Jewish Death/Grieving Rituals

I went to the grave-side memorial for my friends father today.  Her father was buried according to Jewish law. 

Below are some of the rituals in Jewish tradition concerning the dead and grieving that I find moving.

(*) from the moment of death, the body is not left alone until after burial. This practice, called guarding/watching (shemira), is based on the simple principal of honoring the dead.  During this time the shemira recite prayers.

What touches me, is that just as we come into this world with someone watching over us, we leave it the same way.

(*)The family of the deceased tear (keriyah) their clothing. (this has been replaced with a small black ribbon which is cut). The bereaved will wear the ribbon through the first seven days of mourning.

   It’s as if the bereaved are being told, it’s alright to be filled with emotions, to hurt and to feel torn.

(*) After the burial, a relative or friend prepares the “meal of condolence,” which traditionally consists of eggs (symbolizing life) and bread. This meal is for family only, but visitors may come to offer condolences afterwards

   Well, Jews just like to eat.  I think this serves a more symbolic meaning of again caring for the living.  And suggesting in the the act of feeding, that the family deserves the space and time to grieve.  That others will help take care of you so all you need to do is to be with your feelings. 

(*)The family then enters a seven-day period of intense mourning (shiva, “seven”). Mourners sit on low stools or the floor instead of chairs, do not shave or cut their hair, wear cosmetics, work, bathe, have sex, put on fresh clothing, or study Torah (except Torah related to mourning and grief). They wear the clothes they tore when they learned of the death or at the funeral. Mirrors in the house are covered. Prayer services are held where the shiva is held, with friends, neighbors and relatives making up the minyan (required group of 10 for prayer times).

   Depending on the sect of Judaism, the methods for ‘sitting shiva’ varies.  The primary principal that I think is important here is, it is not often a comfortable time when someone you love has died.  Life is different without them here.  I also think that part of the shiva ritual is that it’s okay to look and feel crummy. 

(*) Shiva is followed by schloshim (“thirty”), which lasts until the 30th day after burial.

    Again what happens durring schloshim varie from one sect of Judaism to the next, but I see the primary principal as a lay low time.  You heart still feels the sharpness of your loss and it’s a time to be easy with yourself.


6 responses to “Jewish Death/Grieving Rituals

  1. Penny Kfare Jacobs

    Thank you Rachel for you comments. I learned more about Shiva. Thank you again for attending my father’s memorial service. Your presence was very special to me and my family.

  2. Rachel,
    Thanks for all the wonderful details. We have had Jewish friends, but we didn’t understand a lot of the rituals, so this helps.


  3. Well done piece, Rachie:
    How about Kaddish (cod’-ish) An ancient Aramaic prayer said at graveside and by mourners and family regularly for at least 11 months after death and annually at the anniversary of the loved one’s death for ever. God did not put anyone on earth without a reason, so we thus honor them..The prayer is in four parts, all extolling the attributes of God and does not mention death at any time. Custom has it that Kaddish is followed by a prayer for or a song of peace. And as said after each of the four segments of Kaddish, “Aumain.” (Amen)

    Your dad sends love!

  4. Thanks for adding to the conversation dad. I still am not understanding how the Kaddish prayer relates to the dead and how that prayer would be important or of comfort to the mourners.

    Does the Kaddish speak to the idea that “God did not put anyone on earth without a reason?” Are you saying the Kaddish is how we honor the loved one who has passed?

  5. A Jew should say Kaddish regularly. If a person is deceased they are not here to say Kaddish, so loved ones say it in their behalf. Besides the support the mourner gets from the community of minyan (where the prayer is said) there are special memories that I find each time it is recited and the deceased’s name is mentioned in advance by the mourner as the person he or she is saying Kaddish for.

  6. Now I understand, thank you.

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