Bereavement in Judaism

Bereavement in Judaism (Hebrew: אֲבֵלוּת, avelut; mourning) is a combination of minhag and mitzvah derived from Judaism's classical Torah and rabbinic texts. The details of observance and practice vary according to each Jewish community.

Upon receiving news of the passing

Upon receiving the news of the passing, the following blessing is recited:

ברוך אתה ה' א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת.

Transliteration: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam, dayan ha-emet.
Translation: "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Judge of Truth [alt., the Just Judge]."[1]

There is also a custom of rending one's clothes at the moment one hears news of a passing.

Orthodox men will cut the lapel of their suit. (see Bereavement in Judaism#Keriah and Shiva re left for parents, right side for other relatives) Non-orthodox practice may be to cut a necktie or to wear a button with a torn black ribbon This symbolic practice is called wearing a Kriah ribbon. However, cutting an actual garment is preferred, as there is question whether one fulfills the obligations through a ribbon.

Chevra kadisha

Main article: Chevra kadisha

The chevra kadisha (חברה קדישא "holy society") is a Jewish burial society usually consisting of volunteers, men and women, who prepare the deceased for proper Jewish burial. Their job is to ensure that the body of the deceased is shown proper respect, ritually cleansed, and shrouded.

Many local chevra kadishas in urban areas are affiliated with local synagogues, and they often own their own burial plots in various local cemeteries. Some Jews pay an annual token membership fee to the chevra kadisha of their choice, so that when the time comes, the society will not only attend to the body of the deceased as befits Jewish law, but will also ensure burial in a plot that it controls at an appropriate nearby Jewish cemetery.

If no gravediggers are available, then it is additionally the function of the male society members to ensure that graves are dug. In Israel, members of chevra kadishas consider it an honor to not only prepare the body for burial but also to dig the grave for a fellow Jew's body, particularly if the deceased was known to be a righteous person.

Many burial societies hold one or two annual fast days and organize regular study sessions to remain up to date with the relevant articles of Jewish law. In addition, most burial societies also support families during the shiva (traditional week of mourning) by arranging prayer services, preparing meals, and providing other services for the mourners.

Preparing the body — Taharah

There are three major stages to preparing the body for burial: washing (rechitzah), ritual purification (taharah), and dressing (halbashah). The term taharah is used to refer both to the overall process of burial preparation, and to the specific step of ritual purification.

Prayers and readings from Torah, including Psalms, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah are recited.

The general sequence of steps for performing taharah is as follows.

  1. The body (guf) is uncovered (it has been covered with a sheet awaiting taharah).
  2. The body is washed carefully. Any bleeding is stopped and all blood is buried along with the deceased. The body is thoroughly cleaned of dirt, body fluids, and solids, and anything else that may be on the skin. All jewelry is removed. The beard (if present) is not shaved.
  3. The body is purified with water, either by immersion in a mikveh or by pouring a continuous stream of 9 kavim (usually 3 buckets) in a prescribed manner.
  4. The body is dried (according to most customs).
  5. The body is dressed in traditional burial clothing (tachrichim). A sash (avnet) is wrapped around the clothing and tied in the form of the Hebrew letter shin, representing one of the names of God.
  6. The casket (aron) (if there is one) is prepared by removing any linings or other embellishments. A winding sheet (sovev) is laid into the casket. Outside the Land of Israel, if the deceased wore a prayer shawl (tallit) during their life, one is laid in the casket for wrapping the body once it is placed therein. One of the corner fringes (tzitzit) is removed from the shawl to signify that it will no longer be used for prayer and that the person is absolved from having to keep any of the mitzvot (commandments).
  7. The body is lifted into the casket and wrapped in the prayer shawl and sheet. Soil (afar) from Eretz Israel, if available, is placed over various parts of the body and sprinkled in the casket.
  8. The casket is closed.

After the closing of the casket, the chevra asks forgiveness of the deceased for any inadvertent lack of honor shown to the deceased in the preparation of the body for burial.

There is no viewing of the body and no open casket at the funeral. Sometimes the immediate family pay their final respects before the funeral. In Israel caskets are not used at all, with the exception of military and state funerals. Instead, the body is carried to the grave wrapped in a tallit and placed directly in the earth. In the Diaspora, in general, a casket is only used if required by local law. In the United States, a casket is always required.

