There are circumstances under which a person should not recite the Shema: if they are in the presence of naked people, if they are themselves undressed, if there is nearby fecal matter, if they need to defecate, etc. (This site provides a list of Talmudic sources that discuss these issues.) And yet, there is also the widespread custom of reciting the Shema prior to one's death, but none of us can choose the circumstances under which we die.

My gut instinct is that if one were close to death but in a situation or an environment that would normally preclude reciting the Shema they should say it anyway - but is that correct? Are there any sources that discuss this, or that provide a logical (meta-halakhic) reason as to why it is the case? Furthermore, if it is the case, are there any other non-fatal circumstances to which this principle can be extrapolated?

(Obviously, if the purpose of reciting the Shema at the time of one's death - or not even the purpose, if the effect - is one of providing comfort, one might be able to waive whatever the halakha happens to be in pursuit of that aim. But that would also be to suggest that the bare halakha is not to recite it under those circumstances, and it's the halakha that I'm asking about - not about what people think that somebody should be able to do.)

  • 6
    My gut instinct doesn't match yours, FWIW.
    – Double AA
    Dec 5, 2016 at 22:09
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/65435/759
    – Double AA
    Dec 5, 2016 at 22:09
  • 5
    +1 I'm willing to guess the iron rakes left Rabi Akiva's clothing less than optimal. And who knows what else was left in the coliseum.
    – user6591
    Dec 6, 2016 at 1:41
  • @user6591 if his organ was ripped off, it should not be a problem if he is naked, my gut is with DOUBLEAA
    – hazoriz
    Dec 8, 2016 at 4:15
  • @ShimonbM I don't know the answer, but my instinct is that according to the "bare halacha" it would be forbidden to say Shema under such circumstances (but agree one might easily get around that on grounds of comforting the mortally ill). I can think of two similar examples on widely different ends of the spectrum-- both, unfortunately, afield of yours--in which the halacha is clearer: First, the story about the long-married loving couple who correctly do not touch because the wife on her deathbed is a niddah. Second, the idea that we may say tehillim at night for the benefit of the sick.
    – SAH
    Aug 24, 2018 at 4:27

2 Answers 2


Nishmat Avraham (vol. 1, p. 48 and vol. 2 p. 297) writes (based on what he heard from R Yehoshua Neuwirth) that

If it is urgent, he may confess his sins even when feces or urine are present. However, he should not utter the name of Hashem or make reference to His Kingship. Rav (Shlomo Zalman) Auerbach added that it would be preferable if he does not contemplate, in this situation, that he is performing a mtzvah, just as he should not think that he is performing a mitzvah when blowing the shofar in the presence of feces or urine.

We see from there that, even on his deathbed, if in the presence of feces or urine, one does not say Hashem's name for the halachically-prescribed confession of sins (SA YD 338). One could therefore reason that one cannot say Hashem's name in Shema (which is a minhag as best as I can see (cf. also here) in similar circumstances.

Of course, should this become a practical situation, one should ask a competent rav.

  • Thanks for this answer. Do you know if the response would be the same if it could be established that saying Shema Yisroel would give the dying person comfort? Or should we assume that aspect was considered by the posek, and rejected?
    – SAH
    Aug 24, 2018 at 21:19
  • I would assume it would have been mentioned. I personally don't quite see how "giving comfort" would rise to the level that it would push other mitzvot (like saving life would)
    – mbloch
    Aug 25, 2018 at 17:48
  • Lo aleinu, if this becomes a practical issue for anyone, asking a competent Rav may not be an option.
    – DonielF
    Aug 30, 2018 at 19:12
  • @mbloch My understanding was that we include efforts to comfort the gravely ill in pikuach nefesh. I could be wrong
    – SAH
    Sep 3, 2018 at 4:47
  • 1
    @SAH I thoughts this was a debate amongst poskim, especially in a case like this question whether one is providing comfort, not saving a life. You might find this interesting for instance: traditionarchive.org/news/_pdfs/28-41%20Cohen.pdf, bottom of 32 and 33
    – mbloch
    Sep 4, 2018 at 7:39

Say it! It might just save your life.

My reasoning is as follows: no one knows when they are going to die(if at all!), and if they are supposed to die at that moment, maybe it's the result of an act whose consequences can be rectified(or "thwarted") by the recital and concentration on the shema; thereby rendering their act of reciting shema as one of pikuach nefesh(which is doche everything but the big three; illicit relations, avodah zara, and murder) in an effort to save their life(thereby performing a great mitzvah).

We have a tradition in our family and as Jews to say the shema in situations of danger(see story involving the Chafetz Chaim in first link below).

I wholeheartedly believe that all humanity should strive to stay alive in the face of death, almost no matter the cost.

Just seems like Jewish sense to me, and a logical(meta-halachic) answer for the asker and others. See http://www.chevrahlomdeimishnah.org/2009/vaeschanan.pdf for support(specifically the advice from the Chafetz Chaim to the Jewish soldiers).

And here for similar stories: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/kahn/archives/eikev74.htm


  • 2
    You say that one is obligated to give up their life rather than sin by those three. You realize that the source for not serving idolatry under such circumstances is from the Shema itself, right? “And you should love Hashem your G-d...with all your soul” - even if He is taking your soul. According to your logic, I would argue just the opposite - there is no greater violation of this principle than disrespecting His Name! (I have no source that this argument is correct, but neither do you regarding yours.)
    – DonielF
    Aug 30, 2018 at 19:16
  • 2
    Further, would the Halacha (d’Oraisa!) of Lo Sa’asun not trump the Minhag (!) of saying the Shema on one’s deathbed?
    – DonielF
    Aug 30, 2018 at 19:17
  • @DonielF And what about the mitzvah of "v'chai bahem"? Ati aseh(shel v'chai bahem) v'dachi lo ta'aseh(lo ta'asun ken; which only applies to actively profaning HaShem's name, chas v'shalom!). According to you, it's better to die than say HaShem's name in an unclean place...never heard of such a thing. See Rambam sefer Mada chapter 5 in yesodei haTorah explaining that one should die only if the other option is the big three. Aug 30, 2018 at 19:26
  • @DonielF Besides, how can a person know when(or if!) they will die? Should a person give up because they feel really sick(chas v'shalom)? Don't think so! Aug 30, 2018 at 19:29
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Aug 30, 2018 at 19:55

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .