Bereavement in Judaism

Bereavement in Judaism (Hebrew: אֲבֵלוּת, avelut, mourning) is a combination of minhag and mitzvah derived from Judaism's classical Torah and rabbinic texts. The details of observance and practice vary according to each Jewish community.


In Judaism, the principal mourners are the first-degree relatives: parent, child, sibling, and spouse. There are some customs that are unique to an individual mourning a parent.[1]

Halachot (or halochos) concerning mourning do not apply to those under thirteen years of age, nor do they apply when the deceased is aged 30 days or less.[2]

Upon receiving news of the death

Upon receiving the news of the death, the following blessing is recited:

ברוך אתה ה' אלוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת.

Transliteration: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam, dayan ha-emet.
Translation: "Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Judge of Truth [alt., the Just Judge]."[3]

There is also a custom of rending one's clothes at the moment one hears news of a death. Another prevalent custom is to tear at the funeral.[4]

Terminology and timing

  • Petira – passing
  • Shomayr – watcher (the body should not be left alone/unwatched). Shmira means watching.
  • Chevra kadisha – burial society. Chevra kadisha
  • Kria – tearing. Timing varies by custom. At times deferred to funeral chapel or at the cemetery. Keriah
  • Onayn – generally the day when the news is heard; before burial. Aninut
  • Tahara – purification (by water) of the body Preparing the body — Taharah
  • Levaya – The funeral service. The word means escort(ing). Funeral service
  • Hesped – Eulogy. Eulogies
  • Kvura – burial. Burial
  • Aveil (plural Aveilim) – mourner(s).
  • Aveilut – mourning (there are different levels, based on who & timing): Mourning Avelut

Chevra kadisha

The chevra kadisha (Hebrew: חברה קדישא "holy society") is a Jewish burial society usually consisting of volunteers, men and women, who prepare the deceased for proper Jewish burial.[5] Their job is to ensure that the body of the deceased is shown proper respect, ritually cleansed, and shrouded.

Many local chevra kadishas in urban areas are affiliated with local synagogues, and they often own their own burial plots in various local cemeteries. Some Jews pay an annual token membership fee to the chevra kadisha of their choice, so that when the time comes, the society will not only attend to the body of the deceased as befits Jewish law, but will also ensure burial in a plot that it controls at an appropriate nearby Jewish cemetery.

If no gravediggers are available, then it is additionally the function of the male society members to ensure that graves are dug. In Israel, members of chevra kadishas consider it an honor to not only prepare the body for burial but also to dig the grave for a fellow Jew's body, particularly if the deceased was known to be a righteous person.

Many burial societies hold one or two annual fast days, especially the 7th day of Adar, Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu.[5] and organize regular study sessions to remain up to date with the relevant articles of Jewish law. In addition, most burial societies also support families during the shiva (traditional week of mourning) by arranging prayer services, preparing meals, and providing other services for the mourners.[6]

Preparing the body — Taharah

There are three major stages to preparing the body for burial: washing (rechitzah), ritual purification (taharah), and dressing (halbashah). The term taharah is used to refer both to the overall process of burial preparation, and to the specific step of ritual purification.

Prayers and readings from Torah, including Psalms, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah are recited.

The general sequence of steps for performing taharah is as follows.

  1. The body (guf) is uncovered (it has been covered with a sheet awaiting taharah).
  2. The body is washed carefully. Any bleeding is stopped and all blood is buried along with the deceased. The body is thoroughly cleaned of dirt, body fluids, and solids, and anything else that may be on the skin. All jewelry is removed. The beard (if present) is not shaved.
  3. The body is purified with water, either by immersion in a mikveh or by pouring a continuous stream of 9 kavim (usually 3 buckets) in a prescribed manner.
  4. The body is dried (according to most customs).
  5. The body is dressed in traditional burial clothing (tachrichim). A sash (avnet) is wrapped around the clothing and tied in the form of the Hebrew letter shin, representing one of the names of God.
  6. The casket (aron) (if there is one) is prepared by removing any linings or other embellishments. A winding sheet (sovev) is laid into the casket. Outside the Land of Israel, if the deceased wore a prayer shawl (tallit) during their life, one is laid in the casket for wrapping the body once it is placed therein. One of the corner fringes (tzitzit) is removed from the shawl to signify that it will no longer be used for prayer and that the person is absolved from having to keep any of the mitzvot (commandments).
  7. The body is lifted into the casket and wrapped in the prayer shawl and sheet. Soil (afar) from Eretz Israel, if available, is placed over various parts of the body and sprinkled in the casket.
  8. The casket is closed.

After the closing of the casket, the chevra asks forgiveness of the deceased for any inadvertent lack of honor shown to the deceased in the preparation of the body for burial.

There is no viewing of the body and no open casket at the funeral. Sometimes the immediate family pay their final respects before the funeral. In Israel caskets are not used at all, with the exception of military and state funerals. Instead, the body is carried to the grave wrapped in a tallit and placed directly in the earth.

In the Diaspora, in general, a casket is only used if required by local law. Traditionally, caskets are simple and made of unfinished wood; both wood with a finish and metal would slow the return of the body to dust (Genesis 3:19). Strictly-observant practice avoids all metal; the wood parts of the casket are joined by wood dowels rather than nails.

From death until burial, it is traditional for guards or watchers (shomrim) to stay with the deceased. It is traditional to recite Psalms (tehillim) during this time.

Funeral service

The Jewish funeral consists of a burial, also known as an interment. Cremation is forbidden. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally, therefore embalming is forbidden. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. Displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place.[7][8] Flowers are usually not found at a traditional Jewish funeral but may be seen at statesmen's or heroes' funerals in Israel.[9]

In Israel, the Jewish funeral service usually commences at the burial ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service commences either at a funeral home or at the cemetery. Occasionally the service will commence at a synagogue. In the case of a prominent individual, the funeral service can begin at a synagogue or a yeshivah. If the funeral service begins at a point other than at the cemetery, the entourage accompanies the body in a procession to the cemetery. Usually the funeral ceremony is brief and includes the recitation of psalms, followed by a eulogy, or hesped and finishes with a traditional closing prayer, the El Moley Rachamim.[10] The funeral, the procession accompanying the body to the place of burial, and the burial, are referred to by the word levayah, meaning "escorting." Levayah also indicates "joining" and "bonding." This aspect of the meaning of levayah conveys the suggestion of a commonality among the souls of the living and the dead.[8]

Yemenite Jews, prior to their immigration to the land of Israel, maintained an ancient practice during the funeral procession to halt at, at least, seven stations before the actual burial of the dead, beginning from the entrance of the house from whence the bier is taken, to the graveyard itself. This has come to be known as Ma'amad u'Moshav, (lit. "Standing and Sitting"), or "seven standings and sittings," and is mentioned in Tosefta Pesahim 2: 14–15, during which obsequies only men and boys thirteen years and older took part, but never women. At these stations, the bier is let down by the pallbearers upon the ground, and those accompanying will recite "Hatzur Tamim Pe'ulo," etc. "Ana Bakoach," etc., said in a doleful dirge-like melody, and which verses are followed by one of the party reading certain Midrashic literature and liturgical verse that speaks about death, and which are said to eulogize the deceased.[11]


