At the time a person passes away, G‑d has reached down and gathered His spark, drawing the soul into His abode. Everyone present at the time of passing should recite the following (some also recite the "Tziduk Hadin"):

Hebrew and Transliteration:

Translation: Blessed is the True Judge.

The family begins to mourn the moment the soul leaves the body. One mourns his father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, brother, and sister [including half-brother and half-sister].

The Duty of the Moment

The duty of the moment is to ensure a prompt and proper burial in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.

Kabbalah teaches that the separation of the soul and body is a very gradual process, and following passing the soul hovers near the body.

The soul does not feel free to ascend to heaven until the body is prepared for burial in the traditional Jewish way and buried in the ground. We therefore must do all we can to expedite this process, enabling the soul to rest in peace quickly, and easily.

Treating the Deceased with Respect

The Torah teaches that there is great holiness remaining in the body after death. This is likened to the treatment of a Torah scroll that is no longer fit for use — we do not treat it disrespectfully nor discard it, G‑d forbid, but inter it gently in the ground. We do no less for a human body that housed a G‑dly soul.

One must go to great lengths to treat the deceased body with utmost awe, dignity, and respect — as if the person were still alive. Jewish tradition outlines clearly how one shows this respect, as will be explained below.

Chevra Kaddisha

The Jewish Burial Society

Caring for the deceased is one of the greatest mitzvot in the Torah and a task reserved for the pious and righteous people in each community. Many cities, especially large metropolitan areas, have dedicated teams of people who form the Chevra Kaddisha (lit. the holy brotherhood), also known as the Jewish Burial Society. The members of the Chevra Kaddisha cleanse, purify and prepare the body for burial. At the same time, they ensure that the actual burial process is done in strict accordance with Jewish law and tradition.

A Prompt Burial

It is forbidden to leave the deceased unburied overnight, as it states in the Torah, "You shall bury him on that same day" (Deuteronomy 21:23). One may delay the burial for the deceased's honor (i.e. to perform the Tahara purification, to obtain shrouds or a burial plot, or to gather close family, etc.), but not unnecessarily or for the convenience of others.

A Moral Obligation

The deceased is utterly dependent upon his loved ones to make sure the burial process is performed according to Jewish tradition as practiced for over four thousand years. It is thus morally incumbent on those responsible for the care of the deceased to call on the services of the Chevra Kaddisha and to ensure a proper kosher burial.

When it comes to death and burial one thing is certain: we generally have only one chance to do it right.

Doing Things Right

The laws of burial and mourning in Jewish tradition are complex, and fine details may vary in some situations, therefore one must consult a competent rabbi or the Chevra Kaddisha for complete guidance.

Highlights of the Jewish laws concerning preparing the body for burial, the burial plot, proper dress for the deceased, choosing a casket, the funeral, and so on, follow in the next chapter.

Notes for Caregivers

  • Do not touch or move the deceased for at least fifteen minutes from the moment of passing.

  • If the passing occurred on a weekday, immediately call the local Chevra Kaddisha (the Jewish Burial Society) and ask for further instructions. If one contracted a Jewish funeral home, make sure that the funeral director is aware that the deceased is to receive a proper Tahara (purification of the body), a Shomer (a Jewish person to stay with the deceased until burial), Tachrichim (traditional shrouds), a "traditional kosher" casket, and is to be cared for by the Chevra Kaddisha.

  • If the passing occurred on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, all the laws of forbidden activities remain in effect, including preparations for burial. One should consult a competent rabbi or the Chevra Kaddisha following the conclusion of Shabbat or the holiday.

  • If the passing occurred in a hospital, notify the staff that the Chevra Kaddisha will be attending to the deceased, and they should wait for instructions before doing anything on their own (including removing monitor leads, tubes, etc.). If the hospital staff insists on moving the body to the hospital mortuary, a Jewish person must accompany them and remain within viewing distance of the deceased until members of the Chevra Kaddisha arrive and take charge.

  • In a case where there are tubes or I.V. lines attached to the deceased, one should not remove them; instead, wait for instructions from the Chevra Kaddisha. If for any reason they must be removed, the tubes should be cut by a Jew, and the part nearest or in the body should remain attached.

  • It is also very important to ensure that any clothing, towels, linens, or similar items that may contain blood or fluids of the deceased, should be saved in a bag and given to the Chevra Kaddisha to be buried with the body.

  • It is a Biblical commandment to bury the deceased as soon as possible, and no later than 24-hours from the moment of passing. If the passing occurred in the morning, one should try to ensure that the deceased is prepared for burial and buried before dusk of the same day. If this is not possible, the burial should take place on the following day. If the deceased will be buried in another country, or in other circumstances, consult the Chevra Kaddisha or a competent rabbi for guidance.

  • Delaying a prompt burial for any reason other than ensuring a proper, kosher burial is considered a disgrace to the deceased. One should be aware that the soul is in turmoil and does not find rest until the body is properly buried.

  • After fifteen minutes, the eyes of the deceased are closed by his children, relatives, or caregiver, and he is completely covered with a sheet. If any limbs are in an awkward position, one should return them to their normal, resting position.

  • Light a candle and place it near the head of the deceased (except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays). On Jewish holidays (except on Yom Kippur), some permit kindling the candle with a flame that had been lit before the onset of the holiday.

  • All mirrors and pictures of people in the room should be covered (or turned around).

  • All exposed water in the room or home at the time of passing should be discarded.

  • If possible, open the windows of the room.

  • Relatives and friends who are nearby may enter the room to ask for forgiveness from the deceased (and to forgive) for any pain or hard feelings that might have come between them. If one was not nearby at the time of passing, he may do so later at the memorial service or at the gravesite.

  • Conversations in the presence of the deceased should be restricted to discussing the funeral arrangements, describing the person's qualities, or reciting Psalms.

  • The deceased must be guarded by a Jewish person until the burial. This person is called a Shomer (lit. guard). This role may be filled by family members, friends, or by members of the Chevra Kaddisha. The family or funeral home can also hire someone to serve as a Shomer. One may alternate with the Shomer and take turns.

  • One must conduct himself in a respectful manner when in the presence of the deceased. Eating, drinking, smoking, sleeping, and frivolous talk are understandably forbidden. Instead one should recite Psalms and think about holy matters.

  • It is forbidden to learn Torah or wear a Tallit or Tefillin within six feet of the deceased since he can no longer perform any mitzvot.

  • It is permissible to recite Psalms in honor of the deceased.

  • If the body is transported anywhere by car, a Jewish person should either drive, or accompany the driver.

Preparing the Deceased for the Chevra Kaddisha

  • If the passing occurred on a weekday, the deceased is covered with a sheet. The covered body is then gently moved from the bed to the floor by three or four (preferably Jewish) people, and placed so that the feet are facing the door. One should put something under the deceased's head to support it.

  • In a hospital or hospice environment, or where it is unfeasible to do the above, it is sufficient to leave the body in the bed until the Chevra Kaddisha arrives. The body must be completely covered out of respect for the deceased.

  • On Shabbat, the body is not moved. It is covered with a sheet until the conclusion of the Shabbat.

Extremely Important!

  • Embalming, pre-funeral cosmetic surgery, and cremation are all explicitly forbidden according to the Torah. These are very severe matters and should not be treated lightly.

  • Autopsies are considered a pre-funeral surgical procedure and is strongly forbidden. In the case of a suspected crime, or other unusual situations, one must consult a rabbi who specializes in this area of Jewish law for guidance.

  • Organ donation, in general, is a very complicated matter in Jewish law (see above). One must consult a rabbi who specializes in this area of Jewish law for guidance before taking any action or making any decisions in this matter.