The Moment of Death for a Jewish Patient

Rabbi Tom Louchheim
Congregation Or Chadash
Tucson, Arizona

During the Last Minutes of Life

During the last minutes of life, no one in the presence of the individual may leave, excepting those whose emotions are uncontrollable, or those who are physically ill. It is a matter of greatest respect to watch over a person as s/he passes from this world to the next.

As death draws near, the patient should be encouraged to say Vidui (confession). Care should be taken that this does not distress the patient. It should be explained that saying Vidui does not mean that death is imminent. The following is a short form in English:

"Unto You, O Lord my God and God of my ancestors, I acknowledge that my life and recovery depend upon You. May it be Your will to heal me. Yet, if You have decreed that I shall die of this affliction, may my death atone for all sins and transgressions which I have committed before You. Shelter me in the shadow of Your wings; grant me a share in the world-to-come. Protector of orphans and Guardian of widows, protect my beloved family, with whose soul my own soul is bound. Into Your hand I commit my soul. You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Adonai hu haElohim. Adonai hu haElohim. The Lord is God. The Lord is God."

If patient is unable to recite, then someone else can recite the following:

"O Lord our God and God of our fathers and mothers, we acknowledge that our life is in Your hands. May it be Your will that you send perfect healing to ___________. Yet, if it is Your final decree that s/he be taken by death, let it be in love. May his/her death atone for the sins and transgressions which s/he committed before You. Grant him/her of the abundant good which is held in store for the righteous and give him/her life replete with joy in Your Presence, at Your right hand forever. Protector of orphans and Guardian of widows, protect his/her beloved family, with whose soul his/her own soul is bound. Into Your hand s/he commits his/her soul. You have redeemed him/her, O Lord God of truth. Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Baruch shem kavod malchuto l'olam vaed, Praised be the glory of God's sovereignty for ever and ever. Adonai Melech, Adonai Malach, Adonai Yimloch l'olam vaed, The Lord is Ruler; the Lord was Ruler; the Lord shall rule for ever and ever. Adonai hu haElohim. Adonai hu haElohim. The Lord is God. The Lord is God."  

When Death has Occurred

The eyes and the mouth of the deceased must be closed, and a sheet drawn over the face.

The position of the body should be so oriented that the feet face the doorway. The body should not be touched except for his own honor (for example, straightening the body if it is in an awkward position). Some orthodox authorities place the body on the floor for 20 minutes.

A candle should be placed near the head of the deceased. The candle is symbolic of the human ul and of God's eternal presence. "The human soul is the lamp of God" (Proverbs 20:27). If death occurs on the Sabbath (sundown Friday through sundown Saturday) this should not be done.

Relatives and friends may ask forgiveness from the deceased for any harm they may have caused him during his lifetime.

Prayers and Psalm 23 are recited (see below).

No eating, drinking, smoking or derogatory comments (regardless of their veracity) may take place in the room. Discussion should focus solely on the personal qualities, or on funeral arrangements, of the deceased.

Orthodox (check with the rabbi): the deceased may not be moved on the Sabbath.

From the moment of death until the funeral, the deceased must never be left alone.

Recited at time of death

Elohaynu veilohay avoteinu v'imoteinu, Our God and God of all who have gone before us, Author of life and death, we turn to You at this time of great grief. We turn to you in trust and pray that __________ be granted perfect rest in Your sheltering presence. Much was left unfinished in his/her life, yet we know also the good that s/he tried to do. May those acts of goodness continue to give meaning to our lives and may the errors in his/her life be forgiven.

O God, Protector of the bereaved and the helpless, watch over this family/us. Provide them/us comfort from the pain they/we surely feel at this time.

Into Your hand is the spirit committed; redeem it, O God of mercy and truth.

Adonai melech, Adonai malach, Adonai imloch l'olam va'ed. God reigns; God has reigned; God will reign for ever and ever.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Baruch shem k'vod malchuto l'olam va'ed. Blessed be God's name whose glorious dominion is for ever and ever.

Adonai natan v'Adonai lakach. Y'hiyi shem Adonai m'vorach. God gave and God has taken away; blessed be the name of God.

Baruch dayan ha'emet. Blessed be the Judge of Truth.


Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
God has me lie down in green pastures,
God leads me beside still waters.
God revives my soul;
God guides me on paths of righteousness for God's glory.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me.
Your rod and your staff do comfort me.
You set a table in sight of my enemies;
You anoint my head with rich oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall abide in the house of the Lord forever.



Rabbi Thomas Louchheim, Congregation Or Chadash, (520) 512-8500.
A Rabbi's Manual, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1965.
The Jewish Way of Death and Mourning, Maurice Lamm, 1969.
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Isaac Klein, 1979.
Anne Brener, Mourning and Mitzvah, 1993.

See also:

Rabbi Kenneth Cohen's sermon "Good Grief"

Rabbi Louchheim's Mourning Pamphlet

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