The mourners traditionally make a tear (keriah קריעה) in an outer garment before or at the funeral.[4] The tear should be on the left side (over the heart and clearly visible) for a parent, including foster parents, and on the right side for siblings (including half-brothers and half-sisters[2]), children, and spouses (and does not need to be visible). Non-Orthodox Jews will often make the keriah in a small black ribbon that is pinned to the lapel rather than in the lapel per se.[12][13]

In the instance when a mourner receives the news of the death and burial of a relative after an elapsed period of 30 days or more, there is no keriah, or tearing of the garment, except in the case of a parent. In the case of a parent, the tearing of the garment is to be performed no matter how long a period has elapsed between the time of death and the time of receiving the news.[2]

If a child of the deceased needs to change clothes during the shiva period, s/he must tear the changed clothes. No other family member is required to rend changed clothes during shiva. Children of the deceased may never sew the rent clothes, but any other mourner may mend the clothing 30 days after the burial.[14]


A hesped is a eulogy, and it is common for several people to speak at the start of the ceremony at the funeral home, as well as prior to burial at the gravesite.

"and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah." Gen. 23:2 uses the word "Lispod" from which is derived the Hebrew term Hesped.

There is more than one purpose for the eulogy.

  • it is both for the deceased and the living, and should appropriately praise the person's good deeds.[15]
  • to make us cry[16]

Some people specify in their wills that nothing should be said about them.

Days of "no eulogy"

Eulogies are forbidden on certain days; likewise on a Friday afternoon.

Some other times are:

A more general guideline is that when the Tachanun (supplication prayer) is omitted, it is permitted to deliver a brief eulogy emphasizing only the praise of the departed; the extensive eulogy is postponed, and may be said at another time during the year of mourning.[17]


Karczewski Jewish funeral
Jewish funeral in Vilnius (1824), National Museum in Warsaw

Kevura, or burial, should take place as soon as possible after death. The Torah requires burial as soon as possible, even for executed criminals.[18] Burial is delayed "for the honor of the deceased," usually to allow more time for far-flung family to come to the funeral and participate in the other post-burial rituals, but also to hire professionals, or to bury the deceased in a cemetery of their choice.[19]

Respect for the dead can be seen from many examples in the Torah and Tanakh. For example, one of the last events in the Torah is the death of Moses when God himself buries him: "[God] buried him in the depression in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor. No man knows the place that he was buried, even to this day."[20]

In many traditional funerals, the casket will be carried from the hearse to the grave in seven stages. These are accompanied by seven recitations of Psalm 91. There is a symbolic pause after each stage (which are omitted on days when a eulogy would also not be recited.)

When the funeral service has ended, the mourners come forward to fill the grave. Symbolically, this gives the mourners closure as they observe, or participate in, the filling of the grave site. One custom is for all people present at the funeral to take a spade or shovel, held pointing down instead of up, to show the antithesis of death to life and that this use of the shovel is different from all other uses, to throw three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave.

Some have the custom to initially use the shovel "backwards" for the first few shovelfuls. Even within those who do it, some limit this to just the first few participants.

When someone is finished, they put the shovel back in the ground, rather than handing it to the next person, to avoid passing along their grief to other mourners. This literal participation in the burial is considered a particularly good mitzvah because it is one for which the beneficiary — the deceased — can offer no repayment or gratitude and thus it is a pure gesture.

Some have a custom, once the grave is filled, to make a rounded topping shape.[21]

After burial, the Tziduk Hadin prayer may be recited affirming that Divine Judgment is righteous.[22] The family of deceased may then be comforted by other mourners with the formula:

הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלָיִם
Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim.
The Omnipresent will comfort you (pl.) among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.



Yiskor for Herzl
Yiskor for Herzl, by Boris Schatz.

The first stage of mourning is aninut, or "intense mourning." Aninut lasts until the burial is over, or, if a mourner is unable to attend the funeral, from the moment he is no longer involved with the funeral itself.

An onen (a person in aninut) is considered to be in a state of total shock and disorientation. Thus the onen is exempt from performing mitzvot that require action (and attention), such as praying and reciting blessings, wearing tefillin (phylacteries), in order to be able to tend unhindered to the funeral arrangements. However the onen is still obligated in commandments that forbid an action (such as not violating the Shabbat).


Aninut is immediately followed by avelut ("mourning"). An avel ("mourner") does not listen to music or go to concerts, and does not attend any joyous events or parties such as marriages or Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, unless absolutely necessary. (If the date for such an event has already been set prior to the death, it is strictly forbidden for it to be postponed or cancelled.) The occasion of a Brit milah is typically an exception to this rule, but with restrictions that differ according to tradition.

Avelut consists of three distinct periods.

Shiva – Seven days

The first stage of avelut is shiva (Hebrew: שבעה, "seven"), a week-long period of grief and mourning. Observance of shiva is referred to by English-speaking Jews as "sitting shiva". During this period, mourners traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors.

When they get home, the mourners refrain for a week from showering or bathing, wearing leather shoes or jewelry, or shaving. In many communities, mirrors in the mourners' home are covered since they should not be concerned about their personal appearance. It is customary for the mourners to sit on low stools or even the floor, symbolic of the emotional reality of being "brought low" by the grief. The meal of consolation (seudat havra'ah), the first meal eaten on returning from the funeral, traditionally consists of hard-boiled eggs and other round or oblong foods. This is often credited to the Biblical story of Jacob purchasing the birthright from Esau with stewed lentils (Genesis 25:34);[23] it is traditionally stated that Jacob was cooking the lentils soon after the death of his grandfather Abraham. During this seven-day period, family and friends come to visit or call on the mourners to comfort them ("shiva calls").

It is considered a great mitzvah (commandment) of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. The mourner is under no obligation to engage in conversation and may, in fact, completely ignore his/her visitors.

Visitors will traditionally take on the hosting role when attending a Shiva, often bringing food and serving it to the mourning family and other guests. The mourning family will often avoid any cooking or cleaning during the Shiva period; those responsibilities become those of visitors.

There are various customs as to what to say when taking leave of the mourner(s). One of the most common is to say to them:

הַמָּקוֹם יְנַחֵם אֶתְכֶם בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר אֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלָיִם
Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar avelei tziyon viyrushalayim:
"May The Omnipresent comfort you (pl.) among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"

Depending on their community's customs, others may also add such wishes as: "You should have no more tza'ar (distress)" or "You should have only simchas (celebrations)" or "we should hear only besorot tovot (good tidings) from each other" or "I wish you a long life".

Traditionally, prayer services are organized in the house of mourning. It is customary for the family to lead the services themselves.

