An explanatory page on Shmira. We answer the most popular questions about Shmira.
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GUIDELINES FOR THE SHOMER
Some quick Shomer questions answered
Shomer: History of Shmira
The body is the vessel into which our Creator entrusted the Soul or Neshama which He created. This Neshama is holy, thus the vessel is holy and is to be treated with the utmost reverence and respect.
At the time of passing the soul departs the body, but remains present near the body and is fully aware of all that transpires in its vicinity.
Thus the Shmira serves two purposes:
1. To guard the body from becoming prey for rodents, insects or any other predator, including man, or mishandling by careless people.
2. To console the soul by not leaving the body unattended like something useless and no longer worthy. This time is unsettling for the soul, and it is a major comfort to the soul to have someone who is conscious of his/her presence.
In addition, the reciting of Tehillim / Psalms is comforting and soothing to the soul at a time in which it is distressed and confused.
Of course the best way to perform Shmira is to be with the body at all times, while reciting T’hillim. The response of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt'l, states that when the body is in no danger of becoming prey to rodents and insects, such as when under refrigeration or casketed, it is sufficient to maintain a presence of Shmira in the building, having a Shomer who will visit the area where the body is located from time to time and recite T’hillim.
Based on this, we have created our Guidelines and Regulations for Shomrim as a standard for our Chevra. For the Shomer to go beyond the standard is certainly a great Mitzvah, and the greatest kindness of all, often called “Chesed Shel Emes.”
Jewish cemeteries as well as Jewish tradition and law require a Shomer and Tahara for every Jew who passes away.
Guidelines and Obligations of the Shomer or Shomeres
Each 24 hour period has 3 Shmira periods. The daytime hours include 2 periods. The first day period is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the second is from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. The night period is from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. A 24-hour period can have 4 Shmira periods when it contains part of 4 periods (e.g. a Shmira from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m. will be 4 periods). Many Chevras and/or Funeral Homes outside of Greater NY area have only two shifts, a daytime shift and a nighttime shift, totalling 24 hours.
1. Arrival must always be promptly on time. When a Shomer will be more than 15 minutes late, the Chevra office must be notified.
2. A Shomer must dress with a dress shirt and jacket or vest, in a conservative manner, whenever involved with families in the funeral home. Casual attire may be worn when families are not expected, however, Shomrim must dress appropriately at all times. Women acting as Shomeres must dress in the tranditional orthodox attire, with arms covered to the wrists, skirts or dresses to mid calf, and 100 denier stockings or tights. All necklines shall be high, and all natural hair must be covered with a wig or other hair cover which completely covers natural hair.
3. A Shomer should know where the body is at all times.
4. Shomrim should assist in moving the body they are watching. When an ID takes place, it is the Shomer who should replace the “Sharbelach” and shroud. The Shomer should be the one to remove the face/head cover for the ID, and should not allow the funeral director to touch the deceased.
5. A Shomer must stay with a body at all times when family is present before the funeral, at a visitation, or when an ID is being made.
6. When one Shomer is present, T’hillim is said for an average minimum of 15 minutes per hour. These periods may vary as expediency dictates, and must be said in the closest proximity of the body as possible. It is highly recommended to recite Tehillim at the beginning of every shift, and just prior to the service.
7. If there are two bodies to sit for, it is recommended to call for a second shomer. One Shomer may sit for two bodies for short durations, as it is impractical to call in a Shomer for only a few hours, the Shomer present is enough. However for a longer period, please call for a second shomer.
8. Two Shomrim are sufficient for two, three, four, or even more bodies. The thought of three or more shomrim is based in ignorance and unfounded, and is actually discouraged for various reasons.
9. If two Shomrim are present, these periods may be rotated. One Shomer says the T’hillim at one time, and the other on an alternative time or other convenient patterns. When the bodies are in separate locations, each time of T’hillim should be split between these locations.
10. A Shomer may retire at 12:00 a.m., after the last T’hillim, and arise at 6:00 a.m. When two Shomrim are present overnight, an effort should be made to extend the time of Shmira. Therefore, one Shomer retires at 10:00 p.m. and arises at 4:00 a.m., and the second Shomer retires at 12:00 a.m. and arises at 6:00 a.m.