From death until burial, it is traditional for guards or watchers (shomrim) to stay with the deceased. It is traditional to recite Psalms (tehillim) during this time.

Funeral service

The Jewish funeral consists of a burial, also known as an interment. Cremation is forbidden. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally, therefore embalming is forbidden. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. Displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place.[2][3] Flowers are usually not found at a traditional Jewish funeral but may be seen at statesmen's or heroes' funerals in Israel.[4]

In Israel, the Jewish funeral service usually commences at the burial ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service commences either at a funeral home or at the cemetery. Occasionally the service will commence at a synagogue. In the case of a prominent individual, the funeral service can begin at a synagogue or a yeshivah. If the funeral service begins at a point other than at the cemetery, the entourage accompanies the body in a procession to the cemetery. The funeral, the procession accompanying the body to the place of burial, and the burial, are referred to by the word levayah, meaning "escorting." Levayah also indicates "joining" and "bonding." This aspect of the meaning of levayah conveys the suggestion of a commonality among the souls of the living and the dead.[3]


A hesped is a eulogy, and it is common for several people to speak at the start of the ceremony at the funeral home, as well as prior to burial at the gravesite. Some people specify in their wills that nothing should be said about them. On certain days, such as on Chol HaMo'ed ("intermediate days" of Jewish holidays) and during the month of Nisan, eulogies are forbidden.


Jewish funeral in Vilnius (1824), National Museum in Warsaw

Kevura, or burial, should take place as soon as possible after death. The Torah requires burial as soon as possible, even for executed criminals.[5] Burial is delayed "for the honor of the deceased," usually to allow more time for far-flung family to come to the funeral and participate in the other post-burial rituals, but also to hire professionals, or to bury the deceased in a cemetery of their choice. In practice, it is extremely unusual for burial to be delayed more than 72 hours after death.

This traditional practice may have originated from the fact that Israel was, and is, a country with a hot climate. In Biblical times, there were few ways of keeping the dead body from decomposing. Not only would this be generally undesirable, but allowing the dead body of any person to decompose would be showing that person great disrespect. Thus, it became customary to bury the body as soon as possible.[6] In addition, respect for the dead can be seen from many examples in the Torah and Tanakh. For example, one of the last events in the Torah is the death of Moses when God himself buries him: "[God] buried him in the depression in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor. No man knows the place that he was buried, even to this day."[7]

In many traditional funerals, the casket will be carried from the hearse to the grave in seven stages. These are accompanied by seven recitations of Psalm 91. There is a symbolic pause after each stage (which are omitted on days when a eulogy would also not be recited.)

When the funeral service has ended, the mourners come forward to fill the grave. Symbolically, this gives the mourners closure as they observe, or participate in, the filling of the grave site. One custom is for all people present at the funeral to take a spade or shovel, held pointing down instead of up, to show the antithesis of death to life and that this use of the shovel is different from all other uses, to throw three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave. When someone is finished, they put the shovel back in the ground, rather than handing it to the next person, to avoid passing along their grief to other mourners. This literal participation in the burial is considered a particularly good mitzvah because it is one for which the beneficiary — the deceased — can offer no repayment or gratitude and thus it is a pure gesture.

After burial, the Tziduk Hadin prayer may be recited affirming that Divine Judgment is righteous.[8] The family of deceased may then be comforted by other mourners with the formula:

הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלָיִם

Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim:

"The Omnipresent will comfort you (pl.) among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"


Keriah and Shiva

Main article: Shiva (Judaism)

The mourners traditionally make a tear (keriah קריעה) in an outer garment either before the funeral or immediately after it. The tear should be on the left side (over the heart and clearly visible) for a parent, including foster parents and on the right side for siblings (including half-brothers and half-sisters[9]), children, and spouses (and does not need to be visible). In practice, in order not unnecessarily to destroy expensive dress clothes, non-Orthodox Jews will often make the keriah in a small black ribbon that is pinned to the lapel rather than in the lapel per se.