Commencing and calculating the seven days of mourning

If the mourner returns from the cemetery after the burial before sundown, then the day of the funeral is counted as the first of the seven days of mourning. Mourning generally concludes in the morning of the seventh day. No mourning may occur on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), nor may the burial take place on Shabbat, but the day of Shabbat does count as one of the seven days. If a Jewish holiday occurs after the first day, that curtails the mourning period. If the funeral occurs during a festival, the start of the mourning period is delayed to the end of the festival. Some holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah, cancel the mourning period completely.

Shloshim – Thirty days

The thirty-day period following burial (including shiva)[24] is known as shloshim (Hebrew: שלושים, "thirty"). During shloshim, a mourner is forbidden to marry or to attend a seudat mitzvah (religious festive meal). Men do not shave or get haircuts during this time.

Since Judaism teaches that a deceased person can still benefit from the merit of mitzvot (commandments) performed in their memory, it is considered a special privilege to bring merit to the departed by learning Torah in their name. A popular custom amongst orthodox Jews is to coordinate a group of people who will jointly study the complete Mishnah during the shloshim period. This is due to the fact that "Mishnah" (משנה) and "Neshamah" (נשמה), soul, have the same (Hebrew) letters.[25]

Shneim asar chodesh – Twelve months

Those mourning a parent additionally observe a twelve-month period (Hebrew: שנים עשר חודש, shneim asar chodesh, "twelve months"), counted from the day of death. During this period, most activity returns to normal, although the mourners continue to recite the mourner's kaddish as part of synagogue services for eleven months. In Orthodox tradition, this is an obligation of the sons (not daughters)[26][27] as mourners. There remain restrictions on attending festive occasions and large gatherings, especially where live music is performed.

Matzevah (Unveiling of the tombstone)

A headstone (tombstone) is known as a matzevah (monument). Although there is no Halakhic obligation to hold an unveiling ceremony (the ritual became popular in many communities toward the end of the 19th century), there are varying customs about when it should be placed on the grave. Most communities have an unveiling ceremony a year after the death. Amongst English Jewry this ceremony is often referred to as a 'stone-setting'. Some communities have it earlier, even a week after the burial. In Israel it is done after the shloshim (the first 30 days of mourning). There is no universal restriction about the timing, other than the unveiling cannot be held during Shabbat, (work-restricted) Jewish holidays, or Chol Ha'Moed.[28][29]

At the end of the ceremony, a cloth or shroud covering that has been placed on the headstone is removed, customarily by close family members. Services include reading of several psalms. Gesher HaChaim cites (chapters) "33, 16, 17, 72, 91, 104, and 130; then one says Psalm 119 and recites the verses that spell the name of the deceased and the letters of the word Neshama.".[30][31] This is followed by the Mourner's Kaddish (if a minyan is available), and the prayer "El Malei Rachamim". The service may include a brief eulogy for the deceased.


Originally, it was not common practice to place names on tombstones. The general custom for engraving the name of the deceased on the monument is a practice that goes back (only) "the last several hundred years."[32]

Jewish communities in Yemen, prior to their immigration to the Land of Israel, did not place headstones over the graves of the dead, except only on rare occasions, choosing rather to follow the dictum of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who said: “They do not build monuments (i.e. tombstones) for the righteous. Their words, lo! They are their memorial!”[33][34] Philosopher and Halachic decisor, Maimonides, likewise, ruled that it is not permissible to raise headstones over the graves of righteous men, but permits doing so for ordinary men.[35] In contrast, the more recent custom of Spanish Jewry, following the teachings of the Ari z”l (Shaʿar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Vayeḥi), is to build tombstones over the grave, seeing it as part of the complete atonement and amendment for those who have died. Likewise, Rabbi Shelomo b. Avraham Aderet (RASHBA) wrote that it is a way of showing honor to the dead.[36] In this manner the custom did spread, especially among the Jews of Spain, North Africa and Ashkenaz. Today, in Israel, all Jewish graves are marked with headstones.

Annual remembrances


Yahrtzeit candle
A yahrtzeit candle lit in memory of a loved one on the anniversary of the death

Yahrtzeit, יאָרצײַט, means "Time (of) Year" in Yiddish.[37] Alternative spellings include yortsayt (using the YIVO standard Yiddish orthography), Jahrzeit (in German), Yohr Tzeit, yahrzeit, and yartzeit. The word is used by Yiddish speaking Jews, and refers to the anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar, of the day of death of a relative. Yahrtzeit literally means "time of [one] year".


The commemoration is known in Hebrew as nachala ("legacy," or "inheritance"). This term is used by most Sephardic Jews, although some use the Ladino terms meldado or less commonly, anyos ("years").[38][39] It is widely observed, and based on the Jewish tradition that mourners are required to commemorate the death of a relative.


Jews are required to commemorate the death of parents, siblings, spouses, or children.[40]

  1. When an immediate relative (parent, sibling, spouse or child) initially hears of the death of a relative, it is traditional to express one's grief by tearing their clothing and saying "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" (Blessed is the True Judge).
  2. Shiva is observed by parents, children, spouses and siblings of the deceased, preferably all together in the deceased's home.The main halakhic obligation is to recite the mourner's version of the Kaddish prayer at least three times, Maariv at the evening services, Shacharit at morning services, and Mincha at the afternoon services. The customs are first discussed in detail in Sefer HaMinhagim (pub. 1566) by Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau.

The Yahrtzeit usually[41] falls annually on the Hebrew date of the deceased relative's death according to the Hebrew calendar. There are questions that arise as to what the date should be if this date falls on Rosh Chodesh or in a leap year of the Hebrew calendar.[42] In particular, there are a few permutations, as follows:

This is only a general guideline, some situations have special rules.
Date of passing Situation on the day of Yahrtzeit Commemorated on
First day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. last, 30th, day of the previous month) Rosh Chodesh only has one day 29th (last) day of the earlier month (not a Rosh Chodesh)
Second day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. first day of the new month) Rosh Chodesh only has one day First day of the month (Rosh Chodesh)
First day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. last, 30th, day of the previous month) Rosh Chodesh has two days First day of the two-day Rosh Chodesh
Second day of a two-day Rosh Chodesh (i.e. first day of the new month) Rosh Chodesh has two days Second day of the two-day Rosh Chodesh
Adar I (leap year) Is a leap year Adar I
Adar I (leap year) Not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Adar (not a leap year) Is a leap year Ask your Rabbi, opinions vary (Either Adar I, Adar II, or both)
Adar (not a leap year) Is not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Adar II (leap year) Is a leap year Adar II
Adar II (leap year) Is not a leap year Adar (there is only one Adar)
Other days (incl. Shabbat or Yom Tov) Any On date of passing

Yahrzeit is done each year, for a full day on the date of death according to the Hebrew calendar. The Synagogue notifies members of the secular date.

The main halachic obligation is to recite the mourner's version of the Kaddish prayer three times (evening of the previous day, morning, and afternoon), and many attend synagogue for the evening, morning, and afternoon services on this day.

During the morning prayer service the mourner's Kaddish is recited at least three times, two that are part of the daily service and one that is added in a house of mourning. Both there and in the synagogue, another Kaddish, the Rabbi's Kaddish, is also said in the morning service once in Nusach Ashkenaz and twice in Sfard/Sfardi.

