December 10, 2019
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Jewish Mourning Rituals: An Overview


The death of a loved one is a very disorienting
time, and isn’t something many people think about
until it’s actually happening to them. Judaism offers structured periods of mourning
that help provide some support in the grieving process.
Jewish tradition is to bury the dead as soon as possible.
The period from the time of death until the funeral is called “Aninut” (“אנינות”,
meaning “deep sorrow”) . After hearing about a death,
immediate family members may tear a piece of their clothing.
This ripping is called “kriah” (“קְרִיעָה”, meaning “tearing”)-
you’re tearing a hole in the fabric of your normal life.
Many do “kriah” (“קְרִיעָה”, meaning “tearing”) at the funeral.
During “Aninut” (“אנינות”, meaning “deep sorrow”) is a disorienting period
when many people don’t know what to say or do. Sometimes they ask mourners,
“Is there anything I can do?” They get the automatic response
“No, I’ve got it under control” If you’re a mourner accept help.
It’s okay. You have a lot to plan,
and a lot on your mind. If you’re a friend,
offer to take care of errands, grocery-store runs, walking the dog. It gives you a way to connect with the mourners
and help in their grieving process. Meanwhile, traditionally a “chevra kaddisha”
(“חברת קדישא”, meaning “burial society”),
takes care of the body. You can find one through a funeral home or
synagogue. As swiftly as possible, the funeral happens…
sometimes the next day. Afterwards, friends and relatives bring a
meal of consolation to the mourners Unlike normal meals, where you are a gracious
host, at this meal, the community takes care of
you. Then shiva (“שבעה‎”, meaning “seven”)
begins. Traditionally, it lasts for seven days after
the burial, and is an intense mourning period spent at
home by the immediate family. The first thirty days after the burial comprise
another period, called “shloshim” (“שלושים”, meaning “thirty”)
when the family can go outside the house. During the “shloshim” (“שלושים”,
meaning “thirty”), some people won’t go to concerts or parties,
wear new clothes, or shave.
And for the children of the deceased, the entire mourning period, called “Aveilut”
(“אֲבֵלוּת”, meaning “mourning”) lasts for usually or typically a year,
during which mourners recite a prayer called the Mourner’s “kaddish” (“קדיש”
Aramaic for “holy”), daily. At the end of “Aveilut” (“אֲבֵלוּת”,
literally meaning “mourning”), there’s an unveiling service to place the
tombstone (“מַצֵבָה” “matzevah”, meaning “monument”) at the grave.
It’s a time to remember again, to close this intense part of the cycle of
mourning. But we never forget our loved ones.
Four times a year, there is a special “Yizkor” (“יזכור”,
meaning “remembrance”) service in synagogues to remember all those we’ve lost,
and each year on the anniversary of their passing,
we say “kaddish” (“קדיש” Aramaic for “holy”) again,
and light a “Yahrzeit” (“יאַהרזעיט” Yiddish for “a years time”) candle in
their memory. To learn more, there are four more videos
in this series – they discuss, Caring for the Body, The Funeral, Shivah,
and How to Say the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Otis Rodgers

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