Halachos concerning mourning do not apply to those under thirteen years of age. Also, halachos of mourning do not apply when the deceased is aged 30 days or less.[9]

In the instance when a mourner receives the news of the death and burial of a relative after an elapsed period of 30 days or more, there is no keriah, or tearing of the garment, except in the case of a parent. In the case of a parent, the tearing of the garment is to be performed no matter how long a period has elapsed between the time of death and the time of receiving the news.[9]

If a child of the deceased needs to change clothes during the shiva period, s/he must tear the changed clothes. No other family member is required to rend changed clothes during shiva. Children of the deceased may never sew the rent clothes, but any other mourner may mend the clothing 30 days after the burial.[10]

When they get home, the mourners refrain for a week from showering or bathing, wearing leather shoes or jewelry, or shaving. In many communities, mirrors in the mourners' home are covered since they should not be concerned about their personal appearance. It is customary for the mourners to sit on low stools or even the floor, symbolic of the emotional reality of being "brought low" by the grief. The meal of consolation (seudat havra'ah), the first meal eaten on returning from the funeral, traditionally consists of hard-boiled eggs and other round or oblong foods. This is often credited to the Biblical story of Jacob purchasing the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils (Genesis 25:34);[11] it is traditionally stated that Jacob was cooking the lentils soon after the death of his grandfather Abraham. During this seven-day period, family and friends come to visit or call on the mourners to comfort them ("shiva calls").

Commencing and calculating the seven days of mourning

If the mourner returns from the cemetery after the burial before sundown, then the day of the funeral is counted as the first of the seven days of mourning. Mourning generally concludes in the morning of the seventh day. No mourning may occur on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), nor may the burial take place on Shabbat, but the day of Shabbat does count as one of the seven days. If a Jewish holiday occurs after the first day, that curtails the mourning period. If the funeral occurs during a festival, the start of the mourning period awaits the end of the festival. Some holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, cancel the mourning period completely.

Stages of mourning


Yiskor for Herzl, by Boris Schatz.

The first stage of mourning is aninut, or "intense mourning." An onen (a person in aninut) is considered to be in a state of total shock and disorientation. Thus the onen is exempt from performing mitzvot that require action (and attention), such as praying and reciting blessings, wearing tefillin (phylacteries), in order to be able to tend unhindered to the funeral arrangements. However the onen is still obligated in commandments that forbid an action (such as not violating the Shabbat).

Aninut lasts until the burial is over, or, if a mourner is unable to attend the funeral, from the moment he is no longer involved with the funeral itself.


Aninut is immediately followed by avelut ("mourning"). An avel ("mourner") does not listen to music or go to concerts, and does not attend any joyous events or parties such as marriages or Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, unless absolutely necessary. (If the date for such an event has already been set prior to the death, it is strictly forbidden for it to be postponed or cancelled.)

Avelut consists of three distinct periods.

Shiva – Seven days

Main article: Shiva (Judaism)

The first stage of avelut is shiva (Hebrew: שבעה; "seven"), a week-long period of grief and mourning. Observance of shiva is referred to by English-speaking Jews as "sitting shiva". During this period, mourners traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors.

It is considered a great mitzvah (commandment) of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. The mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may, in fact, completely ignore his/her visitors.

Visitors will traditionally take on the hosting role when attending a Shiva, often bringing food and serving it to the mourning family and other guests. The mourning family will often avoid any cooking or cleaning during the Shiva period; those responsibilities become those of visitors.

There are various customs as to what to say when taking leave of the mourner(s). One of the most common is to say to them:

הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלָיִם
Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim:
"The Omnipresent will comfort you (pl.) among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"

Depending on their community's customs, others may also add such wishes as: "You should have no more tza'ar (distress)" or "You should have only simchas (celebrations)" or "we should hear only besorot tovot (good tidings) from each other" or "I wish you a long life".

Traditionally, prayer services are organized in the house of mourning. It is customary for the family to lead the services themselves.

Shloshim – Thirty days

The thirty-day period following burial (including shiva)[12] is known as shloshim (Hebrew: שלושים; "thirty"). During shloshim, a mourner is forbidden to marry or to attend a seudat mitzvah (religious festive meal). Men do not shave or get haircuts during this time.

