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Hevras and charities

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Chapter Summary

Charities begin to appear in Jewish community records in the early modern period. The first extant mention of a hevra kadisha dates from 1564 in Prague. Records of similar bodies appear in subsequent years in other Ashkenazi communities in Europe; by the end of the eighteenth century there was scarcely any community that did not have a hevra. Hevras operated with relative independence within the community; yet they remained subordinate to the parnassim. Hevras of Jewish women appear only rarely in the records. The pinkassim reveal something of the workings of community charity, although they provide few comprehensive facts or details. Since care for needy Jews was a central concern for Jewish communities in the period, this pervasive and urgent subject could not be recorded in the central registers of the communities.

Keywords: Ashkenazi communities; charities; early modern period; hevras; Jewish community; parnassim; pinkassim

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