The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Membership in Burial Societies (Hevrah Kaddisha) in Jewish Communities of the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Seventeenth-Eighteenth Centuries

The paper is devoted to membership in burial societies – fraternities operating up in practically all communities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, dealing with the care of the sick and burying of the dead. Membership in a burial society was voluntary. The admission of new members was subject to restrictions, both by the annual admission limit and the appointment of a single admission date, as well as a number of requirements that the candidates had to meet. The difficult question to be resolved is to what extent the membership in the brotherhood was of an elite character, and to what extent it was an obligation to which a larger number of the inhabitants of the communities were subject to. The paper also shows what the trial period in the fraternity and the later levels of promotion looked like, as well as the differences in belonging to the fraternity of people who lived in scattered settlements subject to the community. A separate problem was the admission of children to the burial societies, which was a common practice, especially in the 18th century. Membership is also related to the question of the relations between the fraternities and the authorities of the communities, as we can observe the presence of the same people in the member ranks and in the authorities of both structures, which was a form of supervision and control of the communal authorities over the fraternities. Finally, the last question addressed, whether women belonged to the burial societies. Pinkassim from the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth testify the active presence of women in fraternities, they acted either as officials appointed by men, or within their own fraternities or sub-fraternities, but in both cases they were subject to the orders and control of men.