As far as I know, living people can positively affect the dead. This is the reason we say Kaddish and learn Mishnayos for the souls of the deceased. (Feel free to comment with more examples of this.) If you want to get more mystical, there are numerous stories of tzaddikim finding tikkunim for sinful souls.

So today I read an article that mentioned how the Mormon Church posthumously baptized Simon Wiesenthal's parents, and I wondered: is it possible to negatively affect the souls of the deceased?

(Mormon posthumous baptism just provided the impetus for this question. I'm interested in the more general idea of souls being negatively affected after death.)

@DoubleAA brought up an interesting point in the comments that I didn't think of. Is a soul affected when a living person sins because of something the deceased did while alive?

Specifically, I'm wondering if there are sources that discuss this, rather than looking for personal logic and intuition.

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    If you assume doing mitzvot helps them because they 'caused' you to do it, then if someone sins because of the deceased, it should negatively affect him as well as he 'caused' him to sin.
    – Double AA
    Feb 16 '12 at 21:12
  • As far as Mormon baptsim goes, this is sort of a duplicate of judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/8653. But IMO this question is good even if the Mormon-baptism issue is removed from it. +1.
    – msh210
    Feb 16 '12 at 21:13
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    @DoubleAA, except that (as we know from other contexts) God rewards according to certain rules he doesn't use to punish. Maybe (conjecture) that applies here, too.
    – msh210
    Feb 16 '12 at 21:13
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    @DoubleAA, You actually bring up something I hadn't thought of. I asked only about actions that the deceased had nothing to do with, and didn't cause. You bring up another fascinating aspect that I didn't think of. Thanks! I've added it to the question. Feb 16 '12 at 21:22
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    zachin l'adam shelo befanav, v'ain chayivin oso ela befanav.
    – YDK
    Feb 17 '12 at 7:48

Summary: One who drinks water on the eve of Shabbat or, according to other opinions, following mincha on Shabbat, steals water from the souls in Gehenom and thus harms them.

There is little, if any, Scriptural discussion regarding the continued life of a soul following death, therefore we are left exploring the murky depths of Midrash. I refer you to the (odd?) halachic dispute regarding drinking water on the eve of Shabbat and following mincha on Shabbat. A good discussion of the argument can be found in the book 'Kaddish' by Leon Wieseltier. Here are some excerpts [page 100-105 of first Vintage Books edition, 2000]:

The ערוגת הבושם:

.... on the Sabbath the dead are relieved of the judgment of hell. On that afternoon the souls are made to stand by a gleaming fountain of water that flows at the entrance to the garden, and then rinse themselves in the water to cool their bodies from the fire... Since the souls at that hour are standing by that fountain, the geonim and the [post-Talmudic] rabbis established the custom that we do not drink water between the afternoon service and the evening service on the Sabbath, because we would be stealing it from the dead."

The שיבולי הלקט [about]:

According to a rabbinical legend, when an individual drinks water at twilight [on the afternoon of the Sabbath], it is as if he were stealing the water from his dead. And I have found this in the responsa of the geonim: 'We have heard it said in the name of the early sages that for the duration of twilight, permission is granted to the souls of the dead to drink water. And when one drinks water at the hour when the souls of the dead are drinking water, the souls of the dead who are one's kin are not permitted to drink. For this reason, the sages said that it is as if one were stealing from one's own relatives."

The אור זרוע from Isaac of Vienna:

When the afternoon [of the Sabbath] comes... it is the practice of the righteous.... and then to eat a meal. Our Master Tam [רבנו תם] scolded them and said that it was forbidden, citing the tale in the Jerusalem Talmud about a man who drank water between the afternoon prayer and the evening prayer, and the angel of death came and slew him, because he drank when the dead were drinking and so was a robber of the dead."

