Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Death & Mourning - Pouring Out the Water

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

l'zichram shel kedoshei Mumbai, ztvk"l hy"d
On This Day of Funerals, Hirhurim Staff and Readers Join in the Mourning

There is an ancient Jewish custom to pour out any bottled water which one may have in one's home upon hearing of a death in the neighborhood.[1] The "neighborhood" in this context refers to those within a three house radius, in every direction, from where the death took place. It may just be that the origins of this custom lie in the words of the prophet who associates death and water: "for we shall surely die…as water is spilled."[2] One should also pour out one's water upon hearing that a Gentile in the neighborhood has passed away.[3] Any water which is designated to be spilled out must not be used for any purpose, including washing any part of one's body, though some authorities are lenient.[4]

Click here to read moreThere are two reasons for the custom to pour out water upon hearing the news of a death. It is explained that the custom was instituted as a discreet manner of notifying others that a death has occured without having to inform them directly. This is based on the idea that "motzi diba kesil hu" - "he who bears bad tidings is a fool".[5] Indeed, the Talmud teaches that one should always endeavor to avoid having to be the one to bear bad news.[6] As such, whenever one sees a neighbor pouring water out onto the street one should assume that a death has taken place and conduct oneself accordingly.[7] Another reason for pouring out water is because whenever a death occurs, it is believed that the Angel of Death washes his sword in the nearby waters, leaving a drop of poisonous blood behind.[8] Drinking such water has been proven to be fatal.[9]

Some authorities suggest that one should also dispose of any soups or baked goods which had been baked using bottled water at the time a death had taken place.[10] There are a number of reasons why the pouring out of water is not practiced when a death takes place on Shabbat, including the concern that the news will ruin the Shabbat atmosphere of others.[11] Some have the custom to pour out the water once Shabbat has concluded, though others rule that doing so is unnecessary. One need not dispose of ice cubes or other frozen bodies of water [12] and some authorities rule that water which was well sealed need not be poured out, either.[13] There is also a view that any water which has been modified from its raw state and refereed to by a different name (i.e. Tea, Soda) need not be disposed of. There are grounds for leniency and flexibility in the application of this custom if doing so will result in financial loss.[14]


[1] Y.D. 339:5
[2] Shmuel II 14:14
[3] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 339:4
[4] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 339:4
[5] Mishlei 10:18
[6] Pesachim 3b
[7] Shach Y.D. 339:9
[8] Shach Y.D. 339:9, Taz Y.D. 339:4, Be'er Heitev Y.D. 339:5
[9] Rema 339:5, Be'er Heitev Y.D. 339:5
[10] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 339:4
[11] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 339:4
[12] Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 33:5
[13] Gesher Hachaim 3:3:11
[14] "Mourning in Halacha" Chapter 4 note 23, Beis Yitzchak Y.D. 2:107

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