The centerpiece of the Institute is a certification program employing a variety of distance-learning and on-site practica. Students meet each year at the annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference (usually in the early summer) for in-person training and networking and are expected to participate in local training opportunities as well as other relevant national conferences. In the last course, students will join in a three-week practicum mission to New York, Prague (the home of the first Chevra Kadisha), and Israel to study with local chevra kadisha groups and experts. By the end of the program, students will have developed theoretical and practical expertise in the halachot, minhagim, logistics and finances surrounding serious illness, death, funerals, burial, mourning, and legacy preparation, including ethical wills. Students will be prepared to work with and assist grieving families before and after death and to organize and train volunteers to perform these mitzvot in their communities.Our program focuses on six major areas as follows:
Course 1 – Chevra Kadisha – History, Origins and Evolution – An in-depth study of the origins and history of the Chevrah Kadisha, the Holy Society that deals with the sacred tasks surrounding practical and ritual preparations of the deceased person for a Jewish funeral. The course further examines how the institution and role of the Chevrah Kadisha has evolved over the centuries and in different localities into the modern day. Includes background, function, communal role; role of women, secrecy, Kabbalistic influences, money, recruiting, social functions, Zayin Adar; Textual sources: Biblical, Rabbinic, Medieval, modern; Historical Overviews: Jewish Burial Societies – development in Europe and America till today; landsmanshaft, Goodman, Tri-Partite Commission, Kavod v’Nichum; Toward New Policies on Jewish Funeral Practices.
Course 2 – Chevrah Kadisha – Taharah and Shmirah – In-depth study of the work of the Chevrah Kadisha in the activities and mitzvot of guarding the body of the deceased (shmirah) and of ritually preparing the body for burial (taharah). This is very much a “how-to” course as well as an examination of the liturgy and of the unusual situations that can arise. The course looks as well at the impact of the work on the community and on the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, and provides an ongoing review of best practices. Includes spiritual transformative power; personal testimony; meaning and purpose; face of God; Tahor and Tameh; Tachrichim; History; manuals, tefila, training, impediments; safety; complications.
Course 3 – Chevrah Kadisha – Education, Organizing, and Training – Practical, hands-on course that helps students bring Jewish practices and values to fruition. Its central component is the support and mentoring of students in conceiving and carrying out useful projects of their own related to the Chevrah Kadisha world, whether in their own community, congregation, or business, or on a larger scale. Thus, the course offers students a way to make a difference and have a meaningful and positive impact in the world-a “real-world” effect. The course includes material on principles of education and organizing, and projects can range from academic research and writing, to community organizing, to creative and artistic endeavors. Organizing efforts might include starting a new Chevrah Kadisha, educating the community about the Chevrah Kadisha’s work, teaching about the running of the local Jewish mortuary or cemetery, helping the Chevrah Kadisha to expand its services, or producing materials for education or to share the beauty and meaning of this work. Includes communal, Chevra Kadisha and leadership; organizing: the basics, raising communal awareness, pre-planning; pre-paying, using agreements and contracts; death education and training for children and adults; pitfalls/blocks. Working with grief: mourning and healing; Issues: Legal, health, role of rabbi, financial, support, structure, first responders, seudah havraha (meal of comfort), leading Shivaservices, studying Mishnah in the Shiva House, mourner follow-up, recruiting and training, resources, Hebrew terminology; Use of drashot in training; Prayer; Ethics, Rabban Gamliel, leadership, ostentatiousness, embarrassment, poverty. Evolution of funeral homes: embalming, viewing; working with funeral homes: building a tahara room, contracts; starting a new funeral home, buying an existing funeral home, non-profit funeral homes; evolution of cemeteries: cave burial, catacombs, communal burial, municipal, military, private, and non-profit ownership, cemetery ownership, landsmanschaft, federations of cemeteries; acquiring land, zoning, cemetery grid layout, recordkeeping, sales, contracts, rules; purchasing: GPL, transportation, service location, casket, opening and closing, liners, monuments, perpetual care; cemetery future: landscaping, sacred ground, consecration, synagogue cooperation, abandonment, corporate buy-out; disaster planning. Federal Trade Commission, Canadian Regulations; medical examiner, autopsy, organ and tissue donation.
Course 4 – Chevra Kadisha – Nechama – Focuses on the mitzvot of comforting an individual before his/her death, assisting mourners with the tasks of preparation for the funeral, and comforting mourners following the funeral, and the role of the Chevrah Kadisha (and/or other institutions in a community) with regard to these mitzvot. Course 4 is taught by a series of well-known and widely-respected subject matter experts including luminaries such as Rabbis Richard Address, Yonatan Cohen, Stephanie Dickstein, Elliot Dorff, Mimi Feigelson, Dayle Friedman, Stuart Kelman, Robert Tabak and Pam Wax, and outstanding teachers such as Linda Blachman and Kenneth Gorfinkle. The course combines study of Jewish texts in the field with broad principles of nechamah; with topics to include aging; practical skills; theory and concepts; ritual; family and hospice; challenging situations; ethical wills; the role of prayer and music; vidui (“confession”); the history and practice of chaplaincy; contemporary legal issues such as advanced directives and medical powers of attorney; and values. Includes compassion, active listening, Bikkur cholim, illness, Jewish hospitals; healing movement, chaplaincy, hospice, viddui, death preparation: legacy writing, ethical will, organ and tissue donation; teshuvot: helping families make funeral and burial arrangements; counseling of mourners, supporting the mourner beyond shiva.
Course 5 – Chevrah Kadisha – Ritual, Practice and Liturgy – Examines the role of ritual in Jewish end-of-life practices, including pre-death matters such as bikur cholim (visiting the sick), ethical wills, and vidui (confession); practices from the moment of death through burial, including kri’ah, taharah, shmirah, and burial itself; and those after burial, including shiva and mourning. The course will look at both halachah (Jewish law) and minhag (Jewish custom), and examine the key texts involved throughout all of these stages. Includes how and why traditional practices evolved: funeral, shiva, shloshim, yahrtzeit, Yizkor, unveiling, keriah; the Funeral Service: hesped, 23rd Psalm, el malei rachamim, pall bearers, procession, stops, burial, book burial, amputations, autopsy, suicide, viewing and embalming, cremation, liners, kaddish, monument design, mausoleums, genealogy, intermarried burials . Legal sources: classic and modern, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform; Theology: God, afterlife, soul.
Course 6: Chevrah Kadisha – International Perspectives – Centered on an intensive travel experience conducted over two-and-a-half weeks, with online classes both before and after. The trip itself will include study at various institutions and sites in New York City, Prague (home of the “modern” Chevrah Kadisha), and a variety of locations in Israel, including working with Chevrot Kadisha, mortuaries, cemeteries, and other entities in each location. Prior to the trip, students will have classes to prepare them on where they will go, what to expect, and how they will share their own knowledge and expertise with the communities they visit. On return, there will be classes to review, elicit reactions, discuss and evaluate what was learned, and examine how students might incorporate aspects of the experience into their own communities. In order to participate in Course 6, a student must have successfully completed Courses 1 through 5.
View the Overview and Detailed Course Schedules.