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What is the Hineni Learning Tool?

Hineni is a unique, interactive, web-based tool that gives users a simple, ergonomic, and fast way to get information about Jewish death practices. The word, Hineni, is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase used in the Torah, meaning "Here I am." It was chosen to indicate this tool is here to give succinct, direct answers to everyone quickly and easily. Hineni is intended to be used by various audiences, starting with (1) with those who directly serve families (funeral directors, cemetery workers, hospice personnel, Jewish clergy, chaplains, death doulas, and hospital personnel, who want to learn more to be better able to serve Jewish families and who want to assist families in making end-of-life decisions), and (2) families facing death of a loved one who wish to learn more about our traditions. We also envision community leaders using this tool as they prepare drashot for services, lectures, or classes, along with Chevrah Kadisha workers who want to expand their abilities to share these practices with their community. Additional possible users could include bnei mitzvot classes and their teachers, chevrah leaders, chevrah volunteers, local education champions,  Jewish community lay leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish clergy, JADE helpline responders, and synagogue caring committee members. Acknowledgements The Hineni tool was developed by the JADE staff as a part of ongoing community educational efforts to find the best ways to disseminate and share knowledge about Jewish end-of-life practices, rites, customs, and traditions. An acknowledgement of the contribution of our staff is shown below.
Concept:
Rick Light
Prototype:
Rick Light
Coordination:
Isabel Knight
Content:
HollyBlue Hawkins, Rick Light
Editing:
Rick Light, David Zinner
Marketing
Isabel Knight, Susan Kramer
Implementation:

Chevrah Kadisha

A Deeper Understanding


The Chevrah Kadisha is the "holy society" who care for the dead and provide services to help families dealing with death. First mentioned in tractate Sotah in the Talmud (circa 200 BCE – 500 CE), and documented in mid-16th century Prague, chevrot have honored our dead through a range of actions.

This spectrum of activities can be seen in the Nineteen murals from the Burial Society of Prague, painted in the late 1700’s. The Chevrah Kadisha provides a continuum of care to the dying, the dead, and to the mourners.  The work of the Chevrah Kadisha is unconditional love, considered the highest level of kindness, because the recipient of the caring (the deceased) are no longer able to express thanks or appreciation.

The traditions honored by the Chevrah Kadisha not only support the soul as it transitions to the spiritual world but also provide comfort to the grieving mourners.


Overview


The Chevrah Kadisha is guided by a desire to bring honor to the dead by creating an atmosphere of respect, dignity, and reverence. The prayers and readings recited while preparing the deceased have both intellectual and spiritual value for all involved.

At the heart of the Chevrah Kadisha work is the taharah, which involves the loving preparation of the deceased for burial. It is done in a way which brings honor to both the body and the soul. Some Chevrot Kadisha (plural) also provide shmirah. During shmirah the body is kept company and not left alone until burial. This is thought to be very comforting for the soul.


To simply describe taharah as the traditional Jewish practice of washing, purifying and dressing the deceased is technically correct. To just describe shmirah as the traditional Jewish practice of watching and guarding the deceased is also technically correct. But both definitions are woefully inadequate.  Taharah and shmirah are powerful emotional, psychological, and spiritual rituals that can challenge our acceptance of death denial, shake us from the complacency of seeing death around us and not engaging, and make clear to us the importance of valuing our life. Taharah is physical, but it is also emotional and spiritual.  Shmirah may appear to be mundane, but it is quite spiritual as well as intellectually stimulating. Both can be uncomfortable, but can also be sublimely beautiful.

The most important principle of Chevrah Kadisha work is to honor our dead through an atmosphere of respect, dignity, and reverence. The prayers and readings recited during the rituals have both intellectual and spiritual value for both the deceased and the members of the chevrah team. 

Additional Chevrah Kadisha tasks may vary from community to community. For example, a Chevrah Kadisha may help by preparing meals of condolence, arranging for shiva minyanim, organizing community educational events about death and mourning, and performing other forms of community support. Some chevrot even sew their own tachrichim and build their own aronot.


Details


Today, many Chevrot Kadisha (plural) in North America focus their sacred efforts on the two central rituals of taharah and shmirah. 

The taharah team of the Chevrah Kadisha prepares the body lovingly and respectfully with the intention of assisting the soul on its journey from this physical world. This beautiful ritual includes physical washing of the body and pouring of water accompanied by a powerful spiritual liturgy . The entire process is performed with respectful kavanah.

The practice of shmirah, performed by shomrim, ensures that the deceased is never left alone before burial. Traditionally the shomrim read from the Psalms and other appropriate texts.


The modern community organization we call the Chevrah Kadisha has been developing over the past two millennia. Jews have been taking care of their dead in respectful and loving ways throughout our history. These practices were first codified in 1626 when the Ma’avar Yabok was published. Jews have been adapting these practices for centuries in each community and today the same liturgy and procedures are in place in much of the Jewish world.

Below are links to a historical timeline showing Jewish world events along with specific events in the evolution of Chevrah Kadisha practices, with a PowerPoint presentation discussing this timeline and the history of Chevrah Kadisha.


 

Resources to Learn More


 

Chevrah Kadisha is the traditional Jewish organization that provides care for the dead and supports and assists families and communities at the end of life.


Click on icons below to learn about this topic from different perspectives.

Practical

Textual

Emotional

Spiritual

Chevrah Kadisha from the Practical / Physical Perspective

The tasks that the Chevrah Kadisha perform may vary from community to community. They include caring for the deceased, and varying levels of involvement in the entire continuum of Jewish end-of-life practices. For example, a Chevrah Kadisha may help in preparing the meal of condolence for the mourners, arrange shiva minyanim, organize community educational events about death and dying, and perform other forms of community support for those experiencing death. Some communities even sew their own tachrichim and/or build their own aronot.

Chevrah Kadisha from the Intellectual / Textual Perspective

Nineteen murals from the Burial Society of Prague, painted in the late 1700's, show the continuum of responsibilities of the Chevra Kadisha, beginning with bikkur cholim, sewing the tachrichim, building the aron, performing the taharah, digging the kever, participating in the funeral procession and hesped, and helping the mourners after the burial.

Chevrah Kadisha from the Emotional / Feelings Perspective

The work of the Chevrah Kadisha is unconditional love performed as kindness for those who have died. At the heart of the Chevrah Kadisha is taharah, a means of loving care for Jewish dead, honoring both their bodies and their souls, and shmirah, an opportunity to comfort the soul in transition by keeping it company. The most important principle of Chevrah Kadisha work is to honor our dead through an atmosphere of respect, dignity, and reverence.

Chevrah Kadisha from the Spiritual / Soul Perspective

The work of the Chevrah Kadisha can extend beyond taharah to include bikur cholim and comforting mourners. Throughout this work, we treat everyone as a holy being created in the image of the Divine and worthy of respect and dignity. Jewish tradition also considers the spiritual aspect of a human being, the soul, to be eternal, returning to the spiritual world upon death. 

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Deeper Understanding

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