Shemira a Jewish Funeral Tradition

Watching the body of the dead is a Jewish practice, which they call Shemira. They watch the body from the point of death to where they eternally lay the body. In Israel, Shemira is referred to as the act of guarding against the military guard or to guard a building or possessions.  However everywhere else, they protect the body before they take it to its final place of rest. There is also specific names for the person who will watch over the body. If it is a woman, she is a shomeret, and if it is a man he is a shomer.

Why they do this – Watching the body

Watching the BodyThey believe that the soul of the dead will hover around the body for three to seven days. The spirit will continue to hover until they place the body in its final place of rest. During Shemira, the shomer will read comforting psalms to the body of the deceased.  It is also advised that the Shomer read soothing literature as well as spiritual literature and literature about death. They tend to meditate and pray when they protect the body.  This is done to comfort the deceased as well as to comfort the shomer.

Who may protect the body? – Watching the body

Shemira will allow for someone to guard the body; it could be guards, friends, family members or members of a Jewish burial society. You can pay someone for the act of Shemira because they do not benefit directly from the dead. What the Shemira does is provide a service for the family.

They consider Shemira to be a mistvah.  A mistvah is a Jewish command. They do not consider it a mistvah regarding it being a commandment. However, it is a custom of ancient Israel that they perform for the dead.  However,  they consider it as a Torah as an ancient custom of Israel. It all depends on the society, who they will allow to guard the body.

The original purpose was to protect the body from rats, before the burial.  You do not have to watch the body; the body can already be in a casket. There are a few rule that you need to follow however if you perform Shemira. You may not smoke, drink or eat in the same room as the body. The reason for this is because the dead are not able to participate in any of these activities. Some communities will ask the Shomer to be in the same room as the body, while others will allow being in the same building.

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