Jewish Practises - Death and Dying
This information should only be used as a guide as
there may be significant variations in practice. Whenever possible, instruction should be
sought from the patient, family or religious leader about appropriate practice and
Instructions from Adelaide Rabbi
Three views are current:
- there are many regional differences in Jewish
customs at the time of death.
- two of the most important commandments in Judaism
are to honour the dead and comfort the mourner.
- the time before death is usually taken up with a
review of one's life.
- Ethical wills are messages by the dying to their
families. They express hopes, values and comfort to the bereaved.
- at death the soul hovers near the body until after
the funeral, when it goes through a process of purification of varying duration, to
cleanse it of sin. After this some say that it returns.
- the soul must await the Messianic Age when the
righteous will be reborn to live in eternal peace and the wicked remain in the dust.
- immortality comes through one's descendants not
through the immortality of the soul (this is believed by many modern Jews).
at the moment of death no one should leave the room.
since we are created in the image of G-d, the body
must not be altered in any way and must be treated with respect.
the family close the eyes
straighten and cover the body with a sheet
the feet are pointed to the door
some Orthodox Jews lie the body on the floor for
twenty minutes and pour water outside the door.
others place ashes on the eyes and a candle may be
placed near the head.
mirrors in the house are covered.
On death the rabbi is notified, he calls the
undertaker and the Chevrah Kadisha who carry out the ritual washing of the body (Taharah)
and clothe it and, if male, wrap it in a prayer shawl.
non-Jews should not wash the body.
among Spanish Jews the rabbi gives a final blessing
in the presence of the children.
Jewish tradition is opposed to embalmement,
post-mortems and exhumation.
bloodied clothes or severed parts should be buried
with the body without washing.
some Jews are opposed to organ donation.
from death until burial the body is guarded
are not comforted at this time
they may not shave or socialize
the outer garment may be torn
are simple and unostentatious, consisting of
prayers, psalms and a eulogy.
gentiles may attend and men should wear a head
there are no flowers but donations are given to
charity in memory of the deceased.
- every life, even as it ebbs, is to be respected and
- one should visit the dying and help them to find
peace of mind.
- no 'heroic' efforts should be made to prolong life
or hasten death.
- those at hand should not wail or make a noise.
- a rabbi should be called at the approach of death to
say a confessional prayer (the Vidui) and recite the fundamental affirmation of
faith, the Shema.
starts after the funeral:
the first three days are for weeping and lamentation
in private. There is no visiting.
the next four days the family sit Shiva on
low stools, friends visit, bring food and give comfort.
no greeting is given, and visitors wait for the
bereaved to speak first.
gentiles are welcome.
for thirty days following burial
the family do not shave or cut their hair but may
return to work.
mourning continues for the next ten months
- must be in the earth
- should take place within twenty-four hours of death
(unless the Sabbath intervenes).
- soil from the Holy Land is placed in the coffin.
- gentiles should not take part in the interment, at
which the grave is filled in by family and friends followed by a ritual washing of hands.
No mourning for
a baby who dies within thirty days of birth
a Jew who has
- at the end of one year the tombstone is unveiled
- visitors to the grave often place a small stone on
- adopted another religion
- been cremated
- committed suicide
- whose body is missing (unless irrecoverable)
- a rabbi should be consulted in the case of a suicide
as mourning may be permissible.