Phases of Mourning

Jewish law provides for graduated stages of mourning. Its initial activities are quite restrictive, and provide a tight frame to enclose the early intense feelings. The practices gradually become less restrictive and support the mourner’s reentry into the communal stream of activity.”

Rabbi Anne Brener, Mourning & Mitzvah (2nd Edition)

Aninut: The period between death and burial

Jewish law requires that burial take place as soon after death as possible. During the period between death and burial, the bereaved (called an onen) is absolved of time-bound mitzvot (Jewish obligations, like wearing tallit or attending services) because all of the spiritual and mental energy is consumed by caring for and preparing the deceased for burial.

It’s traditional that the deceased is not left alone during this period. Most Jewish burial places will offer sh’mirah, people who guard the body before burial, and at IKAR we have a team of volunteers (known as a hevra kadisha) who are able to help fulfill this mitzvah through multi-hour shifts. Traditionally, a hevra kadisha (burial society) also prepares the body of the deceased for burial through a process of taharah (ritual washing). This is very holy and important work.

Aninut can be a somewhat chaotic time, even when burial arrangements have been made prior to the death. There are meetings with the funeral home, phone calls and texts with family members, coordinating travel, talking with the rabbi. It can be helpful to take cues from our tradition to name this liminal time as distinct from the mourning process, accept that there will be lots of logistics, put other obligations on hold without guilt, and do your best to attend to your basic needs. Remember to take moments to breathe, drink water, eat, and sleep.

At the burial, the officiant will help mourners make a tear in their clothing, a practice called kriyah. Today most funeral homes will offer a black ribbon on a pin that one may tear instead of a garment of clothing if you’d prefer. The mourner wears this torn garment throughout the next seven days as a visible symbol of their loss.

After the prayers and eulogies have been said, the immediate mourners, followed by the others in attendance, place earth upon the grave once the casket is lowered into the ground. This physical gesture gives a concrete sense of finality and, as the last act of kindness shown to the deceased, is among the highest mitzvotIt is traditional for the family and friends to perform the burial themselves. Today, we make certain that the entire top of the coffin is covered with earth, and all of the sides are filled in, before walking away from the graveside.

After the burial, our attention turns to the mourners. The burial service ends with Eil Malei Rahamim, recited by the rabbi or hazzan, and Mourner’s Kaddish.

As we prepare to leave the graveside, traditionally all of those present will form two lines facing one another from the graveside to the road. The mourners then walk between the two lines and hear the words of consolation.

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

HaMakom yinahem etkhem b’tokh sh’ar avlei tzion virushalayim
May the Everpresent comfort you among all those who are grieving

יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא. [קהל: אמן]

בְּעָלְמָא דִּי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ וְיַמְלִיךְ מַלְכוּתֵהּ בְּחַיֵּיכון וּבְיומֵיכון וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל בֵּית יִשרָאֵל בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: [קהל: אמן]

קהל ואבל: יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא:

יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרומַם וְיִתְנַשּא וְיִתְהַדָּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה וְיִתְהַלָּל שְׁמֵהּ דְּקֻדְשָׁא. בְּרִיךְ הוּא. [קהל: בריך הוא]

לְעֵלָּא מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: [קהל: אמן]

יְהֵא שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא וְחַיִּים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: [קהל:אמן]

עושה שָׁלום בִּמְרומָיו הוּא יַעֲשה שָׁלום עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן: [קהל:אמן]

– Mourners: Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.
– Community: Amen
– Mourners: B’alma di-v’ra ḥirutei, v’yamlich malḥutei, b’ḥayeiḥon uvyomeichon uvḥayei d’ḥol beit yisrael, ba’agala uvizman kariv, v’im’ru:
– Mourners & Community: Amen. Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach l’alam ul’almei almaya.
– Mourners: Yitbaraḥ v’yishtabaḥ, v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam v’yitnaseh, v’yithadar v’yit’aleh v’yit’halal sh’mei d’kud’sha,
– Community: B’riḥ hu
– Mourners: L’eila min-kol-birḥata v’shirata, tushb’ḥata v’neḥemata da’amiran b’alma, v’im’ru:
– Community: Amen
– Mourners: Y’hei shlama raba min-sh’maya v’ḥayim aleinu v’al-kol-yisrael, v’im’ru:
– Community: Amen
– Mourners: Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru:
– Community: Amen

The bereaved now begin the phases of mourning. Jewish tradition requires the mourner to recite Mourner’s Kaddish each day throughout the periods below. This prayer can only be said in a gathering of 10 Jewish adults (a minyan). While finding a minyan to recite Kaddish can be a heavy obligation, the experience of being with community daily and dedicating moments to thinking about their loved one can be deeply meaningful. IKAR has a vibrant morning minyan community, and we welcome you to join at 8am PST Monday-Friday on Zoom. Mourner’s Kaddish is also recited on Shabbat and holidays.