The מרדכי from Mordecai ben Hillel:

... Rabbi Meshullam responded that in his text of the ancient rabbinical legend he had a different formulation. His text said that 'those who eat and drink on the afternoon of the eve of the Sabbath [steal from the dead] and the reason is that [by Friday afternoon] the dead are exhausted from the judgment they have endured all week. And for this reason he was strict about not drinking on the afternoon of the eve of the Sabbath.... And it is the custom of the whole world to be careful [about drinking the water of the dead]..."

The Bach concludes that one should not drink either Friday afternoon or Saturday afternoon.

Needless to say, the practice of refraining from drinking during these times has all but disappeared, though as can be seen above, was widely practiced in Ashkenazic lands in the Middle Ages.

  • The custom has fallen into disuse BECAUSE circumstances changed. I believe the prohibition on drinking water referred only to running water straight from a body of water (lake, river), not tap water from pipes, and definitely not bottled water.
    – LN6595
    Nov 27 '15 at 3:29

The Torah says (in the 10 commandments) that God punishes the guilty for 3 or 4 generations.

In many places, I have seen people troubled by this idea, and the general kiruv answer is that if person's children do not do mitzvot, because of the sins of the parent the parent is punished for those lack of mitzvot and sins being done, up to 3 or 4 generations.

It would seem from this answer and common question, that yes, a person can negatively affect the dead.

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    The language-פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי- implies that the children inherit their fathers sins, not the other way around. (it could be so, but is not implied by the pasuk)
    – YDK
    Feb 17 '12 at 7:46
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    Yes, it's a drash which changes the plain meaning of the verse.
    – avi
    Feb 17 '12 at 11:17
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    Any sources for this? Feb 17 '12 at 14:09

HaRav Musafi writes in his Sefer (Shivat Sion) that when someone says Hashkava for someone after the first year of their death it can Has WeShalom have a negative effect and may Has Weshalom lead to the Neshama to get tortured. He also says that when someone reads the Haftara "Lezecher Nishmat" someone and makes mistakes it can also negatively effect the Neshama Has Weshalom.


"There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or a familiar spirit, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the LORD; and because of these abominations the LORD thy G-d is driving them out from before thee." Deuteronomy 18:10-12

To believe that this Mormon ceremony actually has any effect on Jewish souls in Olam Haba is a violation of the above Torah verses.

Whether or not a living Jew's negative conduct negatively affects that Jew's deceased parents (or possibly teachers?) is debatable; but it's clear that anything the non-Jews do independently, with any motive, has zero effect.

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    The Mormon story was just the impetus for this more general question. Also, I don't understand how those pesukim would be violated. Could you elaborate, please? Thanks! Feb 17 '12 at 14:12
  • @HodofHod There is a general prohibition of believing in superstition. I searched for the scriptural source of this prohibition, and this is what I found. If someone can provide a better scriptural source, I will add and/or replace. Leviticus 18:3 is generally understood to mean doing nonsense superstitions (not walking on a crack in the sidewalk, throwing salt over ones left shoulder, etc.), where as the verses above prohibit using non-Jewish spiritual practices, as if they had any power.
    – user1095
    Feb 18 '12 at 16:53
  • Yet many halachic authorities do ascribe spiritual significance to baptism/conversion for the living, not to mention those authorities who believe in magic and the other things mentioned in those pesukim. I've also updated my question, thanks! :D Feb 19 '12 at 0:04
  • @HodofHod the significance to living baptism is that the Jew CHOSE (lo aleinu) to follow something outside of halacha. That person is still a Jew; so no one believes that the ceremony itself has any spiritual power. The existence of black magic is a moot point: even if the "ov" and "yidoni" were efficacious, it's only Hashem that makes them work. Believing that they (or any other non-Torah sanctioned spiritual medium) are independently powerful, is a grave error. Therefore, as I wrote in my answer, anything the non-Jews do independently has zero effect on Jewish souls, living or not.
    – user1095
    Feb 19 '12 at 7:22
  • @Will Normally, Superstition is spoken about in regards to some act which will affect the world around you. Like, you will win a sports game if you wear lucky socks. A postmordem baptism doesn't fall under superstition, since it's only affecting dead people.
    – avi
    Feb 19 '12 at 7:44

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