The Jewish Way 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)

Jewish Mourning is Radical

Counter to American culture, Jewish tradition urges us to face death, acknowledge loss, make time and space for grieving, and to do all this with the support of community. The mourning practices guide a bereaved person through this profound change, urging them to stay connected, dedicating time for honoring the deceased person, learning how to live with their physical absence, and meditating on how to make their memory a blessing. While each individual’s grief has its own unique evolution, these practices offer a malleable container for holding varying experiences and expressions of grief.

Before Death

When it is clear that a person is transitioning from life to death, final words may be exchanged between the living, the dying, and the Holy One. Traditionally, the person who is transitioning recites vidui, concluding with the words of Shema. If they are not able to speak, a loved one may recite the words for them. We have created a meaningful and accessible vidui to help navigate these final moments, with language for both the dying and the loved ones, which you can find below in the appendix.

For Whom do We Mourn?

Traditionally, a Jew is obligated to observe these mourning rites for deceased parents, spouses, siblings, and children. However, in our community we also honor and support the choice to observe them when grieving the loss of a grandparent, step-parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, teacher or close friend. There is a lot of misleading and hurtful information out there about identities or causes of death that would disqualify someone from receiving a Jewish burial or participating in Jewish mourning rituals. At IKAR, we affirm that you and your loved ones are created in the image of God and deserve the full dignity our tradition offers in a time of loss.