“Drop Dead Diva” and the Murder-Victim Exception


There are plenty of TV shows that get Jewish law wrong (we’re looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy and Curb Your Enthusiasm), so we love it when one gets it right, and teaches us something in the process. Our latest favorite example is the legal dramedy Drop Dead Diva.

In a recent episode, a Jewish murder victim’s body was exhumed to test the DNA on her shirt. Since Jewish burial laws stipulate that bodies be carefully washed and dressed in plain white shrouds before burial, this may have seemed like a mistake. But Lifetime was right. There’s an important—and surprising—exception to this rule: murder victims.

Victims whose clothes aren’t removed during the investigation are buried in what they were wearing when they died. They don’t receive the ritual purification, either (Shulhan Arukh 364:4). Why not? Logistically it’s in order to ensure that every drop of their blood is buried respectfully, but various rabbinic authorities have suggested that doing so also expresses outrage over the murder, and that when the person appears before God in such a horrifying state, it may arouse compassion from on high and hasten the end of the exile. Silver lining? Well…not exactly.

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