that the soul can hear during this period. The funeral home provides several books in the room with the deceased for this purpose.

Step Two: TaharahThe Hevra Kadisha performs the taharah; the spiritual and physical cleansing of the deceased as well as shrouding and casketing. Prayers and readings from the Jewish Bible are recited throughout the process of preparation for burial. There are two tahara teams. A women's team cares for women and a men's team cares for men.

These traditions are rooted in the Jewish understanding of the spiritual process at the time of death, the journey of the eternal soul and the obligation of the living to care for and give respect to the deceased. The work of the Hevra Kadisha is considered to be among the holiest of mitzvoth that a Jew can perform.

Shomer—Guard (hebrew, masculine form)
Shomeret—Guard (hebrew, feminine form)

Volunteering for Hevra Kadisha

Rimon has established the South Berkshire Community Hevra Kadisha to serve the needs of the Jewish community in South Berkshire County. In the absence of any Jewish funeral home in Berkshire County, Jewish Burial Societies are responsible for providing traditional care for our deceased. Through community education programs, outreach to synagogues and training programs, Rimon continues to re-establish this sacred work within the Berkshire community. Rimon is also available to provide training programs in other communities seeking to establish a Hevra Kadisha.

Our Hevra Kadisha training programs fully prepare interested community members to participate in this holy work. Volunteers learn how to be fully present to the deceased, how to properly bathe and dress the deceased for burial and how to work together in silence to maintain the sacred space in which taharah takes place.

Volunteers are needed for both sh’mirah, the vigil of sitting with the deceased until the time of burial as well as for the taharah teams.

For more information or to volunteer, contact us at   

Next Training For Volunteers: Stay Tuned- Date TBD
This class will include study of traditional Jewish texts on the passage of the soul at the time of death as well as  training in the ritual of tahara. Fairview hospital will allow us the use of a 'dummy' for hands on training. Volunteers will learn the steps involved in preparing the body for burial including ritual cleansing and the dressing of the deceased in a traditional shroud. This class is open to all those interested in learning these most sacred practices.

The class will be taught by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman.
No fee. Donations are appreciated.