Jewish Mourning Rituals

April 15, 2004 · updated February 15, 2022

What are the mourning rituals in Judaism?

Mourning rituals in Judaism are extensive. Ritualized mourning has several purposes: it shows respect for the dead, comforts those left behind, helps prevent excessive mourning, and eventually helps the bereaved to return to normal life. Mourning is observed for 30 days after burial, very intensely so in the first seven days. Regular remembrances are performed in the years following the death.

Upon first hearing of the death of a close relative (parent, child, sibling or spouse), grief is traditionally expressed by tearing (keriyah) one's clothing. The bereaved will wear the torn clothing through the first seven days of mourning. The relative then recites a blessing describing God as the true Judge, according to Jewish beliefs.

During the period between death and burial (aninut), the primary responsibility of mourners is to care for the dead and prepare the body for burial. This duty takes precedence over all other commandments. The family is left alone to grieve during aninut; calls or visits should not be made during this time.

After the burial

After the burial, a relative or friend prepares the "meal of condolence," which traditionally consists of eggs (symbolizing life) and bread. This meal is for family only, but visitors may come to offer condolences afterwards.

The family then enters a seven-day period of intense mourning (shiva, "seven"). Mourners sit on low stools or the floor instead of chairs, do not wear leather shoes, shave or cut their hair, wear cosmetics, work, bathe, have sex, put on fresh clothing, or study Torah (except Torah related to mourning and grief). They wear the clothes they tore when they learned of the death or at the funeral. Mirrors in the house are covered. Prayer services are held where the shiva is held, with friends, neighbors and relatives making up the minyan.

Shiva is followed by schloshim ("thirty"), which lasts until the 30th day after burial. During this period, the bereaved do not attend parties or celebrations, do not shave or cut their hair, and do not listen to music.

One-year mourning

The final period of formal mourning, avelut, lasts for 12 months from burial and is observed only for a parent. During avelut, mourners do not go to parties, the theater or concerts. The son of the deceased recites the Kaddish prayer every day for 11 months. (Why not 12? Traditionally, the soul must purify itself before going to the world to come, which takes up to 12 months for the most evil. To recite the Kaddish for 12 months could imply the parent was the type that would need that long, so rabbinical authority set the limit at 11 months.)

Interestingly, the mourner's Kaddish does not mention death. Rather, it praises God and asks for the establishment of God's kingdom. Its purpose is to reaffirm the faith of one who has lost a parent, a time when one is especially vulnerable to turning away from God. This in turn honors the deceased, since it demonstrates he or she has raised a child with faith that is strong enough to endure the death of a loved one.

After the first year, the anniversary of death (yahrzeit) is remembered annually at the synagogue. The son recites the Mourner's Kaddish and makes the aliyah, and a candle is lit that burns for 24 hours.