What is a Chevra Kadisha?
A Chevra Kadisha translates as “a holy group”. It is a group of community members who perform the traditional Jewish ritual of preparing individuals for burial (tahara). This service is one of Chesed Shel Emet (ultimate kindness.) Traditionally, the ritual is performed by a team of four Chevra members, who are the same gender as the deceased. In some Chevra Kadishas teams now include gender non-conforming individuals. The community Chevra Kadisha in Portland, Oregon, serving the non-Orthodox Jewish community, is called Chevra Kavod haMet (society for honoring the dead). Chevra Kavod haMet actively welcomes all Jews as team members, no matter how they identify. Our service is also available to any member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Mission of Chevra Kavod haMet
The mission of Chevra Kavod haMet is to provide traditional end-of-life ritual services with respect for the human dignity of the deceased. We are informed by tradition, but guided by modern life.
Jewish traditions of burial and mourning honor the deceased with a simple and dignified funeral. Chevra Kavod HaMet offers its services of ritual preparation of the deceased before the funeral. The trained volunteers of the Chevra will respectfully perform the ancient ritual of tahara. In addition to providing the ritual preparation of the deceased, the Chevra, upon request, can also provide shmira (guarding) for the deceased from time of tahara until the funeral.
Members of the Chevra will perform tahara for any Jew from any congregation in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, as well as for those who are unaffiliated. In the case of a providing tahara to an individual who identified as gender non-conforming, every effort is made to honor the deceased’s wishes and preferences, if known.
Chevra volunteers operate without fee for their services. As part of associated funeral expenses, a funeral home may have a fee for tahara.
History of Chevra Kavod haMet
In 1979 a group of Neveh Shalom members, under the direction of Rabbi and Goldie Stampfer, began studying about traditional Jewish end-of-life rituals. It was in that year that Neveh Shalom hosted Rabbi Arnold Goodman of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis MN, author of “the Plain Pine Box,” for a symposium on the topic of traditional Jewish burial practices. After a year of study, Chevra Kavod haMet began to provide tahara (ritual washing and dressing of the deceased), shmira (accompanying the deceased until the time of the funeral), and meals of consolation for Neveh Shalom congregants and their families. A seminar on Death and Loss was held in 1985, with Dr. Herman Feifel serving as the keynote speaker.
By 1994, Chevra Kavod haMet had become an organization composed not only of Neveh Shalom members, but also of members from Havurah Shalom and Gesher. Today, Chevra Kavod haMet, one of two Chevra Kadishas in Portland (the other being the Portland Hevra, which serves the Orthodox community), serves and is supported by members from Neveh Shalom, Havurah Shalom, Shir Tikvah, P’nai Or, Temple Beth Israel, Shaarie Torah, Kol Ami, Beit Haverim, and by unaffiliated members of the Portland metropolitan Jewish community.