As a widely practiced custom, mourners also light a special candle that burns for 24 hours, called a "Yahrzeit candle".

Lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of a loved one is a minhag ("custom") that is deeply ingrained in Jewish life honoring the memory and souls of the deceased.

Some Jews believe that strict Jewish law requires that one should fast on the day of a parent's Yahrzeit;[43] although most believe this is not required, some people do observe the custom of fasting on the day of the Yahrtzeit, or at least refraining from meat and wine. Among many Orthodox Jews it has become customary to make a siyum by completing a tractate of Talmud or a volume of the Mishnah on the day prior to the Yahrtzeit, in the honor of the deceased. A halakha requiring a siyum ("celebratory meal"), upon the completion of such a study, overrides the requirement to fast.

Many synagogues will have lights on a special memorial plaque on one of the synagogue's walls, with names of synagogue members who have died. Each of these lights will be lit for individuals on their Yahrzeit (and in some synagogues, the entire Hebrew month).[44] All the lights will be lit for a Yizkor service.[45] Some synagogues will also turn on all the lights for memorial days, such as Yom Ha'Shoah.

Visiting the gravesite

Grave of Shlomo Carlebach
The grave of rabbi-singer Shlomo Carlebach in Jerusalem is piled with stones left by visitors.

Some have a custom to visit the cemetery on fast days (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 559:10) and before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (581:4, 605), when possible, and for a Yahrzeit. During the first year the grave is often visited on the shloshim, and the yartzeit (but may be visited at any time).

Even when visiting Jewish graves of someone that the visitor never knew, the custom is to place a small stone on the grave using the left hand. This shows that someone visited the gravesite, and is also a way of participating in the mitzvah of burial. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. Another reason for leaving stones is to tend the grave. In Biblical times, gravestones were not used; graves were marked with mounds of stones (a kind of cairn), so by placing (or replacing) them, one perpetuated the existence of the site.[46]

The tradition to travel to the graveside on the occasion of a Yahrzeit is ancient.[47]

Memorial through prayer

Mourner's Kaddish

Kaddish Yatom (heb. קדיש יתום lit. "Orphan's Kaddish") or the "Mourner's" Kaddish, is said at all prayer services, as well as at funerals and memorials. Customs for reciting the Mourner's Kaddish vary markedly among various communities. In many Ashkenazi synagogues, particularly Orthodox ones, it is customary that everyone in the synagogue stands. In Sephardi synagogues, most people sit for most sayings of Kaddish.[48][49] In many non-Orthodox Ashkenaz ones, the custom is that only the mourners themselves stand and chant, while the rest of the congregation sits, chanting only responsively.


In many Sephardic communities, Hashkabóth ("remembrance") prayers are recited for the deceased in the year following death, on the deceased's death anniversary ("nahalah" or "años"), and upon request by the deceased's relatives. Some Sephardic communities also recite Hashkabóth for all their deceased members on Yom Kippur, even those who died many years before.


Joods monument gedenksteen
Remembrance plaque in Tiel.

Yizkor ("remembrance") prayers are recited by those that have lost either one or both of their parents. They may additionally say Yizkor for other relatives.[50] Some might also say Yizkor for a deceased close friend.[51] It is customary in many communities for those with both parents alive to leave the synagogue during the Yizkor service[51] while it is said.[52][53]

The Yizkor prayers are recited four times a year, and are intended to be recited in a synagogue with a minyan; if one is unable to be with a minyan, one can recite it without one. These four Yizkor services are held on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, on the last day of Passover, and on Shavuot (the second day of Shavuot, in communities that observe Shavuot for two days).

The El Malei Rachamim prayer, in which God is asked to remember and grant repose to the souls of the departed, is recited as the primary prayer of the Yizkor services.[54]

Yizkor is customarily not said within the first year of mourning, until the first yahrzeit has passed. This practice is a custom and historically not regarded to be obligatory.[55]

In Sephardic custom there is no Yizkor prayer, but the Hashkabóth serve a similar role in the service.

Av HaRachamim

Av Harachamim is a Jewish memorial prayer that was written in the late 11th Century, after the destruction of the German Jewish communities around the Rhine river by Crusaders.[56] It is recited on many Shabbatot before Musaf, and also at the end of the Yizkor service.[56]

Elevation of the soul

Actions taken for elevation of the soul (L'Illui NishMat - לעלוי נשמת, sometimes abbreviated LI"N (לע"נ) are not limited to kaddish and other timed events. They may include:

  • Charity - Tzedakah[57]
  • Dissemination of Torah learning[58][59]
  • Joint Tehillim Reading[60]
  • Personal study, especially learning MishNaYot. The same letters that spell its singular, MishNa (משנה) also spell the Hebrew word for soul, NeShaMa נשמה).

Communal responses to death

Most Jewish communities of size have non-profit organizations that maintain cemeteries and provide chevra kadisha services for those in need. They are often formed out of a synagogue's women's group.

Zihui Korbanot Asson (ZAKA)

ZAKA (heb. זק"א abbr. for Zihui Korbanot Asson lit. "Identifying Victims of Disaster"חסד של אמת Hessed shel Emet lit. "True Kindness"איתור חילוץ והצלה), is a community emergency response team in the State of Israel, officially recognized by the government. The organization was founded in 1989. Members of ZAKA, most of whom are Orthodox, assist ambulance crews, identify the victims of terrorism, road accidents and other disasters and, where necessary, gather body parts and spilled blood for proper burial. They also provide first aid and rescue services, and help with the search for missing persons. In the past they have responded in the aftermath of disasters around the world.

Hebrew Free Burial Association (HFBA)

The Hebrew Free Burial Association is a non-profit agency whose mission is to ensure that all Jews receive a proper Jewish burial, regardless of their financial ability. Since 1888, more than 55,000 Jews have been buried by HFBA in their cemeteries located on Staten Island, New York, Silver Lake Cemetery and Mount Richmond Cemetery.

Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles

Formed in 1854 for the purpose of "…procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence…," the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles established the first Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive[61] in Chavez Ravine (current home to Dodger Stadium). In 1968, a plaque was installed at the original site, identifying it as California Historical Landmark #822.[62]

In 1902, because of poor environmental conditions due to the unchecked expansion of the oil industry in the area, it was proposed by Congregation B'nai B'rith to secure a new plot of land in what is now East LA, and to move the buried remains to the new site, with a continued provision for burial of indigent people. This site, the Home of Peace Memorial Park,[63] remains operational and is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles. The original society is now known as the "Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles".[62][64]

Controversy following death

Donating organs

Being an organ donor is absolutely prohibited by some, and permitted, in principle, by others.[65]

According to some Jewish denominations, once death has been clearly established, provided that instructions have been left in a written living will, donation may be done. However, there are a number of practical difficulties for those who wish to adhere strictly to Jewish law. For example, someone who is dead by clinical standards may not yet be dead according to Jewish law. Jewish law does not permit donation of organs that are vital for survival from a donor who is in a near-dead state but who is not yet dead according to Jewish law. Orthodox and Haredi Jews may need to consult their rabbis on a case-by-case basis.

