May a person learn torah near a dead body? Does it matter if the corpse is Jewish or not? Please cite sources.

1 Answer 1


Gesher Hachayim, chapter 5, section 2, paragraphs 1–4, writes (in my own loose translation):

And one is not allowed to speak words of Torah within four cubits of a corpse, or even read Sh'ma or pray or say a b'racha, for he'd be "teasing the pauper", doing a mitzva that the dead person cannot. Likewise, he can't be in the vicinity of the corpse wearing t'filin or tzitzis visible out.

Outside of the corpse's four cubits it's permitted. The Shach wrote that words of Torah are prohibited even outside of four cubits, but the later rabbis have taken the position that even words of Torah are permitted outside four cubits.

But in the house the corpse is in, we're stringent even outside of his four cubits, as we treat the whole house as four cubits.

Even before a woman's or minor's corpse, who were exempt from Torah study, tzitzis, and t'filin even when alive, we nonetheless are forbidden to study or be adorned by t'filin or tzitzis.

But we can say, before a corpse, psalms or other things and verses that portend raising the level of his soul... and such verses as are customary to say when washing or dressing him [in preparation for burial]. For by such... "teasing the pauper" is irrelevant....

Also to expound before the corpse things in his honor (even as the S'faradim do) is permitted, as anything for his honor is permitted.

As always, for practical halacha, consult your rabbi rather than relying on what you read on this site. Note that the Gesher Hachayim does not specifically (as far as I see) mention non-Jews' corpses, one way or the other.

  • How does this reconcile with the custom for the person doing shmira over an unburied niftar to recite tehillim while doing the shmira?
    – eykanal
    Feb 23, 2012 at 12:52
  • 1
    @eykanal, See the second to last paragraph in the quoted section.
    – Seth J
    Feb 23, 2012 at 13:43
  • 2
    Thank you for this helpful answer. It would seem from the Gesher Hachayim says that this prohibition should only apply to a Jewish corpse because it falls under the category of lo'eg l'rosh, were we are concerned about 'mocking' the neshama who no longer has a chance to perform these mitzvos (even if not obligated like the woman or child) but a gentile is in fact forbidden to learn and thus should be precluded.
    – none
    Feb 23, 2012 at 14:30
  • @Moshe, I agree with the gist of your comment, but CYLOR for practical guidance.
    – msh210
    Feb 23, 2012 at 15:45
  • RAMBAM Mishneh Torah Hilchos Avel Ch. 14 could be the source for Gesher HaChaim.
    – user1292
    Feb 29, 2012 at 17:33

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