Since Judaism teaches that a deceased person can still benefit from the merit of mitzvot (commandments) performed in their memory, it is considered a special privilege to bring merit to the departed by learning Torah in their name. A popular custom is to coordinate a group of people who will jointly study the complete Mishnah during the shloshim period. This is due to the fact that "Mishnah" (משנה) and "Neshamah" (נשמה), soul, have the same (Hebrew) letters.[13]

Shneim asar chodesh – Twelve months

Those mourning a parent additionally observe a twelve-month period (Hebrew: שנים עשר חודש, shneim asar chodesh; "twelve months"), counted from the day of death. During this period, most activity returns to normal, although the mourners continue to recite the mourner's kaddish as part of synagogue services for eleven months. In Orthodox tradition, this was an obligation of the sons (not daughters) as mourners. There remain restrictions on attending festive occasions and large gatherings, especially where live music is performed.

Matzevah (Unveiling of the tombstone)

A headstone (tombstone) is known as a matzevah (monument). Although there is no Halakhic obligation to hold an unveiling ceremony (the ritual became popular in many communities toward the end of the 19th century), there are varying customs about when it should be placed on the grave. Most communities have an unveiling ceremony a year after the death. Some communities have it earlier, even a week after the burial. In Israel it is done after the shloshim (the first 30 days of mourning). There is no restriction about the timing, other than the unveiling cannot be held during certain periods such as Passover or Chol Ha'Moed.

At the end of the ceremony, a cloth or shroud covering that has been placed on the headstone is removed, customarily by close family members. Services include reading of several psalms (1, 23, 24, 103), Mourner's Kaddish (if a minyan is available), and the prayer "El Malei Rachamim". The service may include a brief eulogy for the deceased.

Annual remembrances

Yahrtzeit, Nachala

"Yahrzeit" redirects here. For the CSI: NY episode, see Yahrzeit (CSI: NY).
A yahrtzeit candle lit in memory of a loved one on the anniversary of the death

Yahrtzeit, יאָרצײַט, means "Time (of) Year" in Yiddish.[14] Alternative spellings include yortsayt (using the YIVO standard Yiddish orthography), Jahrzeit (in German), Yohr Tzeit, yahrzeit, and yartzeit. The word is used by Yiddish speaking Jews, and refers to the anniversary of the day of death of a relative. Yahrtzeit literally means "time of [one] year".

The commemoration is known in Hebrew as nachala ("legacy," or "inheritance"). This term is used by most Sephardic Jews, although some use the Ladino terms meldado or less commonly, anyos ("years").[15][16] It is widely observed, and based on the Jewish tradition that mourners are required to commemorate the death of a relative.

Jews are required to commemorate the death of parents, siblings, spouses, or children.[17]

  1. When a first-relative (parent, sibling, spouse or child) initially hears of the death of a relative, it is traditional to express one's grief by tearing their clothing and saying "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" (Blessed is the True Judge).
  2. Shiva is observed by parents, children, spouses and siblings of the deceased, preferably all together in the deceased's home.The main halakhic obligation is to recite the mourner's version of the Kaddish prayer at least three times, Maariv at the evening services, Shacharit at morning services, and Mincha at the afternoon services. The customs are first discussed in detail in Sefer HaMinhagim (pub. 1566) by Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau.

The Yahrtzeit usually[18] falls annually on the Hebrew date of the deceased relative's death according to the Hebrew calendar. There are questions that arise as to what the date should be if this date falls on Rosh Chodesh or in a leap year of the Hebrew calendar.[19] In particular, there are a few permutations, as follows:

This is only a general guideline, some situations have special rules.
Date of Passing Situation on the day of Yahrtzeit Commemorated On
First day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. last, 30th, day of the previous month) Rosh Chodesh only has one day 29th (last) day of the earlier month (not a Rosh Chodesh)
Second day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. first day of the new month) Rosh Chodesh only has one day First day of the month (Rosh Chodesh)
First day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. last, 30th, day of the previous month) Rosh Chodesh has two days First day of the two-day Rosh Chodesh
Second day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. first day of the new month) Rosh Chodesh has two days Second day of the two-day Rosh Chodesh
Adar I (leap year) Is a leap year Adar I
Adar I (leap year) Not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Adar (not a leap year) Is a leap year Ask your Rabbi, opinions vary (Either Adar I, Adar II, or both)
Adar (not a leap year) Is not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Adar II (leap year) Is a leap year Adar II
Adar II (leap year) Is not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Other days (incl. Shabbat or Yom Tov) Any On date of passing

