Next Steps for Family Members

A Loved One Has Passed. What Should the Family Do Now?

steps for family after jewish deathAccording to the spiritual traditions of Judaism, when someone dies, the soul does not completely leave this world until after the burial. This transition period is considered very confusing for the soul so the presence of the living is very important through prayers and respect to show they care.

This is also the time when several important decisions will need to be made by the next-of-kin regarding the funeral arrangements. Immediately following the moment of death, a series of practical and religious issues take effect and certain laws and rituals are honored.

  • “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 is definitely established, 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.
  • The body of the deceased should then be placed on the floor, and candles should be lit near the deceased’s head.
  • 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.
  • Arrange for the “Taharah.” The family’s rabbi and the funeral home should be called at this point—if it has not already been done. The funeral home should be informed that a “taharah” will be needed.
  • 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”). According this honor to the deceased, they should recite prayers or psalms during their “shift,” as this brings comfort to the soul of the deceased.
  • No autopsy should be performed (except under special circumstances) and the body should not be embalmed, displayed or cremated — all of which are gross desecrations of the body’s sanctity according to Jewish law and tradition.
  • 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