October 8, 2014

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Most States (and Commonwealths) have similar, even identical, provisions in their constitutions.

Yet, in a great number of the fifty States, statutes and regulations have been enacted and enforced that serve to limit the ability of the Chevrah Kadisha to provide the services that have long been a part of traditional Jewish practice. These State laws and regulations create a monopolistic control of Funerals through limitations on who may collect, transport, store, prepare, and bury bodies. The justifications stated cite considerations of health and public safety, but there is neither any basis nor any justification for these assertions, and licensure requirements do not actually address these issues.

Thus, the States take the right to follow traditional Jewish practices, and instead of the community, place other non-governmental organizations, such as an Association of Funeral Directors in that State, in the position to regulate and invoke enforcement of these matters. Such an association is comprised of members – those licensed to operate a business of Funeral Direction (sometimes called mortician or undertaker). This means that those who are in a position to gain by enforcing the regulations are empowered to do so, and the full weight of the power of the State backs them.

These associations in several states have and continue to seek to prevent Jewish communities and Congregations from following traditional practices, claiming that they are violating the State regulations concerning unauthorized practice of Funeral Direction, and pose a threat to public health. In some instances, the effort to prevent the Jewish community from following traditional practices has risen to the level of harassment.

A recent federal court case in Pennsylvania was settled. As a result, Chevrot Kadisha there can now conduct full Jewish funerals on a non profit basis.

It is time for this same battle to be joined in each State, and for the Jewish community to reclaim the right to offer members of the community this important mitzvah. I urge that federal court litigation be brought in each State. Attorney’s fees will be awarded to your lawyer, if you are successful.   So, law firms will be willing to undertake these cases and look to the Court for their attorney’s fees.  We can, and should reclaim our rights under the Constitution, and re-establish the role of the Chevrah Kadisha and the mitzvah of Taharah.

Rabbi Arthur Grae is a retired New York attorney who specialized in federal constitutional litigation. He now serves as the spiritual leader of a community in Florida. He is also a student of the  Rabbi & Mrs. Arthur Grae To find a list of of other blogs we think you may find to be of  interest, click on “About” to the right.

GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSE: Chevrah Kadisha – Origins & Evolution

We want to acquaint you with the work of the The “>Kavod v’Nichum (“Honor and Comfort”), the educational resource for Chevrah Kadisha groups throughout North America. Kavod v’Nichum provides a comprehensive website (The Gamliel Institute offers a program of online, interactive classes at an advanced level. 

The Gamliel Institute will be offering Course 1: Chevrah Kadisha – Origins and Evolution – to begin October 14, 2014. Course sessions will be on Tuesday evenings. This course is 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.

Are you interested in taking this course? IT IS NOT TOO LATE!  If so, please be in touch with us with questions, or sign up for the course at We are looking for motivated students who want to engage in study of this subject matter and use it to make a difference in their communities.

We also want to enlist your help in finding others who would benefit from this course. Please pass this information along to anyone you think might be interested. Thank you! 



Kavod v'Nichum Conference!

Join us for an unforgettable time in beautiful Austin, Texas, Feb 22-24, 2015 for the 13th N. American Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference. Regiser now! Visit the web page to register, reserve a hotel room, and to make your plans!



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