Yahrzeit is done each year, for a full day on the date of death according to the Hebrew calendar. The Synagogue notifies members of the secular date. The names of the deceased are read at the proper evening service and at the Friday evening service the week before the Yahrzeit (W. E, 2005).

The main halachic obligation is to recite the mourner's version of the Kaddish prayer three times (evening of the previous day, morning, and afternoon), and many attend synagogue for the evening, morning, and afternoon services on this day. (During the morning prayer service the mourner's Kaddish is recited at least four times.) As a widely practiced custom, mourners also light a special candle that burns for 24 hours, called a "Yahrzeit candle".

Lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of a loved one is a minhag ("custom") that is deeply ingrained in Jewish life honoring the memory and souls of the deceased.

Some Jews believe that strict Jewish law requires that one should fast on the day of a parent's Yahrzeit;[20] although most believe this is not required, some people do observe the custom of fasting on the day of the Yahrtzeit, or at least refraining from meat and wine. Among many Orthodox Jews it has become customary to make a siyum by completing a tractate of Talmud or a volume of the Mishnah on the day prior to the Yahrtzeit, in the honor of the deceased. A halakha requiring a siyum ("celebratory meal"), upon the completion of such a study, overrides the requirement to fast.

Many synagogues will have lights on a special memorial plaque on one of the synagogue's walls, with names of synagogue members who have died. Each of these lights will be lit for individuals on their Yahrzeit, and all the lights will be lit for a Yizkor service. Some synagogues will also turn on all the lights for memorial days, such as Yom Ha'Shoah.

Visiting the gravesite

The grave of rabbi-singer Shlomo Carlebach in Jerusalem is piled with stones left by visitors.

Some have a custom to visit the cemetery on fast days (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 559:10) and before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (581:4, 605), when possible, and for a Yahrzeit. During the first year the grave is often visited on the shloshim, and the yartzeit (but may be visited at any time).

Even when visiting Jewish graves of someone that the visitor never knew, the custom is to place a small stone on the grave using the left hand. This shows that someone visited the gravesite, and is also a way of participating in the mitzvah of burial. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. Another reason for leaving stones is to tend the grave. In Biblical times, gravestones were not used; graves were marked with mounds of stones (a kind of cairn), so by placing (or replacing) them, one perpetuated the existence of the site.[21]

The tradition to travel to the graveside on the occasion of a Yahrzeit is ancient.[22]

Memorial through prayer

Mourner's Kaddish

Main article: Kaddish

Kaddish Yatom (heb. קדיש יתום lit. "Mourner's Kaddish") or the "Mourner's" Kaddish, is said at all prayer services, as well as at funerals and memorials. Customs for reciting the Mourner's Kaddish vary markedly among various communities. In many Ashkenazi synagogues, particularly Orthodox ones, it is customary that everyone in the synagogue stands. In Sephardi synagogues, and in many non-Orthodox Ashkenazi ones, the custom is that only the mourners themselves stand and chant, while the rest of the congregation sits, chanting only responsively.


In many Sephardic communities, Hashkabóth ("remembrance") prayers are recited for the deceased in the year following death, on the deceased's death anniversary ("nahalah" or "años"), and upon request by the deceased's relatives. Some Sephardic communities also recite Hashkabóth for all their deceased members on Yom Kippur, even those who died many years before.


Remembrance plaque in Tiel.

Yizkor ("remembrance") prayers are recited by those that have lost either one or both of their parents; in some modern moderate Jewish congregations, one might say yizkor for any relative or close friend whose death is mourned. There is a custom that those who do not recite the Yizkor prayers leave the synagogue until the completion of Yizkor; the symbolic reason for this is to respect the life of one's living parents. (Some rabbinic authorities regard this custom as a superstition.)

