“You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)
Judaism provides a very defined and easy to understand the timeline for mourning the loss of a loved one. However, many Jews, even those who are observant, do not know the timeline and are often confused by the ritual.
This article is intended to provide a simple guide for families of every denomination to know the Jewish ritual for traditionally mourning their loved ones.
1. Aninut, from death until burial. Aninut is the period of time from death until burial. A mourner in this stage is relieved of all religious duties except to attend to the necessities of arranging the funeral.
2. The funeral. Traditionally, Jewish funerals take place as soon after death as possible. However, given modern-day travel needs, a waiting period of two, three, or even four days is acceptable as loved ones travel to the place of the funeral.
The funeral service may take place at a synagogue, funeral home, chapel, or beside the grave (graveside funeral service).
Jewish funerals do not take place on certain Jewish holidays such as Sabbath and all major holidays (Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover, etc.).
3. Meal of Consolation – Immediately upon return from the cemetery, mourners should be greeted with a “meal of consolation”. This is often prepared by the extended family and/or community.
It is traditional to place a pitcher of water, a bowl and towels outside the door of the house for ritual hand washing
4. Shiva – The traditional period for sitting Shiva is 7 days. However, many Reform and secular Jews sit Shiva for 3 days or even 1 day.
Typically, during Shiva, there are set times for guests to come to the mourner’s home to pay their respects. Guests often bring food and other gifts to help the mourners.
Around the time of sunset, a Shiva Minyan (prayer service for mourners) is typically held. The service may be officiated by Clergy or laypeople. Synagogues have Shiva Minyan books to guide the service.
The “required” number of people for a Minyan is 10 adults. In more traditional households the adults should be male but most Jewish families recognize adult women as part of the Minyan.
5. Sheloshim – Sheloshim is the 30 day period which is counted beginning the day of the funeral. After sitting Shiva, mourners return to work but during Sheloshim they avoid parties, concerts, and public entertainment.
6. Shnat Ha-Evel, the first year of mourning – This only applies to mourners who have lost a parent. Typically during Shnat Ha-Evel the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited in the morning, often in morning Minyan at a synagogue. The Shnat Ha-Evel lasts for 11 months after then end of Sheloshim.
7. Unveiling – It is traditional to place a monument, i.e., tombstone, at the gravesite of a loved one. The “unveiling” is the formal ceremony following the placement of the monument.
The unveiling typically takes place during the first year of mourning and before the first anniversary of your loved one’s death.
8. Yahrzeit – The yearly anniversary of a loved one’s death is called Yahrzeit. Yahrzeit is observed at home by lighting a yahrzeit candle that burns for 24 hours.