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How should a mourner tear his or her clothing (kriah)?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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Tearing clothing is part of the Jewish mourning process. It satisfies an emotional need on the part of the mourner and represents the torn heart of the grieving relative.

The tearing is preferably performed in the funeral chapel immediately before the funeral service begins. It may also be done upon hearing news of the relative's passing1, before leaving home to the funeral, or in the cemetery before the internment.

A blessing2 is recited when performing the tear, if within the three first days of mourning. 

In the case of a parent's passing,  the mourner should tear his/her garment (called in Hebrew, 'kriah' - 'tearing') on the left side, over the heart in a visible place. It should be a vertical tear starting at the neckline and extend around three inches in length. It initially may be made with a knife (and someone else's assistance), but then should be torn by the mourner. The tear should not be along the seam of the clothing, but should appear as intentional tear.

When mourning for someone other than a parent, the tear is performed on the right side and need not be obvious (such as a jacket lapel or the inside lining of a garment). Someone other than the mourner may perform the tearing.

It is not necessary to tear a coat, only the garment worn underneath. A woman should wear something under her torn clothing in order to maintain her modesty.

The torn clothing is worn for the duration of the shivah and not after this time. If the mourner must change his/her clothes, then this garment need also be torn.

A daughter may baste together her torn garment (for reasons of modesty) after the funeral, but a son may only do so after thirty days. However, neither may permanently repair this torn garment, since the scar of losing a parent never entirely disappears.

[Ed. note: Also read about 'Why do mourners tear their clothing?']

Footnotes

  • 1. A Rabbi should be consulted if this will violate laws of Shabbat, holiday or 'chol hamoed'.
  • 2. Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-heinu Melech Ha-Olam Dayan Ha'Emet. [Blessed are you G-d our L-rd King of the universe, the truthful Judge].

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