The Yizkor prayers are recited four times a year, and are intended to be recited in a synagogue with a minyan; if one is unable to be with a minyan, one can recite it without one. These four Yizkor services are held on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, on the last day of Passover, and on Shavuot (the second day of Shavuot, in communities that observe Shavuot for two days). In the Yizkor prayers God is asked to remember and grant repose to the souls of the departed.

Yizkor is customarily not said within the first year of mourning, until the first yahrzeit has passed. This practice is a custom and historically not regarded to be obligatory.[23]

In Sephardic custom there is no Yizkor prayer, but the Hashkabóth serve a similar role in the service.

Av HaRachamim

Main article: Av HaRachamim

Av Harachamim is a Jewish memorial prayer that was written in the late 11th Century, after the destruction of the German Jewish communities around the Rhine river by Crusaders.[24] It is recited on many Shabbatot before Musaf, and also at the end of the Yizkor service.[24]

Communal responses to death

Most Jewish communities of size have non-profit organizations that maintain cemeteries and provide chevra kadisha services for those in need. They are often formed out of a synagogue's women's group.

Zihui Korbanot Asson (ZAKA)

Main article: ZAKA

ZAKA (heb. זק"א abbr. for Zihui Korbanot Asson lit. "Identifying Victims of Disaster"חסד של אמת Hessed shel Emet lit. "True Kindness"איתור חילוץ והצלה), is a community emergency response team in the State of Israel, officially recognized by the government. The organization was founded in 1989. Members of ZAKA, most of whom are Orthodox, assist ambulance crews, identify the victims of terrorism, road accidents and other disasters and, where necessary, gather body parts and spilled blood for proper burial. They also provide first aid and rescue services, and help with the search for missing persons. In the past they have responded in the aftermath of disasters around the world.

Hebrew Free Burial Association (HFBA)

The Hebrew Free Burial Association is a non-profit agency whose mission is to ensure that all Jews receive a proper Jewish burial, regardless of their financial ability. Since 1888, more than 55,000 Jews have been buried by HFBA in their cemeteries located on Staten Island, New York, Silver Lake Cemetery and Mount Richmond Cemetery.

Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles

Formed in 1854 for the purpose of "…procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence…," the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles established the first Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive[25] in Chavez Ravine (current home to Dodger Stadium). In 1968, a plaque was installed at the original site, identifying it as California Historical Landmark #822.[26]

In 1902, because of poor environmental conditions due to the unchecked expansion of the oil industry in the area, it was proposed by Congregation B'nai B'rith to secure a new plot of land in what is now East LA, and to move the buried remains to the new site, with a continued provision for burial of indigent people. This site, the Home of Peace Memorial Park,[27] remains operational and is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles. The original society is now known as the "Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles".[26][28]

Controversy following death

Donating organs

Being an organ donor is permitted, in principle, according to all Jewish denominations once death has been clearly established, provided that instructions have been left in a written living will. However, there are a number of practical difficulties for those who wish to adhere strictly to Jewish law. For example, someone who is dead by clinical standards may not yet be dead according to Jewish law. Jewish law does not permit donation of organs that are vital for survival from a donor who is in a near-dead state but who is not yet dead according to Jewish law. Orthodox and Haredi Jews may need to consult their rabbis on a case by case basis.

Jewish view of cremation

Halakha (Jewish law) historically forbade cremation, at least partly as a means to distinguish the Jew from the non-Jew; and that is still the Orthodox view. Whereas non-Jews in the deserts of the Middle East routinely cremated their dead, Judaism came to stress burial in the earth (included entombment, as in caves) as a religious duty of laying a person's remains to rest. This, as well as the belief that the human body is created in the image of the divine and is not to be vandalized before or after death, teaches the belief that it was necessary to keep the whole body intact in burial, in anticipation of the eventual resurrection of the dead in the messianic age.[29] Nevertheless, some Jews are not religiously adherent or have attached to an alternative movement or religious stream that does not see some or all the laws of the Torah as binding upon them and have chosen cremation, either for themselves prior to death, or for their loved ones. Sigmund Freud, Alexander Korda, Larry Adler, Sid James, Simon Blumenfeld, Peter Sellers, Wolf Mankowitz, and Amy Winehouse are among the many famous Jews who have been cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in London.


