[Ed. Note: This is an examination of the rules set forth for members of the Bikur Cholim (caring for the ill) society of Frankfort am Main in 1740. Historically, the work of the Chevrah Kadisha could, and did, overlap with the work of those who cared for the sick. Today the two functions are often separated, but that was not always the case as seen here, and in the earlier published work, Ma’avor Yabbok (1626). — JB]
I recently examined this document. I had a chance to examine this same document about 20 years ago, and when it came up on the market recently, I examined it again, but it was a bit too pricey to purchase.
Below are some of the highlights of the 45 by-laws (Takanot) regulating the obligations and responsibilities of its members, as well as providing a code of conduct, violations of which would result in either monetary fines, or, if offenses were repeated, exclusion from the society.
There is a preamble which states that the purpose of this organization was to address the proliferation of poor sick Jews in Frankfurt who had no one to visit or care for them when they were ill.
Visiting the sick
- Two members must visit each sick person each morning and two others each afternoon.
- A member who falls ill is entitled to a private heated room in the hospital with expenses paid by the society.
- The society will employ two physicians for the care of the sick.
Funds , Rules
- All society funds including annual dues, fines, and donations were to be kept in a large iron box with two locks under the control of the treasurer.
- All rules of the society must remain in force for 10 years.
- Apparently gambling was the worst possible offense as it is signaled out for immediate revocation of membership for anyone caught gambling.
- Any member who dies will have all burial expenses paid in full.
- At least 18 members must attend the funeral of the deceased member.
It’s an incredible window into the daily workings of a society that was formed to fill a gap.
Isaac Pollak is the Rosh/Head of a Chevrah Kadisha on the upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC and has been doing Taharot for almost 4 decades. He is fascinated by and a student of customs and history concerning the Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish burial and mourning ritual. He is an avid collector of Chevrah Kadisha material cultural items, with over 300 historical artifacts in his own collection. He serves as chairperson of the Acquisition Committee for Traditional Material Culture at the Jewish Museum in NYC, and is CEO of an International Marketing Company. He is a student and participant in Gamliel Institute courses.