Bereavement In Judaism

Bereavement in Judaism (אֲבֵלוּתavelut, 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.


In Judaism, the principal mourners are the first-degree relatives: parent, child, sibling, and spouse. There are some customs that are unique to an individual mourning a parent.

Halachot (or halochos) concerning mourning do not apply to those under thirteen years of age, nor do they apply when the deceased is aged 30 days or less.

Upon receiving news of the death

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

ברוך אתה ה’אלוהינו 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].”

There is also a custom of rending one’s clothes at the moment one hears news of a death. Another prevalent custom is to tear at the funeral.

Yiskor for Herzl, by Boris Schatz.

Yiskor for Herzl, by Boris Schatz.

Terminology and timing

  • Petira – passing
  • Shomayr – watcher (the body should not be left alone/unwatched). Shmira means watching.
  • Chevra kadisha – burial society. Chevra kadisha
  • Kria – tearing. Timing varies by custom. At times deferred to funeral chapel or at the cemetery. Keriah
  • Onayn – generally the day when the news is heard; before burial. Aninut
  • Tahara – purification (by water) of the body Preparing the body — Taharah
  • Levaya – The funeral service. The word means escort(ing). Funeral service
  • Hesped – Eulogy. Eulogies
  • Kvura – burial. Burial
  • Aveil (plural Aveilim) – mourner(s).
  • Aveilut – mourning (there are different levels, based on who & timing): Mourning Avelut
  • Shiva – seven days, from the Hebrew word for seven. Begins day of burial. Shiva
  • Shloshim – 30 days, starting from the day of burial. Shloshim – Thirty days
  • Yud Bais Chodesh – means 12 months, for a parent. Yud Bais (Yiddish) means 12. Yud Bet (Hebrew) means 12. Chodesh means month. Shneim asar chodesh – Twelve months
  • Matzevah – means monument. Matzevah (Unveiling of the tombstone)
  • Yahrtzeit – is Yiddish for anniversary of the (Hebrew/Jewish) date of passing. Annual remembrances
  • Kaddish – said by a mourner (or by someone else, on behalf of … ) Memorial through prayer
  • L’Illui NishMat – Hebrew for Elevation of the soul, sometimes abbreviated LI”N.

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, especially the 7th day of Adar, Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu. 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. Traditionally, caskets are simple and made of unfinished wood; both wood with a finish and metal would slow the return of the body to dust (Genesis 3:19). Strictly-observant practice avoids all metal; the wood parts of the casket are joined by wood dowels rather than nails.

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. Flowers are usually not found at a traditional Jewish funeral but may be seen at statesmen’s or heroes’ funerals in Israel.

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. Usually the funeral ceremony is brief and includes the recitation of psalms, followed by a eulogy, or hesped and finishes with a traditional closing prayer, the El Moley Rachamim. 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.

Yemenite Jews, prior to their immigration to the land of Israel, maintained an ancient practice during the funeral procession to halt at at least seven stations before the actual burial of the dead, beginning from the entrance of the house from whence the bier is taken, to the graveyard itself. This has come to be known as Ma’amad u’Moshav, (lit. “Standing and Sitting”), or “seven standings and sittings,” and is mentioned in Tosefta Pesahim 2: 14–15, during which obsequies only men and boys thirteen years and older took part, but never women. At these stations, the bier is let down by the pallbearers upon the ground, and those accompanying will recite “Hatzur Tamim Pe’ulo,” etc. “Ana Bakoach,” etc., said in a doleful dirge-like melody, and which verses are followed by one of the party reading certain Midrashic literature and liturgical verse that speaks about death, and which are said to eulogize the deceased.


The mourners traditionally make a tear (keriah קריעה) in an outer garment before or at the funeral. 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). 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.


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.

“and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah.” Gen. 23:2 uses the word “Lispod” from which is derived the Hebrew term Hesped.

There is more than one purpose for the eulogy.

  • it is both for the deceased and the living, and should appropriately praise the person’s good deeds.
  • to make us cry

Some people specify in their wills that nothing should be said about them.

Days of “no eulogy”

Eulogies are forbidden on certain days; likewise on a Friday afternoon.

Some other times are:

  • each month’s Jewish New Moon (Rosh Chodesh)
  • the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot
  • Chol HaMo’ed (“intermediate days” of Jewish holidays)
  • during the month of Nisan

A more general guideline is that when the Tachanun (supplication prayer) is omitted, it is permitted to deliver a brief eulogy emphasizing only the praise of the departed; the extensive eulogy is postponed, and may be said at another time during the year of mourning.


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

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. 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.

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, 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.

Some have the custom to initially use the shovel “backwards” for the first few shovelfuls. Even within those who do it, some limit this to just the first few participants.

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.

Some have a custom, once the grave is filled, to make a rounded topping shape.

After burial, the Tziduk Hadin prayer may be recited affirming that Divine Judgment is righteous. 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.



The first stage of mourning is aninut, or “intense mourning.” 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.

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 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.) The occasion of a Brit milah is typically an exception to this rule, but with restrictions that differ according to tradition.

Avelut consists of three distinct periods.

Shiva – Seven days

The first stage of avelut is shiva (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.

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”).

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:
“May The Omnipresent 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.

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 is delayed to the end of the festival. Some holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, cancel the mourning period completely.

Shloshim – Thirty days

The thirty-day period following burial (including shiva) is known as shloshim (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 amongst orthodox Jews 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.

