When a death occurs in the Jewish faith, there are very specific rituals concerning burial and mourning that provide comfort to the bereaved as well as a framework for what to say and do.
It is custom for burials to take place as soon as possible, usually within twenty-four hours, but no longer than two days following the death. An exception is made only if immediate family must travel long distances. All aspects of the funeral are as simple as possible. There is no wake or viewing and the casket remains closed. Traditionally, there are no flowers at the funeral or memorial service and it’s not appropriate to send the bereaved flowers; flowers are considered for the living. Condolence messages and donations are welcome at any time following the funeral.
Mourners typically have a small symbolic tear to their clothes, called a Keriah, to represent a broken heart. The family will sit Shiva for seven days following the funeral. During Shiva, family members and friends congregate at the home of the bereaved to comfort the mourners. It’s customary to bring food, such as, baked goods, fruit, or meals. When visiting the bereaved, give your condolences and then wait for the mourner to talk about whatever he or she chooses. If the mourner wants to be silent, the visitor’s role is just to be with them; your presence is what’s important.
The family will continue to observe mourning during Sh’loshim, a period of twenty-one days, the three weeks following Shiva. Visits by friends during Sh’loshim are particularly welcome as condolence visits have slowed down and mourners might feel especially isolated.
Families will observe Yahrtzeit each year at the anniversary of their loved one’s death. On the loved one’s Yahrtzeit, a candle that will burn for twenty-four hours is lit while prayers are said. The family might attend Shabbat services where their loved one will be remembered during Yahrtzeit prayers.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.