The Hebrew word for seven, meaning the first week and the most intensive phase of mourning

Shiva begins the day of burial and lasts seven days, with exceptions when there are holidays.

Throughout this period, mourners traditionally sit on or lower to the ground, do not leave home, and do not work, shave, cut their hair, take luxurious baths, watch TV, go to parties, concerts or other joyous events, have sex, or listen to music. Traditionally, the mirrors in the shiva home are covered with black cloths. It is the community’s obligation to ensure the basic needs of the mourners are met by bringing food. Friends and family come to the shiva home to give consolation. Today, many families identify visiting hours so they are not overwhelmed by visitors and MealTrains can be set up so the mourners can define and limit what food people bring.

Note: Shiva is suspended on Shabbat, though it is observed on Friday morning, and then again Saturday night.

At most, a minyan gathers at the mourner’s home twice a day (morning and afternoon/evening) to pray together and for the mourners to recite Kaddish and share memories about the deceased. You might choose to gather once or twice a day, in person, virtually or both. You can invite family and close friends for particular days and wider community on other days.

On the seventh day, in the morning, mourners literally “get up” from shiva by gathering for morning prayer with community, reciting Kaddish, and then walking around the block with family, friends and guests. It is traditional for the community to physically lift the mourner out of their chair; this symbolizes a re-entry into society, lifted by the community into that process, and marks the transition into the next phase of mourning.


The Hebrew word for 30, referring to the 30 days following the burial

After shiva, some of the restrictions begin to ease as the mourner slowly returns to everyday routines. Mourners tend to return to work and daily tasks as they are ready and able. They continue to attend minyan to recite Mourner’s Kaddish, they do not shave or cut their hair, and do not listen to music or go to live performances.

Traditionally, at the end of shloshim, those mourning the loss of a spouse, sibling, or child would cease mourning practices, including reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish; however, many mourners chose to continue these practices for the full 11 months. Those mourning parents traditionally recite Kaddish for the full 11 months.

Some mark the end of shloshim with an aliyah on Shabbat and/or a Jewish study in honor of their loved one. The unveiling of the headstone may happen at any point after the conclusion of shloshim, though this tends to take place around the anniversary of death.

The Hebrew word for bereavement, referring to the remainder of the initial year of mourning

The period of time following shloshim is traditionally only observed by children of the deceased in observance of the fifth commandment to honor your parents, although many in our community adopt this practice for any significant loss. During this time more restrictions are relieved as the mourners continue to return to their regular lives. The mourners continue to attend minyanim to recite Mourner’s Kaddish and do not listen to music, attend live performances or large celebrations. This period ends, according to Ashkenazi practice, one day shy of 11 months following the burial. Sephardi Jews typically recite Mourner’s Kaddish for 11 months, pause for a week, and then resume until the end of 12 months.

The Ashkenazi practice of truncating the year to one day short of 11 months is rooted in an ancient understanding of Jewish afterlife where the soul rests in an intermediary place for up to 12 months to become absolved of transgressions from this world. Continuing to say the Mourner’s Kaddish past 11 months would suggest that the soul of one’s parent/loved one needs the maximum time to be absolved of all transgressions, which implies that their parent/loved one was not a good person. Based on this superstition, the custom arose to recite Kaddish for parents for 11 months only (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 376:4).

The mourner might mark the end of saying Kaddish by bringing food or sponsoring a meal to share with the minyan.

It’s often around this time that the headstone of the deceased is unveiled. At an unveiling ceremony, Psalms are recited and some words of memory are shared. You don’t need a minyan for an unveiling, but if there is a minyan present, an officiant may recite the memorial prayer El Malei Rahamim, and mourners may recite Mourner’s Kaddish.

The Yiddish/Hebrew word for anniversary, referring to the anniversary of the death, traditionally the Hebrew date

On the yahrzeit, the mourner lights a yahrzeit candle on the evening before (in Jewish time, a new day begins with sunset) and lets it burn through the next day. If possible, the mourner visits the burial site. The mourner also attends a minyan for one or more of the daily services to say Mourner’s Kaddish with community. Sometimes people observe the yahrzeit on the Shabbat before or after the Hebrew date when it might be easier to attend a service. At IKAR, we invite you to write some reflections that can be shared with the community for the yahrzeit.

Some additional customs include: giving tzedakah, volunteering for a cause that was important to the deceased, organizing a communal learning event, dedicated to the memory of the deceased.

The Hebrew word for remember, referring to the memorial service recited on specific holidays

The Yizkor service provides space, through prayer, silence, and the recitation of names, for the community to individually and collectively remember those who have died. Yizkor occurs on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. At home, it is customary to light a yahrzeit candle (or multiple candles) in memory of loved ones. At IKAR, we again ask you to share memories and a photo of your loved one, so that we can learn about and lift up their memory with you.