Shneim asar chodesh – Twelve months

Those mourning a parent additionally observe a twelve-month period (שנים עשר חודשshneim 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 is 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. Amongst English Jewry this ceremony is often referred to as a ‘stone-setting’. 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 universal restriction about the timing, other than the unveiling cannot be held during Shabbat, (work-restricted) Jewish holidays, 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. Gesher HaChaimcites (chapters) “33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104, and 130; then one says Psalm 119 and recites the verses that spell the name of the deceased and the letters of the word Neshama.”. This is followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish (if a minyan is available), and the prayer “El Malei Rachamim”. The service may include a brief eulogy for the deceased.


Originally, it was not common practice to place names on tombstones. The general custom for engraving the name of the deceased on the monument is a practice that goes back (only) “the last several hundred years.”

Jewish communities in Yemen, prior to their immigration to the Land of Israel, did not place headstones over the graves of the dead, except only on rare occasions, choosing rather to follow the dictum of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who said: “They do not build monuments (i.e. tombstones) for the righteous. Their words, lo! They are their memorial!” Philosopher and Halachic decisor, Maimonides, likewise, ruled that it is not permissible to raise headstones over the graves of righteous men, but permits doing so for ordinary men. In contrast, the more recent custom of Spanish Jewry, following the teachings of the Ari z”l (Shaʿar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Vayeḥi), is to build tombstones over the grave, seeing it as part of the complete atonement and amendment for those who have died. Likewise, Rabbi Shelomo b. Avraham Aderet (RASHBA) wrote that it is a way of showing honor to the dead. In this manner the custom did spread, especially among the Jews of Spain, North Africa and Ashkenaz. Today, in Israel, all Jewish graves are marked with headstones.

Annual remembrances


A yahrtzeit candle lit in memory of a loved one on the anniversary of the death

A yahrtzeit candle lit in memory of a loved one on the anniversary of the death

Yahrtzeit, יאָרצײַט, means “Time (of) Year” in Yiddish. Alternative spellings include yortsayt (using the YIVO standard Yiddish orthography), Jahrzeit (in German), Yohr Tzeityahrzeit, and yartzeit. The word is used by Yiddish speaking Jews, and refers to the anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar, 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”). 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.

  1. When an immediate 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 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:

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 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 three times, two that are part of the daily service and one that is added in a house of mourning. Both there and in the synagogue, another Kaddish, the Rabbi’s Kaddish, is also said in the morning service once in Nusach Ashkenaz and twice in Sfard/Sfardi.

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; 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 in some synagogues, the entire Hebrew month). 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.

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.

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

Memorial through prayer

Mourner’s Kaddish

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, most people sit for most sayings of Kaddish. In many non-Orthodox Ashkenaz 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.

Remembrance plaque in Tiel.

Yizkor (“remembrance”) prayers are recited by those that have lost either one or both of their parents. These may additionally says Yizkor for other relatives. Some might also say Yizkor for a deceased close friend. It is customary in many communities for those with both parents alive to leave the synagogue during the Yizkor service while it is said.

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).

The El Malei Rachamim prayer, in which God is asked to remember and grant repose to the souls of the departed, is recited as the primary prayer of the Yizkor services.

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

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. It is recited on many Shabbatot before Musaf, and also at the end of the Yizkor service.

Elevation of the soul

Actions taken for elevation of the soul (L’Illui NishMat – לעלוי נשמת, sometimes abbreviated LI”N (לע”נ) are not limited to kaddish and other timed events. They may include:

  • Charity – Tzedakah
  • Dissemination of Torah learning
  • Joint Tehillim Reading
  • Personal study, especially learning MishNaYot. The same letters that spell its singular, MishNa (משנה) also spell the Hebrew word for soul, NeShaMa נשמה).

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)

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.

Tombstone of victim of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire at the Hebrew Free Burial Association's Mount Richmond Cemetery.

Tombstone of victim of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire at the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s Mount Richmond Cemetery.

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 cemeteryin 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”.

Controversy following death

Donating organs

Main article: Organ donation in Jewish law

Being an organ donor is absolutely prohibited by some, and permitted, in principle, by others.

According to some Jewish denominations, once death has been clearly established, provided that instructions have been left in a written living will, donation may be done. 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.

Since 2001, with the founding of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, organ donation has become more common in modern orthodox Jewish communities, especially with the support of rabbis like Moshe Tendler and Norman Lamm.

Jewish view of cremation

Halakha (Jewish law) forbids cremation.

An ancient historian:56 described as “a distinguishing characteristic” that “Jews buried, rather than burned, their dead.” Judaism stresses 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. Nevertheless, some Jews who are not religiously adherent, or who 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, have chosen cremation, either for themselves prior to death, or for their loved ones, a choice made in 2016 by more than 50% of non-Jews in the United States.


Main article: Jewish Views On 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. 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 1940 and 1945. 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.

Days of remembrance

  • Tisha B’Av
A day of mourning for the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem and other events.
  • Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Final day of Pesach, Shavuot
The four days on which Yizkor is recited
  • Tenth of Tevet
Fast day on which it has become a custom for some to say Kaddish for those whose yahrzeits are unknown or who died in the Holocaust
  • Yom HaShoah
National day of remembrance in Israel (and by many Jews worldwide) for those murdered in the Holocaust as well as Righteous Among the Nations
  • Yom Hazikaron
National day of remembrance in Israel for those who died in service of Israel or killed in terrorist attacks

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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