Since 2001, with the founding of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, organ donation has become more common in modern orthodox Jewish communities, especially with the support of rabbis like Moshe Tendler and Norman Lamm.[66][67]

Jewish view of cremation

Halakha (Jewish law) forbids cremation.[68]

An ancient historian[55]:56[69] described as "a distinguishing characteristic" that "Jews buried, rather than burned, their dead." Judaism stresses burial in the earth (included entombment, as in caves) as a religious duty of laying a person's remains to rest. This, as well as the belief that the human body is created in the image of the divine and is not to be vandalized before or after death, teaches the belief that it was necessary to keep the whole body intact in burial, in anticipation of the eventual resurrection of the dead in the messianic age.[70] Nevertheless, some Jews who are not religiously adherent, or who have attached to an alternative movement or religious stream that does not see some or all the laws of the Torah as binding upon them, have chosen cremation, either for themselves prior to death, or for their loved ones, a choice made in 2016 by more than 50% of non-Jews in the United States.[71]


As Judaism considers suicide to be a form of murder, a Jew who commits suicide is denied some important after-death privileges: No eulogies should be given for the deceased, and burial in the main section of the Jewish cemetery is normally not allowed.

In recent times, most people who die by suicide have been deemed to be the unfortunate victims of depression or of a serious mental illness. Under this interpretation, their act of "self-murder" is not deemed to be a voluntary act of self-destruction, but rather the result of an involuntary condition. They have therefore been looked upon as having died of causes beyond their control.

Additionally, the Talmud (in Semakhot, one of the minor tractates) recognizes that many elements of the mourning ritual exist as much for the living survivors as for the dead, and that these elements ought to be carried out even in the case of the suicide.

Furthermore, if reasonable doubt exists that the death may not have been suicide or that the deceased might have changed her mind and repented at the last moment (e.g., if it is unknown whether the victim fell or jumped from a building, or if the person falling changed her mind mid-fall), the benefit of the doubt is given and regular burial and mourning rituals take place. Lastly, the suicide of a minor is considered a result of a lack of understanding ("da'at"), and in such a case, regular mourning is observed.


Halakha (Jewish law) forbids tattoos, and there is a persistent myth that this prevents burial in a Jewish cemetery, but this is not true.[72][73][74] A small minority of burial societies will not accept a corpse with a tattoo, but Jewish law does not mention burial of tattooed Jews, and nearly all burial societies have no such restriction.[75] Removing the tattoo of a deceased Jew is forbidden as it would be considered damaging the body. This case has been one of public interest in the current generations due to the large population tattooed in Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1945. However, it must be noted that, since those tattoos were forced upon the recipients in a situation where any resistance could expect official murder or brutality, their presence is not in any way reflective of any violation of Jewish law on the part of both the living and deceased; rather under these circumstances it shows adherence to the positive command to preserve innocent life, including one's own, by passively allowing the mark to be applied.

Death of an apostate Jew

There is no mourning for an Apostate Jew according to Jewish law. (See that article for a discussion of precisely what actions and motivations render a Jew an "apostate.")

In the past several centuries, the custom developed among Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews (including Hassidic and Haredi Jews), that the family would "sit shiva" if and when one of their relatives would leave the fold of traditional Judaism. The definition of "leaving the fold" varies within communities; some would sit shiva if a family member married a non-Jew; others would only sit shiva if the individual actually converted to another faith, and even then, some would make a distinction between those who chose to do so of their own will, and those who were pressured into conversion. (In Sholom Aleichem's Tevye, when the title character's daughter converts to Christianity to marry a Christian, Tevye sits shiva for her and generally refers to her as "dead.") At the height of the Mitnagdim (anti-Hassidic) movement, in the early-to-mid nineteenth century, some Mitnagdim even sat shiva if a family member joined Hassidism. (It is said that when Leibel Eiger joined Hassidism, his father, Rabbi Shlomo Eiger sat shiva, but his grandfather, the famed Rabbi Akiva Eiger, did not. It is also said that Leibel Eiger came to be menachem avel [console the mourner]). By the mid-twentieth century, however, Hassidism was recognized as a valid form of Orthodox Judaism, and thus the (controversial) practice of sitting shiva for those who realign to Hassidism ceased to exist.

Today, some Orthodox Jews, particularly the more traditional ones (such as many Haredi and Hassidic communities), continue the practice of sitting shiva for a family member who has left the religious community. More liberal Jews, however, may question the practice, eschewing it as a very harsh act that could make it much more difficult for the family member to return to traditional practice if/when s/he would consider doing so.


The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute teaches courses on the spiritual purpose of bereavement and the soul after death.[76][77][78][79]

Days of remembrance

A day of mourning for the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem and other events.
The four days on which Yizkor is recited
Fast day on which it has become a custom for some to say Kaddish for those whose yahrzeits are unknown or who died in the Holocaust
National day of remembrance in Israel (and by many Jews worldwide) for those murdered in the Holocaust as well as Righteous Among the Nations
National day of remembrance in Israel for those who died in service of Israel or killed in terrorist attacks

