First Things After Death (Detailed)

1. Baruch Dayan HaEmes: Everyone present at the passing should say “Baruch Dayin HaEmes†translated as “Blessed is the True Judge.†We say this as an affirmation that even in a time of pain for us because our loved one has died, we affirm our belief that everything G-d does is true and fair, though at the moment we cannot understand it. The face of the deceased should also be covered at this point. The minhag (custom) is to say Baruch Dayan haEmes “Bless is the True Judge” with the Kriya (tearing a piece of your clothing) at the funeral itself.

2. Light Candle: If possible a candle should be lit and placed near the head of the bed. Some have the custom to light 26 candles and place them around your loved one’s body. This may not be possible in a hospital. No candles or fires should be lit on Shabbos.

3. Recite Verses: According to the Pnei Baruch, the following Tehillim (Psalms) are to be said at the following times: Tehillim (Psalms) 33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104, and 130

  1. Time of Death
  2. End of Shiva
  3. End of Shloshim
  4. End of the Yahrzeit

Moreover, in regards to Tehillim 119, one should do 8 verses for each letter to spell out the person’s name and also to spell out the word נשמה

4. Close Eyes and Mouth: After the death is confirmed, the eyes and the mouth should be closed [1], preferably by a firstborn son [2]. This is learned from the posuk regarding Yosef (Joseph) “and Yosef will place his hand on your (Ya’akov’s (Jacob’s)) eyes (Bereishis 46:4) after he died. The limbs should be straightened out. This step should be skipped on Shabbos.

a. If their mouth will not close naturally, then the mouth should be tied closed with a handkerchief in order to avoid the body from bloating. If it is impossible to close the mouth even with a handkerchief, a cloth should be placed over their mouth.

5. Positioning the Body: Other than facing your loved one’s feet in the direction of the doorway, their body should not be moved except out of respect. For example, if your loved one died in an awkward position, then it would be permissible to move their body.

a. There is a minhag (custom) among some Jews to disrobe the body and then to cover the body in a sheet. Please check with your local orthodox Rabbi to see what the custom is in your area.

b. Some people have retained the custom of lowering the deceased to the floor onto a sheet on top of straw, facing upwards with the feet facing the door 20 minutes after death. While the body is being lowered, it is customary to ask your loved one for forgiveness. The head is placed on a pillow or elevated somehow. Then they pour water on the floor as a sign that a death has occurred.

c. When moving the deceased from the room, the deceased should be removed feet first, and the deceased should precede those who are accompanying the corpse.

6. Asking Forgiveness from the Deceased: There is a beautiful and moving custom whereby relatives and friends ask the deceased for forgiveness for any harm or discomfort they may have caused him in his lifetime.

7. Cover Mirrors: Cover all the mirrors in the house where the deceased is lying. There are two reasons for covering the mirrors: 1) one should not be overly involved in their own vanity during moments of tragedy 2) it is disrespectful to the deceased to be involved in one’s own beauty and ornamentation at a time when their body is decaying. There is also a custom to cover pictures and photos at this time.

8. Throwing out Water: Water that is found in any utensil in the building when the death occurred should be spilled out [3], unless it was brought in after the death occurred. This means drawn water. For example, if you had a cup of water present in the building at the time of the death you would throw that water out. Spilling the water out also applies to the two buildings nearest to the building in which the person died [4] unless a public road or street intervenes the buildings. Seltzer, Soda, Soup, Tea etc. do not need to be spilled out. If the body is moved to another building, you don’t need to spill out water in that building. We do not pour out this water on Shabbos or on Yom Tov. There are 2 reasons for throwing out the water: (1) the angel of death drops a drop of “blood of death†into the water (2) people should realize that someone died and will therefore act appropriately.[5]

9. Watching the Deceased; The deceased should be watched constantly at all times until his burial [6] unless the deceased is put in a box in which case he only needs to be watched from time to time. The family should arrange for a shomer (watcher) to be at his side at all times up until the time he is put in a box. It is preferred that the shomer be a member of the family or a personal friend. The funeral director or Rabbi should be able to make arrangements for a Shomer, but you should ascertain whether or not he is reliable, since the Shomer must watch the body and recite Tehillim (Psalms) day and night until the body is buried and the Shomer cannot fall asleep.

a. One should refrain from idle conversation or frivolity while watching the deceased. It is best to recite Psalms while watching the deceased. Work, homework, etc. should not be performed while watching the deceased.

b. While watching the deceased one may only recite Psalms. One is not permitted to learn Torah, wear Tefillan, wear Tzitzis in the open, or engage in any other mitvos in the same room where the deceased is lying, or within 7.5 feet of the deceased in an open area where the deceased was placed.

