Kavod v'Nichum and Gamliel Institute provide resources, education, and training along the Jewish end-of-life continuum: from visiting the sick and pre-planning, to care for the body after death, to providing comfort to the mourners.
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Gamliel Institute Core Curriculum

Topic Summaries


Course 1: Chevrah Kadisha: Origins and Evolution

The institution of Chevrah Kadisha has its origins in Biblical and other traditional texts. This course traces the evolution of Chevrah Kadisha practice and the chevrah’s role in the community from early times, through the standard of practice in Medieval Europe, and into the changes that took place in the transition to the Western Hemisphere and modern times.  Topic areas include:

  • Introduction to Chevrah Kadisha
  • Textual foundations and developments
  • Historical evolution of this work
    • Biblical and Talmudic to Europe
    • North America pre-1960
    • North America post-1960
    • North America pre-1975
    • North America post-1975
    • Recent decades
  • Meit mitzvah historically and today
  • The larger community today
  • Disasters
  • Future directions

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Course 2: Chevrah KadishaTaharah and Shmirah

The central elements of Chevrah Kadisha practice include the two important rituals of taharah — preparation of the body for burial; and shmirah — the watching (or “guarding”) of the body between death and burial. This course addresses a wide range of issues, including liturgy, training, safety, and complications. Topic areas include:

  • Taharah and shmirah overview
  • Understanding tahor and tamei
  • Chevrah and taharah leadership
  • Chevrah policy considerations
  • Taharah complications
  • Handling emotional aspects of this work
  • Liturgy and taharah manuals
  • Tachrichim and Aronot
  • Health and safety precautions for taharah
  • Shmirah
  • Taharah and shmirah facilities

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Course 3: Chevrah Kadisha: Education, Organizing, and Leadership

Creating and maintaining a Chevrah Kadisha involves leadership, communal education, and organizational skills, including developing relationships with funeral homes and cemeteries. This course addresses these issues, while providing a skill-foundation for students to use in their own communities. Topic areas include:

  • Overview and context
  • Educational planning
  • Educational motivation
  • Educating youth and children
  • Creating a new Chevrah Kadisha
  • Operational management
  • Chevrah Kadisha leadership
  • Funeral homes and cemeteries
  • Applying these teachings in your own community

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Course 4: Chevrah KadishaNechamah

The mitzvah of comforting (nechamah) — both comfort for the ill (bikur cholim) and comfort for the grieving (nichum aveilim) — is a vital part of Chevrah Kadisha work. This course looks at the skills involved in this work, and includes areas such as listening techniques, the concept of an ethical will, and principles involving remembrance. It also provides students with opportunities to examine and deepen their own attitudes and outlooks about illness and death. Topic areas include:

  • Introduction to nechamah
  • Death cafes
  • Text foundations
  • Aging
  • Practical skills for nechamah and bikkur cholim
  • Challenging situations
  • Chaplaincy and healing, hospice
  • Family considerations
  • Prayer and song
  • Ethical wills, advance directives, organ donation, et al
  • Grief and nichum aveilim
  • Putting it all together

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Course 5: Chevrah Kadisha: Liturgy and Ritual Practice

Our tradition has a broad and rich liturgy and practice around end-of-life issues. This course examines the liturgy and related practice in detail, focusing on funeral and burial, traditional sources, variations, and the role of the rabbi. Topic areas include:

  • Continuum of care
  • Prayer, liturgy and ritual
  • What is ritual?
  • Bikkur cholim (visiting the sick)
  • Vidui (deathbed confession)
  • Moment of death and preparations for the funeral
  • Levayah
  • Funeral service, liturgy and ritual
  • Burial service
  • Cemeteries
  • Mourning and community
  • Rememberance
  • Kaddish
  • Jewish ideas of afterlife

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Course 6: Chevrah Kadisha: International Perspectives

Jewish end-of-life practice has changed not only over time, but also from place to place. This trip examines variation in practices around the world, centered around a two-to-three-week study mission to New York, Prague, and Israel. The details of this course are dependent upon when and where we go.  During the 2015 trip we visited many cemeteries, synagogues, Chevrot Kadisha, and ancient historical sites.  We experienced 45 events in 18 days.  It was very intense, beautiful, meaningful, and rich.  It was also exhausting.  The next iteration will balance these while giving students a truly amazing experience of a life-time.  Dates for the next trip will be announced as they are finalized.

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Course 7: Chevrah Kadisha: Student Projects

Projects may involve various aspects of Chevrah Kadisha work, including organizing and education as well as more academic pursuits. Projects have two primary goals: (a) to improve students’ leadership skills and/or knowledge, and (b) to serve as contributions/resources for others in the field. This course is open only to students who have successfully completed Course 3. To find out more about Course 7 projects and how to apply for this course, click here. Topic areas include:

  • Project concept overview
  • Formulating a baseline idea
  • Laying out a plan
  • Establishing relationships
  • Implementing your project

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