Preparing for the Death | Shomrei Neshama of Greater Washington, P.A. | Rockville, MD 20852

1091-B Rockville Pike | RockvilleMD 20852 | 301-296-6835

Preparing for the Death

When death occurs, the bereaved family faces a very difficult time; but so does the deceased. According to the spiritual traditions of Judaism articulated in the Talmud and Kabbalah, the soul does not completely leave this world until after the burial. Thus, the period from death to interment is very bewildering for the soul, for it is in a vulnerable state of transition, disconnected from both the past and the future. The presence of others who, through their respect and prayers, show that they care, is very comforting to the soul, as the souls of the living provide a frame of reference for the soul of the newly departed.

Indeed, the fact that Jewish tradition treats the soul of the deceased as aware and as a real person, is in itself a comfort and help in this most difficult time for those who are close to him or her. To do things in a way comforting to the deceased is therefore comforting to those who care for him or her.

Unfortunately, many non-Jewish and even Jewish funeral home practices (Embalming, displaying the body, cremation) violate the Jewish traditions of respect for the dignity of the body. Shomrie Neshama of Greater Washington, P.A does not allow any of those practices.

Immediately following the moment of death, Gd forbid, a series of practical and religious issues take effect. The key principles of all of them are: a) respect for the dignity and holiness of the body, the vessel for the soul and self of the departed; b) the expeditious return of the body to the earth from which it was formed; c) aiding and fortifying the soul in its continuing spiritual journey.

The following are ritual practices you may find important:

  • "The True Judge" blessing. Those present at the time of death recite the blessing: Baruch Dayan Ha'emet -- "Blessed be the True Judge."
  • Covering the body. After death, the eyes and mouth of the deceased should be closed and a sheet or other cover drawn over the person's face; there is a tradition for a child or close relative to do this--if he or she can cope emotionally with it.
  • Candles. The body of the deceased should then be placed on the floor, and candles should be lit near the deceased's head.
  • Forgiveness. While lowering the body to the floor, forgiveness should be asked of the deceased.
  • Psalms. After lighting the candles, Psalms should be recited, including Psalms 23, verse 17 of Psalm 90, and Psalm 91. 
  • Dignity of the deceased. The human body is sacred, and its integrity, privacy and dignity are vigilantly protected by Jewish law and tradition. Also after the person has passed away, the body which was the vessel and vehicle to the soul deserves our reverence and respect. Anyone in the presence of the deceased should act with the same respect and deference toward the deceased we would show for the person when alive.
  • Watching over the body. Where possible, there should always be someone with the body until the funeral. This is known as shemira("honor guard"). Those according this honor to the deceased should recite prayers or psalms during their "shift," as this brings comfort to the soul of the deceased. Once your loved one has been brought into our care, Shomrei Neshama will arrange to have shemira at our facility.
  • No autopsy should be performed (except under special circumstances) since it is a gross desecration of the body’s sanctity according to Jewish law and tradition. Shomrei Neshama of Greater Washington, P.A. has a working relationship with the Medical Examiner’s offices to limit autopsies whenever legally feasible and get your loved one into our care as soon as possible.
  • Embalming and cremation should be avoided since they are gross desecration of the body’s sanctity according to Jewish law and tradition. As an Orthodox funeral home, Shomrei Neshama does not offer embalming or cremation.
  • The burial should take place as soon as possible, preferably on the very day of the passing, and should be delayed only for truly important reasons, as sanctioned by Torah law.

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