The dead, free from all obligation (Shab. 30a), have many claims upon the living. "Their wish must be respected and fulfilled" (Giṭ. 14b; Maimonides, "Yad," Zekiyah, viii. 2, xiii. 1; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 125, 8). "It is unlawful to speak evil of the dead" (Ber. 19a; Mordecai Yoma, ii. 1196; Hagahot Asheri Ta'anit, iii. 64; compare Diogenes Laertius, "Chilon," i. 3, 70, whence the Latin proverb "De mortuis nil nisi bonum"). It is a transgression of the Law (Deut. xxi. 23) not only to leave the dead unburied (see Burial), but also to do anything which may disfigure or desecrate the dead () (Yer. Sanh. vii. 3; Yer. Soṭah iii. 19b; see Cruelty). For this reason a post-mortem examination was forbidden by R. Akiba (B. B. 154a, b; compare Ḥul. 11b), although anatomical knowledge was obtained by occasional postmortem examinations such as are mentioned in Ber. 45a (compare Nid. 30b). In fact disrespectful treatment of a dead human body, as, for instance, placing the bones in a sack and loading them upon a beast, instead of carrying them reverently to their last resting-place, is regarded as inhuman (Ber. 18a). See also Burial SocietiesCemeteryFuneral RitesPost-Mortem Examinations.

"Every act of kindness done to the dead is called 'ḥesed shel emet' [="true unselfish love"] because the hope of compensation is excluded" (Gen. R. xcvi.).

In case the dead was offended in his lifetime, his pardon is to be solicited at the grave by the offender in the presence of ten persons (Yoma 87a; Yer. Yoma viii. 45c); this is called asking "meḥilah." Particularly should the memory of the righteous be held in honor, and his name when mentioned be blessed (Ps. cxii. 6; Prov. x. 7; Yoma iii. 11; Pesiḳ. R. 12; Midr. Teh. to Ps. cxviii. 1; Gen. R. xlix.; Midr. Shemuel i.). For this reason the names of good men, and especially of parents, were preserved by being given to children (Haggadah Shab. i. 17; see Zunz, "Z. G." p. 318). When mentioned, the name of the dead, especially of parent or teacher, is to be accompanied by some formula of blessing upon his memory (Ḳid. 31b; See Invocation; Zunz, l.c. pp. 320-348). See also JahrzeitḳaddishLevirate.

  • Zunz, zur Geschichte und Literatur, 1845, pp. 317-458;
  • Landshuth, Seder Biḳḳkur Ḥolim, Ma'abar Yaboḳ, Introduction, Berlin, 1857.