See the section on Judaism on the main article, Religious views of suicide.

As Judaism considers suicide to be a form of murder, a Jew who commits suicide is denied some important after-death privileges: No eulogies should be given for the deceased, and burial in the main section of the Jewish cemetery is normally not allowed.

In recent times, most people who die by suicide have been deemed to be the unfortunate victims of depression or of a serious mental illness. Under this interpretation, their act of "self-murder" is not deemed to be a voluntary act of self-destruction, but rather the result of an involuntary condition. They have therefore been looked upon as having died of causes beyond their control.

Additionally, the Talmud (in Semakhot, one of the minor tractates) recognizes that many elements of the mourning ritual exist as much for the living survivors as for the dead, and that these elements ought to be carried out even in the case of the suicide.

Furthermore, if reasonable doubt exists that the death may not have been suicide or that the deceased might have changed her mind and repented at the last moment (e.g., if it is unknown whether the victim fell or jumped from a building, or if the person falling changed her mind mid-fall), the benefit of the doubt is given and regular burial and mourning rituals take place. Lastly, the suicide of a minor is considered a result of a lack of understanding ("da'at"), and in such a case, regular mourning is observed.


Halakha (Jewish law) forbids tattoos, and there is a persistent myth that this prevents burial in a Jewish cemetery, but this is not true.[30][31][32] A small minority of burial societies will not accept a corpse with a tattoo, but Jewish law does not mention burial of tattooed Jews, and nearly all burial societies have no such restriction.[33] Removing the tattoo of a deceased Jew is forbidden as it would be considered damaging the body. This case has been one of public interest in the current generations due to the large population tattooed in Nazi concentration camps between 1941 and 1944. However, it must be noted that, since those tattoos were forced upon the recipients in a situation where any resistance could expect official murder or brutality, their presence is not in any way reflective of any violation of Jewish law on the part of both the living and deceased; rather under these circumstances it shows adherence to the positive command to preserve innocent life, including one's own, by passively allowing the mark to be applied.

Death of an apostate Jew

There is no mourning for an Apostate Jew according to Jewish law. (See that article for a discussion of precisely what actions and motivations render a Jew an "apostate.")

In the past several centuries, the custom developed among Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews (including Hassidic and Haredi Jews), that the family would "sit shiva" if and when one of their relatives would leave the fold of traditional Judaism. The definition of "leaving the fold" varies within communities; some would sit shiva if a family member married a non-Jew; others would only sit shiva if the individual actually converted to another faith, and even then, some would make a distinction between those who chose to do so of their own will, and those who were pressured into conversion. (In Sholom Aleichem's Tevye, when the title character's daughter converts to Christianity to marry a Christian, Tevye sits shiva for her and generally refers to her as "dead.") At the height of the Mitnagdim (anti-Hassidic) movement, in the early-to-mid nineteenth century, some Mitnagdim even sat shiva if a family member joined Hassidism. (It is said that when Leibel Eiger joined Hassidism, his father, Rabbi Shlomo Eiger sat shiva, but his grandfather, the famed Rabbi Akiva Eiger, did not. It is also said that Leibel Eiger came to be menachem avel [console the mourner]). By the mid-twentieth century, however, Hassidism was recognized as a valid form of Orthodox Judaism, and thus the (controversial) practice of sitting shiva for those who realign to Hassidism ceased to exist.

Today, some Orthodox Jews, particularly the more traditional ones (such as many Haredi and Hassidic communities), continue the practice of sitting shiva for a family member who has left the religious community. More liberal Jews, however, may question the practice, eschewing it as a very harsh act that could make it much more difficult for the family member to return to traditional practice if/when s/he would consider doing so.


The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute teaches courses on the spiritual purpose of bereavement and the soul after death.[34][35][36][37]

Days of remembrance

(Day of mourning for the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem and other events.)

