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History

What is a Chevra Kadisha?

Sinai Memorial Chapel serves as a chevra kadisha for the San Francisco Bay Area.

A chevra kadisha is a holy burial society made up of men and women who fulfill Jewish traditions of preparing the bodies of the deceased for burial. The primary services they perform are the ritual cleansing of the body and dressing it in a simple shroud.

The tradition of chevra kadisha goes back at least to the fourth century in Eastern Europe. At that time, Jews in each town or city were organized into a single community with a single chevra kadisha serving its needs.

In America, chevra kadishas were smaller and more numerous, often with one for each synagogue. Over time, mortuary establishments and funeral directors emerged, taking over many of the duties once exclusive to the chevra kadisha. As a result, traditional burial societies were often reduced to a congregation's cemetery committee. In many cases, they simply disappeared.

A First in San Francisco

A remarkable exception to this trend occurred in San Francisco. In the mid-1800s, there was no Jewish funeral home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and often no rabbi to bury Jews in accordance with Jewish traditions. To fill this need, Sinai Memorial Chapel opened its doors in 1902 as a chevra kadisha. It has since flourished and for many years has been a strong institution and unifying force in the Jewish community. It now serves the entire Bay Area and is its only Jewish funeral home. It operates as a religious and charitable nonprofit organization.

Sinai Memorial Chapel now serves the entire Bay Area and is the community’s only Jewish funeral home. We operate as a religious and charitable nonprofit organization.