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Home » Death

Life Cycle: Death and Mourning

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 2:32 amNo Comment | 2,261 views

Life In Preperation

The Torah
maintains that life in this world is only a corridor that leads to a
better and higher world. The Mishna offers the following advice;
“Prepare yourself in this corridor so that you will be worthy of living
in the world to come”. (Ethics of our Fathers)

According to
Jewish thought, life in this world is temporary and transitory. True
life begins only in the world to come. For it is only the body that
withers and dies away while the soul continues to flourish and live in
a spiritual domain.

However, Jewish
tradition is very realistic about death. In as much as we are comforted
by the knowledge that the soul lives on we would be inhumane if we did
not grieve the loss of our loved ones. Torah recognizes the validity of
the grieving process and has established a number of laws to facilitate
a mourning period.

There are also
many regulations regarding the funeral itself. These rules are intended
to preserve the dignity of our departed loved ones, in body and in

The Funeral

Jewish law
dictates that we bury our dead wrapped in white shrouds. Male bodies
are also wrapped in a Talit that is first made invalid through removing
the fringes.

Jewish funerals
are never overly ostentatious and are usually rather simple and
unadorned. This is to preserve the dignity of those who are unable to
afford an expensive funeral.

Burial must take
place as soon as possible after death. The only reason to delay a
funeral is to allow relatives to arrive from out of town. However, if
someone passes on Shabbat the funeral must be delayed until after

Societies that
deal with funerals and burials should be made up of pious and righteous
individuals and are called Chevra Kadisha (the sacred group). They are
responsible for the ritual cleansing and preparation of the body as
well as the actual funeral itself.

Cremation is
prohibited under Jewish law for it denies the soul its opportunity to
take its rightful place in heaven. When we cremate a body, we must
remember that this act will forever remain final and can never be

inspections are considered disrespectful to the body and are prohibited
under Jewish law. In cases of hereditary disease a minimum amount of
autopsy is permitted. In these cases a rabbi should always be consulted
in advance.

In Jewish
tradition, helping to refill the grave is considered a great honor to
the deceased. It is therefore customary that male members of the family
and circle of friends help with refilling the grave. After the grave
has been covered, all immediate family members must recite the Kaddish.

Period of Mourning

Immediate family members are required to go through an intensive mourning period for seven days.

It is customary (if possible) for all family members to mourn together in the house of the deceased.

Eggs are
symbolic of mourning since they are round and symbolize the cycle of
life. It is therefore customary to eat bread and eggs for the first
meal of the mourning period.

If possible the first meal should be brought over by a friend rather than be prepared at the house of mourning.

During these seven days, it is a Mitzvah for relatives and friends to visit and offer condolences.

It is best if a Minyan can gather at the home of the mourners throughout the seven days so that they can recite the Kaddish.

If it is impossible to arrange a Minyan in their home they are allowed to go to the Synagogue to pray and recite the Kaddish.

During the seven
days, mourners should refrain from sitting on elevated surfaces,
wearing shoes made of leather, shaving, bathing for pleasure, using
cosmetics and engaging in sexual relations.

During the seven
days, mourners should also refrain from studying Torah with the
exception of chapters that deal with laws of mourning, death and grief.

Tearing a little piece of the garment that one is wearing is a religiously proper way of expressing grief.

Mourners may end this period on the morning of the seventh day.

After the seven-day period it is customary to end the mourning with a short symbolic walk outdoors.

Thirty Day Period

After the first seven days, a new period of less intense mourning begins.

This period
lasts for about three weeks and concludes thirty days after the
passing.During this period of time, one should not go to parties even
if music is not being played. One should not marry during these thirty

One should refrain from shaving or even cutting his/her hair during these thirty days.

Twelve Month Period

For the first twelve months following the passing one should not go to a party if music is being played.

For the first
eleven months after the passing the Kaddish is recited in memory of the
deceased.The Kaddish can only be recited in the presence of a Minyan.

Every year, on
the anniversary day of the passing, Kaddish should be recited.It is
customary to make a small party after services on the anniversary day
in memory of the deceased.