One of the reasons is that it will remind the soul that he/she can no longer perform mitzvos on this earth since they have recently passed away. However, by taking on mitzvas in general while not in the presence of their body or after they are buried, is a tremendous source of pleasure and an elevation for their soul.

Also, while watching the deceased an onen (mother, father, spouse, son, daughter) should not eat, drink, give a greeting, or smoke in the same room where the deceased is lying, or within 7.5 feet of the deceased in an open area where the deceased was placed.[7]

10. Calling the Jewish Burial Society: The greatest mitzvah you can perform at this time is to call the Jewish Burial Society so that they can prepare your loved one for burial. There is a Jewish Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha) in every major city. The Jewish Burial Society is comprised of pious members who wash and dress your loved one for burial according to our Jewish laws and customs. Just as a Torah scroll which is no longer kosher cannot merely be thrown away, but must be buried because of the great sanctity it once retained, so too with the body of a Jewish person. The body must be cleaned, washed, and dressed for burial according to our Jewish laws and customs. The Jewish Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha) will ensure that this process is carried out. Unless you call the Jewish Burial Society though, your loved one will not get a proper purification (Tahara) before their burial. Please find a Jewish Burial Society in your area by clicking on the following link.

11. Contacting a Funeral Home: The funeral director should arrange for a local doctor to come and provide a medical certification of death. He should also arrange for the removal of the body. Make sure that the director is aware that the deceased should receive the following:

a. Tahara – purification of the body by the local Jewish Burial Society, also known as the Chevra Kadisha

b. Shomer – a Jewish person to stay with the deceased and recite psalms in their presence until the burial

c. Tachrichim – your loved one should be buried in traditional Jewish shrouds

d. Traditional kosher casket

e. Buried in a Jewish cemetery

*Keep in mind that the funeral director is there to serve you and your family at this moment of tragedy. He should be able to accommodate all of the things that are listed on this website. If he cannot, then please consult a qualified orthodox Rabbi.

* If the death occurs on Shabbos, only the most minimal arrangements can be made. Obviously, no candles should be lit nor should you make any phone calls until after Shabbos has ended. In general, the body should not be moved until after Shabbos.[8] However, a non-Jew is permitted to move the body.[9] A shomer (watcher) should be present even during Shabbos.

12. Contact a Rabbi to make Funeral Arrangements: make arrangement as soon as possible for the burial. Again, the body should be buried as soon as possible, as the Torah explicitly writes “Thou shall surely bury him the same day†and “His body shall not remain all night.†There are a few exceptions why we may delay burial, but it cannot be merely for the sake of the convenience of the relatives. Please see this link to find a Rabbi in your city.

As we mentioned above, Kabbalah teaches that at the moment of death the body and the soul separate. The soul in fact hovers near the body. The soul is not free to ascend to heaven until the body is prepared and buried. Therefore, we should bury our loved one as soon as possible to express to them our love and care for them.


[1]OC 311:7 Mishna Brurah 311:22

[2] Chochmas Adam 157:9, from the Zohar

[3] YD 339:5

[4] Pischei Teshuvah 339:6

[5] Shach 339:9

[6] Shach 341:18

[7] Tax 341:1 connotes that only the Onen

[8] OC 311:1-6 discusses Heterim for moving the dead body.

[9] The Rema (311:2 and Mishna Brurah 311:12 permit carrying a decaying body through a goy.

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The articles are not meant to be halachic rulings, so please contact a posek regarding your situation. Our website is intended to be a helpful guide, but for everything contained in the articles, or to the extent that we inadvertantly made a mistake on one of the articles, please contact your local Orthodox Rabbi regarding it.