See also


  1. ^ Klein, Isaac, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Ktav Publishing House, 1979, page 286.
  2. ^ a b c Silverman, Morris (1984). Prayers of Consolation. Media Judaica Inc. ISBN 0-87677-062-6.
  3. ^ "Judaism 101: Prayers and Blessings".
  4. ^ a b Klein, Isaac, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Ktav Publishing House, 1979, page 278.
  5. ^ a b "Jewish Funeral Guide".
  6. ^ "Sydney Chevra Kadisha".
  7. ^ "Death & Mourning: The Basics".
  8. ^ a b "Death & Mourning: Soul Talk".
  9. ^ "Flowers on graves – Ask the Rabbi".
  10. ^ "The Jewish Funeral Ceremony – Brooklyn Funeral Home".
  11. ^ Yosef Qafih, Halikhot Teiman (3rd edition), Ben-Zvi Institute: Jerusalem 1982, pp. 250–251; cf. Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 26a), the words of Rabbi Menahem, the son of Rabbi Yosi, ibid. See also Tosefta Megillah 4:14, where it states: "They do not perform [the solemn obsequies of] Ma'amad u'Moshav with less than ten persons, etc."
  12. ^ " "Jewish Funeral Customs -". Retrieved 2017-02-08. – says "The service .. begins with the cutting of a black ribbon"
  13. ^ "Guide for Jewish Funeral Practices – Washington Hebrew Congregation" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-02-08. says – "Among Conservative and Reform Jews, a black ribbon is ..."
  14. ^ Lamm, Maurice. "Death & Mourning: Keriah".
  15. ^ "Jewish Law – Articles – Understanding The Mitzvah of Hesped".
  16. ^ "Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt"l".
  17. ^ "Jewish Funeral Guide – Jewish Funeral Services – לוויה – Eulogy – הספד".
  18. ^ Deuteronomy 21:23
  19. ^ Sanhedrin 47a
  20. ^ "Navigating the Bible".
  21. ^ Tzuras ..
  22. ^ Goldstein, Zalman. "The Burial".
  23. ^ "Genesis 25 / Hebrew – English Bible / Mechon-Mamre".
  24. ^ od 23 yamim (page 330, Pnai Baruch) = "an additional 23 days"
  25. ^ Ben Yehoyada to Sanhedrin 42a and Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah, 376:13
  26. ^ Rabbi Maurice Lamm uses the phrase "the son's recitation of kaddish" in the middle of page 158 and then again in the middle of page 159 of the original/pre-2000 edition; the latter is now available online at
  27. ^ Artscroll has substantiation, including not carrying out a father's wish when there are daughters and not sons, on pp.359–360 of Mourning in Halachah. ISBN 0-89906-171-0.
  28. ^ Mourning in Halacha, 42:8
  29. ^ There is also a known restriction regarding the month of Nisan: "Visiting Cemeteries In Nissan".
  30. ^ "What happens at an "Unveiling"".
  31. ^ Another possible list is: (1, 23, 24, 103). Different communities have different customs.
  32. ^ Gesher HaChaim,Ch.28 "From GESHER HAHAYYIM, Chapter 28".
  33. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Sheqalim 7a
  34. ^ Mishne Torah of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, ed. Yosef Qafih, Jerusalem, s.v. Hil. Avel 4:4
  35. ^ Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hil. Avel 4:4
  36. ^ Questions & Responsa of Rabbi Shelomo ben Aderet, responsum # 375
  37. ^ "Jahrzeit". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906.
  38. ^ Stillman, Norman A. (1995). Sephardi Religious Responses. p. 12. ISBN 9781134365494.
  39. ^ "Meldado" (PDF). Rhodes Jewish Museum. 2013.
  40. ^ "Judaism 101: Life, Death and Mourning".
  41. ^ "Jewish Funeral Guide – Remembrance – Yahrzeit Date Calculation".
  42. ^ Yahrzeit: Memorial Anniversary on as part of a series "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" by Maurice Lamm, author of a book by the same title.
  43. ^ See where Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff Shlita finds references to this in Sefer Hasidim and the writings of Moses Isserles.
  44. ^ ".. during the month of the Yahrzeit. (Chabad of Commerce) "MEMORIAL WALL".
  45. ^ "At the side of each nameplate, there is a Memorial Light, which is lit each year on the Yahrzeit and for all Yizkor commemorations." "Memorial Plaque".
  46. ^ Talmud Bavli, Masechet Moe'ed Katan
  47. ^ WITTENBERG, CJN Staff Reporter, Ed (June 27, 2014). "Remembering the Lubavitcher Rebbe On 20th yahrzeit, Rabbi Schneerson still making an impact in world". Cleveland Jewish News. This Jewish tradition to travel to the graveside on the occasion of a Yahrzeit is ancient... said Chabad of Cleveland has planned a series of events to commemorate Schneerson’s 20th yahrzeit. They include a six-week Jewish Learning Institute course about the teachings of the Rebbe and an upcoming Shabbaton with a scholar-in-residence to promote his teachings.
  48. ^ The following or similar wording appear in several religious sources: "The prevalent practice among Sepharadim is to sit during Kaddish unless one had been standing when Kaddish began. Many have the custom to stand during the half-kaddish recited during the Friday night prayer service, given the significant spiritual benefits that one can receive at that time. It is proper for a Sephardic Jew praying in an Ashkenazic minyan to stand for Kaddish and Barechu (Rav David Yosef, Halachah Berurah (56:17). (emphasis added). This quote is from a widely circulated Sephardic periodical, Community Magazine,
  49. ^ The Ben Ish Chai, a widely respected Sephardic source, refers to "the congregation rises slightly" regarding Barchu, a similar situation, as noted in the prior quote regarding "to stand for Kaddish and Barechu." "The Obligation to Stand While Kaddish and Barechu are Recited". As for Orthodox Ashkenaz practice, "Some rise partially when the words Amen, yehei shemei rabba are said." "Guide to Minhag Ashkenaz – Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz" (PDF). These agree with a TALK PAGE comment regarding saying "Amen, YeHay ShMay...," that there are those who "elevate" – meaning that they are not actually fully sitting, but neither are they standing.
  50. ^ The Artscroll Siddur specifically mentions other titles, "Mitzad Avi.. MiTzad Imi" = on my father's side, on my mother's side
  51. ^ a b Chabad mentions this at "Yizkor – The Memorial Prayer".
  52. ^ "Yizkor: A four part guide – Shimon Apisdorf".
  53. ^ The OU is more detailed but ends on "one should follow one’s own family minhag or the practice of one’s community."
  54. ^ Birnbaum, Philip (1975). "El Male Rahamim". A Book of Jewish Concepts (Revised ed.). New York: Hebrew Publishing Company. p. 33.
  55. ^ a b Lamm, Maurice (2000). The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Revised and Expanded. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. p. 198. ISBN 0-8246-0422-9.
  56. ^ a b Eisenberg, Ronald (2010-01-01). Jewish Traditions: A JPS Guide. p. 461. ISBN 9780827610392.
  57. ^ "How Does Tzedakah Given L'Ilui Nishmas Work?". OU Torah (Orthodox Union). Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |website= (help)
  58. ^ Rabbi Yair Hoffman (June 29, 2017). "The Mesorah Of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz". Five Towns Jewish Times.
  59. ^ The founder of Artscroll, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, authored the first book L'Illui NishMat a young married friend who died childless
  60. ^ "Joint Tehillim Reading".
  61. ^ The original cemetery land is at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive (34°04′09″N 118°14′28″W / 34.0691°N 118.2411°W)
  62. ^ a b Cohen, Thomas (April 1969). "Early Jewish LA". Vol #1, Issue #3: Western States Jewish History. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  63. ^ "Home of Peace Memorial Park". 4334 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90023, Phone +1 323 261 6135, 34°01′19″N 118°10′30″W / 34.022°N 118.175°W: Home of Peace Memorial Park. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  64. ^ "Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles". Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2012-05-08.
  65. ^ That there is a card carried by some, stating "I do not give my permission to take from me, not in life or in death, any organ or part of my body for any purpose" supports this.
  66. ^ Berg, Elaine. "Beating the Organ Donor Taboo". The Forward. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  68. ^ Yesodei Smachos (p. 38 in 1978 edition), citing Gesher HaChaim, 28:9.
  69. ^ citing Tacitus
  70. ^ Apple, Raymond. "Cremation – Ask the Rabbi".
  71. ^ "The Jewish Way in Death and Burial". Chabad International. February 2017.
  72. ^ Zivotofsky, Ari. "What's the truth about..." Orthodox Union. Archived from the original on 2011-01-15.
  73. ^ Schreiber, Azriel. "Burying a Tattooed Person in a Jewish Cemetery".
  74. ^ Torgovnick, Kate (July 17, 2008). "Skin Deep: For Some Jews, It Only Sounds Like 'Taboo'". New York Times.
  75. ^ "Can a person with a tattoo be buried in a Jewish cemetery?".
  76. ^ "Where does the soul go after it departs this world?". West Milford, NJ: Straus News. West Milford Messenger. October 18, 2015.
  77. ^ "6-week course delves into 'The Journey of the Soul". THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. October 23, 2015.
  78. ^ Bitting, Diane M (December 13, 2015). "Where does your soul go when you die? Six-part course at Rohr Chabad Jewish Center will explore the spiritual dimension of existence". Lancaster Online.
  79. ^ "The Jewish Afterlife". Fleming Island, FL. Clay Today Online. November 12, 2015. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015.


