Takkanot de-Hevra Kaddisha Gemilut Hasadim de-Kehillat Kodesh Ashkenazim be-Amsterdam
(Ordinances of the Holy Society for Deeds of Loving-kindness
of the Ashkenazic Community of Amsterdam)
Although communal responsibility for burial of the dead is already mentioned in the Talmud, the earliest references to individuals and groups specifically devoted to this duty dates to the end of the eleventh century, and is found in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Formal organization into societies or brotherhoods to provide for communal needs is first attested to in fourteenth-century Spain. The first Ashkenazic burial society for which we have conclusive evidence was established in Prague in 1564. Scholars differ over the significance of the lack of evidence of burial societies before this period as well as to why they began to increase at this time. Various theories have been advanced, ranging from the overall dearth of written records before the high Middle Ages to the supposition that before this time the rituals surrounding death were attended to only by family members or perhaps the shammash (synagogue sexton).