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A Guide for the Jewish Mourner


This section of our website has been prepared to assist you with the traditional customs of mourning in the Jewish faith. Since customs vary between families and communities, one should be guided by their family tradition in setting up a proper funeral service. Always consult with your Rabbi for personal and spiritual guidance, and to answer any questions relating to Jewish law, practice and traditions to be observed.

Beth Israel Memorial Chapel gratefully acknowledges Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg of Congregation Beth El, Edison, NJ, for his guidance and graciousness in allowing us to excerpt portions of his publication, "A Handbook for the Jewish Mourner," which is one source of information provided herein. We trust that you will find the information presented here to be relevant and of the utmost assistance to you.

At the Time of Death

Upon the death of a loved one, the Rabbi and funeral director should be contacted as soon as possible. The funeral director will arrange for the transportation and care of the deceased. If you or your family are unaffiliated with a synagogue and do not have a Rabbi, please let us know and we will provide assistance in arranging one for you.

Star of David

The Bible tells us that burial should take place as soon as possible after death, stating positively, "Thou shalt surely bury him in the same day." Accordingly, Jewish law dictates that, whenever possible, we bury the deceased within 24 hours following death. We do, however, understand that at times, delay is unavoidable, and at these times, Jewish law tells us that the burial should be completed as expeditiously as possible. Your Rabbi will also provide guidance to you in this area.

In the Jewish faith, one is obligated to mourn for his or her father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, brother, sister, half-brother and half-sister.


Preparation of the Deceased: The following guidance is based upon the practices observed in traditional Judaism.

1. Taharah (cleansing of the body)
The religious ritual called the Taharah, which means purification, is performed by the burial society known as the Chevra Kadisha. Men wash men and women wash women. During the taharah, prayers are said for the deceased. The cleansing of the body is a symbol of purification of the soul.

2. Tachrichim (burial shrouds)
Following the taharah, the deceased is dressed in white linen shrouds, which represent purity and humility. If the deceased was male, he will be wrapped in his tallit after one of the fringes are cut. The shrouds, and a tallit, if neccesary, are provided by the funeral home.

3. Aron (casket)
Jewish custom urges the use of a traditional wooden casket, which is pegged, doweled and constructed without any metal components. We will assist you in the selection of the proper casket.

The Funeral

1. Keriah
The mourners recite the following benediction before Keriah: Barukh attah adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olam, dayan ha-emet, which translated means, "Praised are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, the true judge." This benediction is a re-affirmation of the Jewish faith.

As an expression of deep mourning, the mourners tear an article of their clothing such as a tie, blouse or shirt, or a black ribbon worn on a garment. This rending of the garment is usually done prior to the start of the funeral service. The tear or Keriah, is made over the heart on the left side for parents and on the right side for all other relatives. The torn item or ribbon should then be worn during the seven day period of Shiva, excepting, that in honor of the Sabbath or during Jewish festivals, one does not wear torn garments.

2. Eulogy
The eulogy gives honor to the life of the deceased, recognizing his or her accomplishments. Frequently, Rabbis must deliver eulogies for people they have never met, therefore, it is important to tell the Rabbi of the good qualities of the deceased, together with other pertinent information so that a proper eulogy may be created.

3. The Levayah (escorting the deceased to burial)
The ground burial is the most important part of the funeral, and everyone who is able to attend should make an effort to accompany the deceased to their final rest. It is indeed considered a mitzvah and an act of kindness for one to be a pall bearer, escorting the casket to its final resting place. After the deceased has been lowered into the grave, it is appropriate for those in attendance to place several spadefuls of earth into the grave, using only the back of the shovel. Afterwards, the shovel is replaced into its mound of earth for the next person. The shovel is never handed from one person to the next.

