The hevra kaddisha, was a brotherhood formed for the purpose of performing the reverential disposal of the dead in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. The members engaged in this sacred task are called mitassekim ("those who occupy themselves") as well as gomelei hasadim, since the duty to the dead is regarded as the "only true gemilut hasadim." Membership in the hevra kaddisha was regarded as a coveted honor, and an honorary one. The fraternal aspect of the hevra was observed in various ways, the most common being the annual celebration of the hevra on a fixed day.
The institution of the hevra kaddisha is unique to the Jewish community. It derives from the fact that according to Jewish law no material benefit may accrue from the dead. As a result no private or commercial firm is permitted to engage in the disposal of the dead for private gain. The duty must thus become a function of the community as a whole.