The Shomer or Shomeres must always provide the means of being awakened on time.
11. A Female Shomeres may sit during the day or night. She may sit alone at night, only if she is either alone or with her husband, son, brother, or father being the second shomer. Under no circumstaces shall a woman Shomeres sit overnight with a male Shomer she is not related to.
12. A Female Shomeres shall be one who is qualified to do a Tahara with the Chevra Kadisha.
13. Prayer, eating, and other activities must be done during the breaks between the times designated for T’hillim, in the area designated by the director for use by Shomrim. The Shomer must maintain absolute cleanliness of this room at all times and keep his belongings neat and within the room provided for the Chevra at the Funeral Home. Shomrim should refrain from speaking on the phone loudly in public areas or for long periods of time, and from spending time in the office talking to funeral directors at times when they are busy. Though there is nothing wrong with being friendly with the Funeral Directos or Funeral Home staff, if they are so inclined, the Shomer or Shomeres should be careful to not interfere with their performance of their jobs.
14. Under no circumstances is a Shomer to use any funeral home equipment, including telephones, without permission. Please use your own cell phones for personal calls or to call the Chevra office.
15. A Shomer must inform the funeral director when he arrives and when he is leaving. He must also notify the funeral director before leaving the building for whatever reason, and should state the purpose and duration of leave. Unless permitted by the Vaad office, a Shomer should never be out for more than 45 minutes. Under no circumstances may a Shomer leave a funeral home door open at night, for any reason. If you don't have the key, you may not leave.
It is normal for a Shomer or Shomeres to leave for short periods to take care of personal responsibilities, as long as each leave is of a duration of 45 minutes or less.
16. In summary, Shmira schedules must be strictly followed and communication between Shomrim and between fellow Shomrim & funeral directors must be very clear at all times.
17. Shomrim are required to be respectful of the funeral director, the family, and the Rabbi, and are responsible for the cleanliness and safety of the funeral home at all times.
18. Under no circumstances should a Shomer shame a family for ignorance or for the lack of level of religion or observance. However, "IF" and only if, a family asks a halachic question, you should answer if you are a Rov yourself and are so qualified. If you are not a Rov yourself, or are but not qualified, please refer them to a qualified Rov, or offer to call the Rov for them. But, again, this is ONLY upon the clear request by the family and may not be initiated by the Shomer.
NOTE:Every Jewish body deserves a Shomer and a Tahara, no matter whether the deceased was religious or not. And, should a family, tragically, refuse a Tahara, it is sad enough that they will not be buried in a Jewish cemetery, still there should be a shomer..
OBLIGATIONS OF THE FUNERAL DIRECTOR
1. The Funeral Director must provide: A) A comfortable, suitable, & private place to rest and to pray; B) a place to eat and to discard food; C) a place to sit when saying T’hillim near the body; D) access to refrigeration for food; E) a place to warm food, and keep it warm, for Shabbos.
2. The room dedicated and designated for the Chevra/Shomerim should be able to afford privacy for the shomer and security for his belongings.
3. The Funeral Director must provide a cot or sofa for the shomer to sleep during the night, and a shower for him/her to wash. You shower daily, and so should the Shomer or Shomeres.
4. The director is required to notify the Shomer when a body has been moved if the Shomer is not there when the move is made. It is best to ask the Shomer to assist whenever moving the remains he is watching. When a Vaad Removal (Hotza’ah) is involved, the body must be moved by the Shomer, or other Chevra personnel.
5. When an ID is made by the family, the director should allow the Shomer to replace the “Sharbelach” (pottery shards) and shroud in the traditional manner. The Shomer should be the only person handling the deceased's remains after the Tahara.
6. Funeral directors should deal with the Shomrim in an understanding and respectful manner that properly reflects their appreciation of the Shomrim, the difficulty of their job, and their respect for the function that the Shomer serves.
If there is any deviation from these guidelines and a Shomer or funeral director has a grievance, please bring such an issue to the attention of Rabbi Meisels at the Vaad Office.
Rabbi Nathan Meisels
Chevra Kadisha Adas Yereiim of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
For Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
~ For Rabbi Nathen Meisels: Rabbi@chevrashomers.info