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What it is the Jewish approach to mourning?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

Library » Life Cycle » Death » Mourning | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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In the immediate aftermath of death there are two extremely important concerns: respectful care for the deceased, and appropriate conditions for the mourners and mourning.

From the time of death until the conclusion of the funeral, the primary focus and concern is the proper care for the body of the deceased and all the burial preparations. The care for the body before burial, the eulogy, the actual burial – all are done to honor the one that has died.1  

Once the burial has ended and the Shivah begins, the primary focus shifts to the mourners. The mourners experience a week of intense grief, and the community is there to love, comfort and provide for their needs. This is a critical point, for if one must feel the heart-wrenching pain of grief and loss, it should be done at a time when all those around are there to help and comfort.

The laws of mourning have the purpose of providing an appropriate amount of time as well as a proper setting for adequate mourning and expression thereof. Mourning properly in the proper time is essential for the mental and emotional wellbeing of the mourner in dealing with, and continuing on after, the death of a loved one.

Shivah generally lasts for seven days.2 The mourning does not end, however, with Shivah, but continues in a lesser degree through shloshim – 30 days – and, for the loss of a parent, an entire 12 months.

Whilst life must go on, the memory of the deceased never fully dissipates. We pay formal tribute to our departed loved ones annually on the yahrtzeit and four times yearly by saying Yizkor. We also perpetuate their lives and legacies by creating or contributing to good causes in their honor.

See also What are the do's and don'ts for Shivah? and What is forbidden for a mourner during Shloshim?

Footnotes

  • 1. It is therefore important not to postpone a funeral unless it is specifically for the purpose of honoring the deceased. A qualified Halachic authority should be consulted whenever considering delaying the funeral past the day of passing.
  • 2. If there is a Biblical Holiday within the seven days of mourning, that ends the Shiva period. The joy of the Holiday is equivalent to the comfort offered during regular mourning periods, and has the same rehabilitating effect on the mourner even if there are less than 7 days for intense mourning.

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Yizkor
Prayers for the souls of departed relatives, recited during the holiday prayer services.
shloshim
Literally means "thirty." Usually a reference to the thirty day mourning period observed by immediate family after the death of a relative.
yahrtzeit
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.