Further reading

  • Afsai, Shai, "The Shomer" Part 1 of 2, and "The Shomer" Part 2 of 2, in Bewildering Stories, 2012.
  • Brener, Anne, Mourning and Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing, Jewish Lights/Turner Publishing, 3rd Edition (2017). Fully revised with a new author's preface, epilogue and new guided exercises.
  • Diamant, Anita, Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn as a Jew. Schocken Books, 1999.
  • Goodman, Arnold M., A Plain Pine Box: A Return to Simple Jewish Funerals and Eternal Traditions, Ktav Publishing House, 2003.
  • Kolatch, Alfred J., The Jewish Mourners Book of Why, Jonathan David Publishers, 1993.
  • Kelman, Stuart, Chesed Shel Emet: Guidelines for Taharah, EKS Publishing Co, 2003.
  • Klein, Isaac, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Ktav Publishing House, 1979.
  • Lamm, Maurice, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Jonathan David Publishers, 2000. Available in print; also available for free online.
  • Riemer, Jack, So That Your Values Live On – Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them, Jewish Lights Publishing, 1991.
  • Riemer, Jack, Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, Syracuse University Press, 2002.
  • Syme, Daniel B. and Sonsino, Rifat, What Happens After I Die? Jewish Views of Life After Death, URJ Press, 1990.
  • Wolfson, Ron, A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement and Comfort, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont. 1996.
  • Wolpe, David, Making Loss Matter – Creating Meaning in Difficult Times, Penguin, 1999.

External links

Av HaRachamim

Av Harachamim or Abh Haraḥamim (אב הרחמים "Father [of] mercy" or "Merciful Father") is a Jewish memorial prayer which was written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, after the destruction of the Ashkenazi communities around the Rhine River by Christian crusaders during the First Crusade. First appearing in prayer books in 1290, it is printed in every Orthodox siddur in the European traditions of Nusach Sefarad and Nusach Ashkenaz and recited as part of the weekly Shabbat services, or in some communities on the Shabbat before Shavuot and Tisha B'Av.The Yizkor service on Jewish holidays concludes with the Av Harachamim, which prays for the souls of all Jewish martyrs.

Chesed Shel Emes

Chesed Shel Emes (Hebrew: חסד של אמת‎, Hebrew pronunciation: [χeˈsed ˌʃel eˈmet]) is a Jewish voluntary organisation that is found in various forms around the world.

In Israel, the primary Chesed Shel Emes is known as ZAKA, though other organizations exist. The name Chesed Shel Emes means “Charity of Truth” or “Charity of True Loving Kindness”.

Chesed Shel Emes of Canada was established in 1930 as a non-profit organization with a mandate to prepare members of the Jewish community for burial according to Orthodox tradition. Each person is treated with the same consideration and respect. No one is refused service due to financial hardship. Chesed Shel Emes is an independent, community-based organization. Men and women are chosen and trained as volunteer members of the chevra kadisha (holy society). Their purpose is to dutifully and lovingly prepare the dead for burial.Chesed Shel Emes of New York was founded by Rabbi Mendel Rosenberg. The group provides numerous after-death services, including a ritually flawless Orthodox burial that incorporates a taharah (ritual purification), tachrich (ritual graveclothes), and interment in a Biblically kosher, handmade coffin of soft wood. It negotiates with hospitals as necessary to remove lines and tubes from the deceased and obtain timely release of remains, and has successfully negotiated with courts of applicable venue and jurisdiction to halt halakhically forbidden autopsies. The group's services are sometimes required for more unusual needs, such as a tahara in Puerto Rico or chartering a private jet to transport a dead person from out of town. Their Accident Disaster Recovery Team, who worked together with FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, has cleaned hundreds of accident scenes, ensuring that all blood and any severed body parts are buried together with the person who died. To date, the New York organization has buried over 1200 m’sei mitzvah, ie: people who have no one else to bury them. Additionally, they operate a Bikur Cholim in several area hospitals and have a group of volunteers available to learn mishnah for the dead.Similar organizations exist across the USA, for example in Boston, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Seattle. They also exist in 17 countries.

Chevra kadisha

A chevra kadisha (Hevra kadishah) (Aramaic: חֶבְרָה קַדִישָא, Ḥebh'ra Qaddisha "holy society") is an organization of Jewish men and women who see to it that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition and are protected from desecration, willful or not, until burial. Two of the main requirements are the showing of proper respect for a corpse, and the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial. It is usually referred to as a burial society in English.

The task of the chevra kadisha is considered a laudable one, as tending to the dead is a favour that the recipient cannot return, making it devoid of ulterior motives. Its work is therefore referred to as a chesed shel emet (Hebrew: חסד של אמת, "a good deed of truth"), paraphrased from Genesis 47:30 (where Jacob asks his son Joseph, "do me a 'true' favor" and Joseph promises his father to bury him in the burial place of his ancestors).

At the heart of the society's function is the ritual of tahara, or purification. The body is first thoroughly cleansed of dirt, bodily fluids and solids, and anything else that may be on the skin, and then is ritually purified by immersion in, or a continuous flow of, water from the head over the entire body. Tahara may refer to either the entire process, or to the ritual purification. Once the body is purified, the body is dressed in tachrichim, or shrouds, of white pure muslin or linen garments made up of ten pieces for a male and twelve for a female, which are identical for each Jew and which symbolically recalls the garments worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Once the body is shrouded, the casket is closed. For burial in Israel, however, a casket is not used in most cemeteries.

The society may also provide shomrim, or watchers, to guard the body from theft, vermin, or desecration until burial. In some communities this is done by people close to the departed or by paid shomrim hired by the funeral home. At one time, the danger of theft of the body was very real; in modern times the watch has become a way of honoring the deceased.

A specific task of the burial society is tending to the dead who have no next-of-kin. These are termed a meit mitzvah (Hebrew: מת מצוה, a mitzvah corpse), as tending to a meit mitzvah overrides virtually any other positive commandment (mitzvat aseh) of Torah law, an indication of the high premium the Torah places on the honor of the dead.

Many burial societies hold one or two annual fast days and organise regular study sessions to remain up-to-date with the relevant articles of Jewish law. In addition, most burial societies also support families during the shiv'ah (traditional week of mourning) by arranging prayer services, meals and other facilities.

