Dear Rabbi,

My brother passed away a few months ago. I could not make it to the funeral or for the mourning period in Israel. Recently, a friend asked if his son could borrow my brother’s apartment until he finds a suitable place to rent.

I refused, because I felt that my connection with my brother was still in his apartment among his things, which remain as they were when he passed away.

I feel that a non-relative should not enter the place where the deceased lived just before his death, and sleep in his bed and use his belongings.

What is your advice, and are there any Jewish customs about these types of things?



Thanks for reaching out to us. I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Understandably, you are still experiencing a strong connection to your brother through the things he left in this world.

Let me just mention that the pace at which mourning happens is very individual. A person in mourning goes through different stages, such as depression, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and these stages can come and go in any order and several times.

In terms of Jewish law, the only items of a deceased person that one is actually not permitted to use are those that were physically attached to the person and are not easily removable (such as an implanted gold tooth). It is also the custom not to use the shoes of a person who passed away.1

As you can sense, your brother's soul is very much still in contact with you. Now he is in a spiritual place of pure joy and delight, and when he sees you living joyfully and honoring his memory by increasing in study and good deeds, giving charity and doing charitable acts on his soul's behalf, it increases his joy and your connection to him.

Seeing you sad or clinging to his memory in a way that prevents you from moving forward in life would certainly cause him pain. In fact, acts of mourning that are not mandated according to Jewish law, or that are extended beyond the prescribed time period, are frowned upon.2 Doing otherwise is detrimental to the soul of the deceased.

While it is true that some element of your brother’s soul is still found in the place where he lived and among the items that were his, your brother completed his life's mission in this physical world. Consider the good it could do for his soul to see you using his place for a good deed like helping another person.

If you wish, you might tell your friend that you are still coping with your brother’s loss, but that you thought it over and are okay with his son staying there so long as he is does not sleep in the bedroom (or other caveats that might make you feel more comfortable).

Let me know what you think. Your questions and comments are always welcome.

See Mourning a Death from our Jewish Death and Mourning site.

Rabbi Zalman Nelson, LMSW,
for The Judaism