Jewish tradition recognizes that immediately following a death, the bereaved often enters an initial period of shock. Our sages tell us, “Do not comfort a person when his dead lie before him” (Pirkei Avot 4:18). The bereaved should be left alone to the extent that he or she desires, and must be freed of all responsibilities – religious and otherwise – in order to attend to the funeral arrangements. Recitation of the Kaddish* does not begin until the burial.
This prayer contains no reference to death and, in origin, was not associated with death. Historically, the Kaddish was recited upon the completion of a period of study, when students would declare “Magnified and sanctified be God’s great name” in recognition of the opportunity to study, and in thanks for it. When a teacher died, his students would honor him by studying his works and then reciting Kaddish. This was the prayer’s first association with death.
Today, Kaddish has become a prayer of affirmation. Despite the painful blow which the mourner has been dealt, belief in God is affirmed. Our sages required that Kaddish be recited in the presence of a Minyan* (group of 10 adult Jews) in order to emphasize the supportive role of the community. As the community shares in the loss, so too must it help provide consolation to the mourner.
According to Jewish Law, the following are obligated to mourn: Son, Daughter, Father, Mother, Husband, Brother, Half-Brother, Wife, Sister, and Half-Sister of the deceased. Girls under the age of 12 and boys under the age of 13 are exempted from mourning.
Keriah* (Rending of Clothing)
Keriah is a traditional sign of mourning. Beth Torah’s practices allow for the wearing of a Keriah button as a substitute for the traditional rending of garments. The small black Keriah button carries an attached black cloth tail, which is cut as a substitute for tearing of actual clothes. Keriah buttons are provided by the funeral home, and are worn during the period of Sheloshim – for 30 days.
The Keriah service takes place just before the start of the funeral service. At this time the mourners recite a benediction in which they say “Baruch Dayan Ha’emet,” an acknowledgement that God is the True Judge. Then the Keriah buttons are pinned in place. Sons and daughters of the deceased wear their buttons on the left side of the body, above the heart. All other mourners wear the button at the same height on the right side of the body.
This seven-day period, which commences immediately after burial, is the most intensive time of mourning. It concludes on the morning of the seventh day after the burial. Mourners do not “sit Shiva” on the Sabbath, and are encouraged to come to the synagogue to recite Kaddish.
All public mourning practices resume following Shabbat. The Shiva period ends early when any Jewish Festival (except Chanukah or Purim) begins within seven days of the burial.
Returning from the Cemetery
The mourners, as well as all others who have been at the cemetery, wash their hands before entering the Shiva residence (house of mourning) to symbolize separation of death from life. A water supply and towels on the porch or at the front doorway of the Shiva residence should be provided for this purpose.
Because light is a symbol of the soul, a Shiva candle is lit in the House of Mourning upon return from the burial, and is burned continuously for seven days. The Funeral home will furnish this special candle, which should be set in a prominent place in the home.
Meal of Condolence
The first meal that the mourners eat after returning from the cemetery is prepared by friends and relatives, and marks the beginning of the Shiva period. This meal should include hard-boiled eggs, for eggs symbolically represent both life and hope. Neither wine nor meat should be served because these foods symbolize the celebration of well-being.
The discoveries of modern psychiatry remind us once again of the intuitive wisdom our ancient teachers of Judaism so often had concerning human nature and its needs. They recognized centuries ago how essential it is to express grief rather than repress it; how important it is to talk about one’s loss with friends and relatives; and how imperative it is for mourners to move step by step from the inactivity that follows bereavement back to normal activity.
During the Shiva period, mourners have the obligation to recite Kaddish.
They may request that an evening Minyan Service be held at the Shiva residence;
if so, the Ritual Committee will aid in assuring the presence of a Minyan and will provide a prayer leader, prayer books and kipot*.
The front door of the House of Mourning should be left unlocked so that visitors may enter without ringing the doorbell. A sign may be posted on the door asking visitors not to ring the bell.
It is not proper for mourners to serve guests during the Shiva, or to partake in festive meals. In general, mourners refrain from normal daily activities such as going to work or school, and do not attend to matters of personal business. If the mourner must work for financial reasons, a return to work is permitted after the second day of Shiva.
Mourners give visible expression to their feelings of grief by interrupting certain activities and taking part in a variety of others. Through these traditional ways of mourning, the bereaved exhibits a temporary lack of self-concern, as the loss of the loved one is considered paramount.
Mourners should respect the following traditions:
- Cover all mirrors
- Refrain from wearing cosmetics and perfumes, from shaving, from having one’s hair cut or one’s nails manicured, and from buying new clothes. It is customary to bathe only for purposes of cleanliness during this time, and not for pleasure.
- Refrain from wearing leather shoes, since leather is considered a sign of luxury.
- Refrain from all sources of entertainment and from participation in festive occasions.
- Refrain from engaging in conjugal relations.
- Sit on low stools or cushions, as a sign of mourning. (It is from this custom that the phrase “sit Shiva” comes.)
Visitor Conduct at the Shiva Residence
Jewish tradition regards the comforting of mourners as a mitzvah* (religious commandment) and an especially meritorious act. The mourner will require and appreciate comfort throughout the entire Shiva period.
Visitors may bring food to the residence so that the mourners will not have to be bothered with preparing meals during Shiva. It is not appropriate to send flowers or bring candy. It is most appropriate to make a contribution to the deceased’s favorite charity, or to the Congregation in memory of the deceased.
Greetings are permitted, but should be subdued. It is often best to allow the mourner to open the conversation. Speaking of the deceased, and especially sharing significant memories, is most appropriate. In order to avoid a festive atmosphere, visitors should try to avoid crowding the Shiva residence. The best visit is usually a brief one, in which the visitor speaks with the mourners and leaves shortly thereafter.
The Sheloshim period begins immediately after the burial and concludes on the morning of the 30th day following the burial. After Shiva is completed, mourning practices become less intense, and the mourner begins to return to most normal activities. It is customary for mourners to refrain from taking part in large social gatherings throughout Sheloshim; during this period they should not attend festive celebrations, and they are obliged to continue reciting Kaddish. Except for those who are mourning a deceased parent, the end of Sheloshim marks the end of the mourning period.
The First Year
The mourning period for a deceased parent continues for 10 months following Sheloshim. During this time the mourners continue to refrain from large social gatherings, and the obligation to recite Kaddish continues.
Yahrzeit* (Anniversary of a Death)
Yahrzeit is a Yiddish word meaning “year’s time.” Each year the deceased is remembered on the anniversary of the death according to the Jewish calendar. Yahrzeit observances include: lighting a special Yahrzeit candle which burns for the entire 24-hour period, attending Shabbat services on the Shabbat weekend preceding Yahrzeit, attending daily services on the Yahrzeit date in order to recite Kaddish in the presence of a minyan, visiting the grave, and contributing Tzedakah* (charitable donation) in memory of the loved one.
Congregation Beth Torah Services
Shabbat services at Congregation Beth Torah begin at 6:30 P.M. on Fridays (please check with synagogue to confirm time of Friday night service), 9:30 A.M. on Saturdays, 8:30 A.M. on Sunday and at 6:45 A.M. on Monday mornings. Contact the Synagogue to verify the schedule and location of daily services where Kaddish may be recited.
As noted earlier in this section, it is most appropriate to honor the memory of the deceased by making a contribution to that person’s favorite charity or to the Congregation. The memory of a loved one may also be honored through the purchase of a plaque to be placed on our Memorial Board located in the Synagogue Sanctuary. For more information on the purchase of a plaque, please contact the Synagogue Office or the Chairman of the Cemetery Committee.