(the four days on which Yizkor is recited)

(a fast day on which it has become a custom for some to say Kaddish for those whose yahrzeits are unknown or died in the Holocaust)

(national day of remembrance in Israel (and by many Jews worldwide) for those murdered in the Holocaust as well as righteous gentiles)

(national day of remembrance to those who died in service of Israel or killed in terrorist attacks)

See also

Main article: Jewish eschatology
Main article: Jewish Messiah


  1. "Judaism 101: Prayers and Blessings".
  2. "Death & Mourning: The Basics".
  3. 1 2 "Death & Mourning: Soul Talk".
  4. "Flowers on graves - Ask the Rabbi".
  5. Deuteronomy 21:23
  6. Although the practice of embalming and mummification had advanced to a high level in Egypt, it is considered disrespectful, since it involves a great deal of manipulation and the removal of bodily organs.
  8. Goldstein, Zalman. "The Burial".
  9. 1 2 3 Silverman, Morris (1984). Prayers of Consolation. Media Judaica Inc. ISBN 0-87677-062-6.
  10. Lamm, Maurice. "Death & Mourning: Keriah".
  11. "Genesis 25 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre".
  12. od 23 yamim (page 330,Pnai Baruch) = "an additional 23 days"
  13. Ben Yehoyada to Sanhedrin 42a and Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah, 376:13
  14. "Jahrzeit". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906.
  15. Stillman, Norman A. (1995). Sephardi Religious Responses. p. 12. ISBN 9781134365494.
  16. "Meldado" (PDF). Rhodes Jewish Museum. 2013.
  17. "Judaism 101: Life, Death and Mourning".
  18. "Jewish Funeral Guide - Remembrance - Yahrzeit Date Calculation".
  19. Yahrzeit: Memorial Anniversary on as part of a series "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" by Maurice Lamm, author of a book by the same title.
  20. See where Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff Shlita finds references to this in Sefer Hasidim and the writings of Moses Isserles.
  21. Talmud Bavli, Masechet Moe'ed Katan
  22. WITTENBERG, CJN Staff Reporter, Ed (June 27, 2014). "Remembering the Lubavitcher Rebbe On 20th yahrzeit, Rabbi Schneerson still making an impact in world". Cleveland Jewish News. This Jewish tradition to travel to the graveside on the occasion of a Yahrzeit is ancient... said Chabad of Cleveland has planned a series of events to commemorate Schneerson’s 20th yahrzeit. They include a six-week Jewish Learning Institute course about the teachings of the Rebbe and an upcoming Shabbaton with a scholar-in-residence to promote his teachings.
  23. Lamm, Maurice (2000). The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Revised and Expanded. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. p. 198. ISBN 0-8246-0422-9.
  24. 1 2 Eisenberg, Ronald (2010-01-01). Jewish Traditions: A JPS Guide. p. 461. ISBN 9780827610392.
  25. The original cemetery land is at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive (34°04′09″N 118°14′28″W / 34.0691°N 118.2411°W)
  26. 1 2 Cohen, Thomas (April 1969). "Early Jewish LA". Vol #1, Issue #3: Western States Jewish History. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  27. "Home of Peace Memorial Park". 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90023, Phone +1 323 261 6135, 34°01′19″N 118°10′30″W / 34.022°N 118.175°W: Home of Peace Memorial Park. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  28. "Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles". Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  29. Apple, Raymond. "Cremation - Ask the Rabbi".
  30. Zivotofsky, Ari. "What's the truth about...". Orthodox Union.
  31. Schreiber, Azriel. "Burying a Tattooed Person in a Jewish Cemetery".
  32. Torgovnick, Kate (July 17, 2008). "Skin Deep: For Some Jews, It Only Sounds Like 'Taboo'". New York Times.
  33. "Can a person with a tattoo be buried in a Jewish cemetery?".
  34. "Where does the soul go after it departs this world?". West Milford, NJ: Straus News. West Milford Messenger. October 18, 2015.
  35. "6-week course delves into 'The Journey of the Soul". THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. October 23, 2015.
  36. Bitting, Diane M (December 13, 2015). "Where does your soul go when you die? Six-part course at Rohr Chabad Jewish Center will explore the spiritual dimension of existence". Lancaster Online.
  37. "The Jewish Afterlife". Fleming Island, FL. Clay Today Online. November 12, 2015.

Further reading

External links

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