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’mirah—Volunteers 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: Taharah—The 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