The Sacred Service of Chevrah Kadisha in Chicago

chevrah kadisha anshe emet chicago emily cohen

An Intimate Final Honor in Jewish Tradition: By Emily Cohen

In the heart of all Jewish communities, there is a Chevra Kadisha with a profound purpose—to give dignity to the dead. In article, learn all about the Chevrah Kadisha at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. This group, whose name translates to “Holy Society,” serves a vital role in Jewish end-of-life rituals, performing the taharah, the ritual purification and preparation of the deceased for burial. This act, carried out with the utmost respect and care, is a deeply intimate final honor paid to those who have passed. Emily Cohen is a member of the Anshe Emet Chevra Kadisha and explains everything you need to know about this aspect of Jewish life.

To me, this is an important aspect of Judaism, because we are a religion and culture of life. The whole taharah process is focused on honoring the deceased and preparing and helping them for whatever comes next. From what I have learned over the years, shiva is meant to comfort the mourners and not meant to grieve or honor the deceased, so I see the Chevra Kadisha as the final act to honor the deceased.

Emily Cohen, Member of the Anshe Emet Chevrah Kadisha

Understanding the Role of Chevrah Kadisha

The Chevrah Kadisha is a testament to the Jewish commitment to dignity and respect in death as in life. Comprised of dedicated men and women, the group ensures that the bodies of the deceased are prepared for burial following Jewish law and tradition. Typically, men assist men, and women assist women, reflecting a deeply personal and respectful approach to end-of-life care.

The taharah process itself is rich with symbolism and reverence. It involves washing the deceased, dressing them in simple white shrouds, and performing rituals that underscore the Jewish values of humility and equality after death. The process is conducted by a team of about five individuals, each bringing their own dedication and sensitivity to the task. Reach out to Emily for more information at

The Spiritual Significance of Taharah

Participating in or learning about the taharah provides a unique lens through which to view Jewish teachings on life, death, and afterlife. The process is designed to honor the deceased, providing them with dignity in death and preparing their soul for the journey ahead. This contrasts with shiva, which focuses on comforting the mourners. The Chevrah Kadisha’s work is an essential aspect of Jewish mourning and respect for the dead.

I have participated in 3 taharas and each one has been an awesome and unique spiritual experience. There’s a super old/ancient feeling while performing the tahara that is hard to explain and it always feels that time has stopped. My first tahara was for a woman a few years older than me and I knew that I had probably interacted with her a few times over the years. I thought it would be hard because of the age, but it wasn’t and I felt as if I was helping a friend, which I think is the whole point.

Emily Cohen, Member of the Anshe Emet Chevrah Kadisha

One of the most touching aspects of taharah is the care taken to respect the presence of the deceased’s soul. Tradition holds that the soul remains aware and present during the preparation, leading to practices such as not passing objects over the body and starting the ritual with a request for forgiveness for any unintended disrespect.

Open to All: Joining the Chevra Kadisha

The Chevrah Kadisha welcomes anyone in the Jewish community with a desire to participate in this meaningful work. No prior knowledge or specific level of religious observance is required—just an open heart and a willingness to serve. This inclusivity strengthens the communal bond and offers a profound way to engage with Jewish tradition.

To get involved with the Chevrah Kadisha at Anshe Emet Service contact Barry Gross at, 312-988-4010, or Merle Gross at merlekgross@gmail.com312-988-4010. Click here to learn more.

Each chevrah is different, but for the one I’m part of, any Jew can participate. You don’t need to be affiliated with any synagogue, know Hebrew, be bar-mitzvahed, keep kosher, etc. You just need to show up with an open heart and mind. 

Emily Cohen, Member of the Anshe Emet Chevrah Kadisha

The Unseen Mitzvah: The Impact of Chevrah Kadisha Work

Being part of the Chevrah Kadisha is often described as engaging in a secret or mystical aspect of Jewish life. It’s a service performed without expectation of public acknowledgment or thanks, reflecting the purest form of mitzvah—doing good for its own sake. Participants often describe the experience as deeply moving and spiritually enriching, providing comfort and closure not only to the families of the deceased but to the volunteers themselves.

According to tradition, the chevrah kadisha or whoever performs tahara is the last person to see the deceased before burial, which is an awesome responsibility and experience. It’s a great mitzvah, because it’s a totally unknown, unrecognized mitzvah, which is the best mitzvah. It’s also good for someone who isn’t super social or wants to participate with a low commitment. There’s also a network of all the chevrah kadishas, which offer events/learning opportunities throughout the year. 

Emily Cohen, Member of the Anshe Emet Chevrah Kadisha

Why Chevrah Kadisha Matters

I didn’t know the Chevra Kadisha existed until I saw a blurb about it a few years ago in the Anshe Emet newsletter and I was looking for ways to be involved with the community that wasn’t based on age or life stage. As a member you automatically become an advocate/educator for the process. 

Emily Cohen, Member of the Chevrah Kadisha

The work of the Chevrah Kadisha underscores the communal and intimate nature of Jewish mourning practices. It ensures that every individual, regardless of their status or wealth in life, is treated with equal respect and care in death. This service is a powerful expression of the communal values at the heart of Judaism, emphasizing the importance of dignity, respect, and care for one another, even in death. Reach out to Emily for more information at

Resources and Learning

The Chevrah Kadisha at Anshe Emet stands as a profound testament to the Jewish commitment to honor and dignity for every soul. It offers a unique opportunity to engage with the deepest aspects of Jewish tradition and to perform a mitzvah of the highest order.

For those interested in learning more about the Chevrah Kadisha, or considering joining this vital aspect of Jewish communal life, resources are available. Learn more about the resources available for education about this sacred tradition:

Chevrah Kadisha Facebook Group Information on Chevrah Kadisha

Kavod V’Nichum Website

Find all the Jewish Events in Chicago on the ChiTribe Calendar

Emily Cohen

Emily Cohen