4. Recessional from the Grave
At the conclusion of the burial, those present direct their concerns from the deceased to the mourners by forming parallel lines, facing each other, as the mourners pass through. As the mourners pass by, those present recite words of comfort: Ha'makem yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei tziyon vi'Yerushalayim, "May the Lord comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

5. Washing of the Hands
Immediately after the graveside service, if an area of the cemetery is so designated, one should wash their hands using a pitcher of water and a towel. If the cemetery does not have a designated area, then the hands may be washed at the entrance of the house where shiva is being observed. This is done as a reminder of the ancient custom of purification performed after contact with the dead.

Shiva and Mourning
Shiva refers to the seven day period of mourning which begins immediately after the funeral, with the day of burial counted as the first of seven days. Many people choose to begin shiva as they leave the cemetery by changing into non-leather shoes, which are worn during the seven days of shiva, as a sign that they are now aveilim. Shiva ends on the morning of the seventh day, with one hour of that day regarded as the full day. For shiva on or during religious holidays and festivals, consult your Rabbi. During shiva, mourners sit on low stools or benches, they do not bathe or shower for comfort, although, it is permissible to wash for cleanliness. Mourners also do not put on new or freshly laundered clothing. They do not go to work and they refrain from shaving and haircutting. Conjugal relations are forbidden during shiva. For more information on this topic, you may click here to be re-directed to ShivaConnect.com.

1. The Site for Observing Shiva
Ideally, shiva should be observed at the house of the deceased.

2. Meal of Condolence
Neighbors and friends of the mourners usually prepare the meal that will be eaten by the mourners upon their return from the cemetery. This meal typically consists of bread or rolls and hard-boiled eggs. The egg is symbolic of of the continuous cycle of life. The egg hardens the longer it is cooked; the mourners must also harden themselves against the pain of death.

3. Visiting the House of Mourning
The mitzvah of nihum aveilim, the comforting of the mourners, is an act of kindness and respect. Upon leaving, one says, Ha'makem yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei tziyon vi'Yerushalayim meaning, "May the Lord comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."

4. Shiva Candle in the House of Mourning
During shiva, the period of mourning, a candle, symbolic of the soul, is kept burning in the memory of the soul of our dear departed one. We will provide you with this candle.

5. Covering Mirrors in the House of Mourning
It is tradition to cover all mirrors in a house of mourning during the period of shiva, so that mourners may not gaze upon their reflection during this period. Mourners must focus, instead, upon the meaning of life and death and not upon themselves.

6. Seating in the House of Mourning
During shiva, the mourners should be seated lower than others on shiva benches or stools, or on the floor.

7. The Period of Aninut
Until the time of burial, the mourner is known as an Onen. It is the duty of the Onen to arrange for the funeral and burial of the deceased. The Onen is exempted from reciting prayers or putting on tefillin and cannot be included in a minyan.

8. Sheloshim
During this thirty day period following burial, and including shiva, mourners should not shave or cut one's hair. They should also refrain from attending parties or getting married.

9. Avelut
This is the one year period of mourning that is observed for a mother or father, ending 12 Hebrew months from the day of death. During this period, joyous festivities should be avoided.

10. Kaddish
Kaddish is said for the deceased father or mother for 11 months. For other close relatives, it is recited for the thirty day period.

Setting up a Monument
An integral part of the process of mourning is the consecration of the monument, commonly called an "unveiling." The ancient tradition of consecrating a lasting monument is found in the Torah: "And Rachel died and was buried on her way to Ephrat, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a monument by her grave." The placing of a monument and the unveiling ceremony may take place anytime after the 30 day period of mourning. Our staff is available to assist you in the proper design and erection of a permanent monument.

The Yahrzeit
The Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the day of death according to the Hebrew calendar. On the eve before the yahrzeit, a candle is lit and kept burning for 24 hours in memory of our loved one. Kaddish should be recited during this period while attending synagogue services. You may click here for a Yahrzeit calendar.

Yizkor
Yizkor is a memorial service held on Yom Kippur, on the 8th day of Sukkot, on the last day of Passover, and on the 2nd day of Shavuot. A Yizkor candle is lit for these services.