Thursday, January 5, 2017

Closing Eyes

Can you murder a dying man? There is an interesting passage in the Talmud that states:“Our Rabbis taught, ‘He who closes [the eyes of a dying person] at the point of death is a murderer. This may be compared to a lamp that is going out: if a person places a finger upon it, it is immediately extinguished’” (Talmud Shabbat 151b). One cannot presume to know the fate of another person, especially at what seems like the moment of imminent death.

However, once a person does pass away, one should close the deceased’s eyes. Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law - 1874) wrote about this idea: “The eyes of the deceased must be closed. If there are sons, it should be done by his son, as it says (Genesis 46:4), ‘Joseph shall pass his hand over your eyes.’ If there is a firstborn son, he should do it” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 194:7).

Closing the eyes of a person who has passed away represents the fact that one cannot behold both Olam Hazeh (this world) and Olam ha’Bah (the world to come) at the same time. Closing the eyes of the deceased is  also considered an act of respect, and treating the dead with respect is of primary importance in Jewish law. It is for this reason that the body of one who has passed away should be covered modestly and the body should never be left alone from the time of death until the burial.


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