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Bereavement in Judaism (Hebrew: אֲבֵלוּת, aveilut ; 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 the news of the passing, the following blessing is recited:
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 on the left side, over the heart. Non-orthodox practice may be to cut a necktie or to wear a button with a torn black ribbon.
The chevra kadisha (חברה קדישא "holy group") 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.
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.
The general sequence of steps for performing taharah is as follows.
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.
The Jewish funeral consists of a burial, also known as an interment. Cremation is not acceptable. 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. Flowers are usually not found at a traditional Jewish funeral.
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.
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), eulogies are forbidden.
Kevura, or burial, should take place as soon as possible after death. The Torah requires burial as soon as possible, even for executed criminals. 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. 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." 
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 the grave being filled in. One custom is for 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.
הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלָיִם
Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim:
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), 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.
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.
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.
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); 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").
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.
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.
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:
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.
The thirty-day period following burial (including shiva) 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.
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.
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.
Yahrtzeit, יאָרצײַט, means "Time (of) Year" in Yiddish. 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 nahala ("legacy," or "inheritance"). This term is used by most Sephardic Jews, although some use the Ladino terms meldado or less commonly, anyos ("years"),. 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. 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 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. In particular, there are a few permutations, as follows:
|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|
The main halakhic 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.
Strict Jewish law requires that one should fast on the day of a parent's Yahrzeit; although 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.
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.
The tradition to travel to the graveside on the occasion of a Yahrzeit is ancient.
Kaddish Yatom (heb. קדיש יתום lit. "Orphan'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.
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[who?] 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.
In Sephardic custom there is no Yizkor prayer, but the Hashkabóth serve a similar role in the service.
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 Christian Crusaders. It is recited on many Shabbatot before Musaf, and also at the end of the Yizkor service.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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, 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".
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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.
Halakha (Jewish law) forbids cremation. Historically, cremation was a pagan practice, whereas Judaism stressed burial in the earth as the means by which the religious duty of laying a person’s remains to rest is considered to have been fulfilled. Cremation is also considered to be a mutilation of the body, in addition to contravening the belief in the resurrection of the dead in the messianic era.
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. 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. 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.
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.
(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)