Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington
The shomer/shomeret is a ceremonial guard over the body of the deceased. Shmira serves to comfort the soul of the deceased (their neshama) by having another Jew remain with the deceased during the time immediately following their passing, and it reassures the family to know that their loved one is not alone.
1. The primary activities of the shomer/shomeret should be reciting psalms, Torah learning, or other Jewish-oriented meditative activities which provide merit to both the shomer and the deceased. The expectation is to spend at least 50% of the shomer’s time conducting these activities.
2. Recognizing that the shomer may be serving in the role for a prolonged period (e.g., overnight, Shabbat, holidays), it is likely that the shomer will need to sleep. If overnight, best practices suggest that the shomer should not sleep if their shift is less than four hours; if more than four hours, the shomer should aim to sleep in one hour increments every four hours.
3. Other activities (reading, secular studies, internet usage, etc.) are acceptable during times not occupied by items 2 and 3 above. The shomer is requested to use headphones if needed to keep a sense of peace and quiet, and not to watch movies or play video games out of respect for the deceased.
4. Eating is permitted during the shomer’s shift; however, refrigeration is not available at all funeral homes. For shmirah shifts over Shabbat and holidays, the shomer may bring a hot plate or other device for warming food. For all other times, shomrim are asked not to bring cooking utensils or equipment.
5. Except in the event of an emergency, shomrim should not leave the premises of the funeral home. Smoking breaks outside (but on the funeral home’s premises) are acceptable as necessary. Such activities should be conducted in accordance with any guidelines or restrictions imposed by the funeral home.
6. The shomer must recognize that the funeral home’s area dedicated for shmirah may be used by multiple individuals. Therefore, shomrim must be diligent in cleaning up after their shift concludes, and leaving the area in the same condition as when they arrived.
7. The shomer’s physical appearance should be generally clean and presentable. Even for overnight shifts, the shomer should remain fully dressed at all times. Shomrim are asked not to wear perfumes or colognes since others may be occupying the same area soon after the shomer’s shift concludes.
8. It is possible that the shomer may encounter the family of the deceased or members of the chevra kaddisha. In those circumstances, the shomer should make him/herself known to the other individuals.