While burial societies were, in Europe, generally a community function, in the United States it has become far more common for societies to be organized by each synagogue. However, not every synagogue has such a society.In the late 19th and early 20th century, chevra kadisha societies were formed as landsmanshaft fraternal societies in the United States. Some landsmanshaftn were burial societies while others were "independent" groups split off from the chevras. There were 20,000 such landsmanshaftn in the U.S. at one time.

Death anniversary

A death anniversary is the anniversary of the death of a person. It is the opposite of birthday. It is a custom in several Asian cultures, including Armenia, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Myanmar, Iran, Israel, Japan, Bangladesh, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as well as in other places with significant overseas Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, and Vietnamese populations, to observe the anniversary on which a family member or other significant individual died. There are also similar memorial services that are held at different intervals, such as every week.

Although primarily a manifestation of ancestor worship, the tradition has also been associated with Confucianism and Buddhism (in East Asian cultural civilizations) or Hinduism and Buddhism (South Asia but mainly in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia). In Judaism (the majority religion of Israel), such a commemoration is called a yahrtzeit (among other terms). Celebration of mass in memory of a loved one on or near the anniversary of their death is also a part of Roman Catholic Christian tradition.

El Malei Rachamim

"El Malei Rachamim" (Hebrew: אֵל מָלֵא רַחֲמִים, lit. “God full of Mercy” or “Merciful God”), is a Jewish prayer for the soul of a person who has died, usually recited at the graveside during the burial service and at memorial services during the year.

First Jewish site in Los Angeles

The First Jewish site in Los Angeles is a first Jewish cemetery in the City of Los Angeles, opened in 1855 by Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles, the first charitable organization in Los Angeles. The First Jewish site in Los Angeles was designated a California Historic Landmark (No.822) on Jan. 26, 1968. The First Jewish site in Los Angeles is located at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles in Los Angeles County. In 1902 the cemetery was moved, a California Historic Landmark is at the place of the original cemetery.

The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles was founded in 1854 for the purpose of "…procuring a piece of ground suitable for the purpose of a burying ground for the deceased of their own faith, and also to appropriate a portion of their time and means to the holy cause of benevolence…,". The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles received the deed to land from the Los Angeles City Council on April 9, 1855. With this land they established the first Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles at Lilac Terrace and Lookout Drive in Chavez Ravine. The site is now the current site of Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Fire Department's Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center. In 1902, because of poor environmental conditions due to the unchecked expansion of the oil industry in the area, it was proposed by Congregation B'nai B'rith to secure a new plot of land in what is now East LA, and to move the buried remains to the new site, with a continued provision for burial of indigent people. This site, the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles. remains operational and is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles. The original society is now known as the "Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles". Solomon Lazard, a Los Angeles merchant, served on the Los Angeles City Council in 1853, and also headed the first Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

Halachic Organ Donor Society

The Halachic Organ Donor Society, also known as the HOD Society, was started in December 2001 by Robert Berman. Its mission is to save lives by increasing organ donation from Jews to the general public (including gentiles).The organization recognizes the legitimate debate in Orthodox Jewish law surrounding brain stem death and offers a unique organ donor card that allows people to choose between donating organs at brain stem death or alternatively at cessation of heart beat (asystole). It currently has thousands of members, including more than 200 Orthodox Rabbis and several Chief Rabbis. It has delivered educational lectures that have encouraged more than 34,000 Jews to donate organs.

Honorifics for the dead in Judaism

Among the honorifics in Judaism, there are several traditional honorifics for the dead which are used when naming and speaking of the deceased. Different honorifics might be applied depending on the particular status of the deceased. These honorifics are frequently found on gravestones, on memorial walls inside the sanctuary of synagogues, in speeches, and in writing such as in obituaries.

In writing, it is most common to use the name followed by an abbreviation of an honorific either in Hebrew or English. For examples, see chart.

Isha katlanit

Isha katlanit (Hebrew: אישה קטלנית‎, literally: "lethal/deadly woman") is used in halakha ("Jewish law") for a married woman who has become a widow twice. Such a woman, it is said, should not marry again, because marrying her carries the risk that her next husband may also die (i.e., she will become the "cause" of his death because her marriage to her two previous husbands ended when they died.)

The origin of this rule is Talmudic. There is a dispute in the Talmud about whether a woman becomes a katlanit ("causing death") after the death of two husbands or the death of three husbands. The conclusion is that two are enough to define a katlanit, a term of art found in post-Talmudic literature.The Talmud presents two reasons why marrying a katlanit is risky:

According to the first reason, the "bad luck" or "misfortune" of the katlanit may endanger her husband.

The second reason is that her "fountain" (i.e., a euphemism for vagina), can have a "risky nature."Maimonides maintains that if one has already married such a woman, he has no obligation to divorce her according to Jewish law. Other rabbis, including Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel, take a more rigorous position. In their opinion, a man is not an "owner" of his life, so he has no right to endanger it. Consequently, one who married a katlanit must divorce her.

Technically, the isha katlanit rule may still be valid for those who adhere to Orthodox Judaism. As a practical matter, however, rabbinic authorities have substantially curtailed the relevance of the principles, thanks partly to the rabbinic principle of "The Lord protects the simple" from unusual dangers. In addition, rabbinic authorities have expressed in responsa their concern that widows be allowed to remarry, both for their own moral benefit and for the sake of the Jewish population. Today it is accepted that deaths of old husbands (over age 70) or deaths of husbands caused by an obvious accident are not reasons to define a woman as a katlanit. Unnatural causes, though, may activate the rule.


Kaddish or Qaddish or Qadish (Aramaic: קדיש‎ "holy") is a hymn of praises to God found in Jewish prayer services. The central theme of the Kaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God's name. In the liturgy, different versions of the Kaddish are used functionally as separators between sections of the service.

The term "Kaddish" is often used to refer specifically to "The Mourner's Kaddish", said as part of the mourning rituals in Judaism in all prayer services, as well as at funerals (other than at the gravesite, see Qaddish aḥar Haqqəvurah "Qaddish after Burial") and memorials, and for 11 months after the death of a close relative. When mention is made of "saying Kaddish", this unambiguously refers to the rituals of mourning. Mourners say Kaddish to show that despite the loss they still praise God.

The opening words of this prayer are inspired by Ezekiel 38:23, a vision of God becoming great in the eyes of all the nations. The central line of the Kaddish in Jewish tradition is the congregation's response: יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא (Yǝhē šmēh rabbā mǝvārakh lǝʿālam u-lʿalmē ʿālmayyā, "May His great name be blessed for ever, and to all eternity"), a public declaration of God's greatness and eternality. This response is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew "ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד" (Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever), which is to be found in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (בריך שום יקריה לעלמי עלמין, Genesis 49:2 and Deuteronomy 6:4), and is similar to the wording of Daniel 2:20.

The Mourners, Rabbis and Complete Kaddish end with a supplication for peace ("Oseh Shalom..."), which is in Hebrew, and is somewhat similar to the Tanakh Job 25:2.

Along with the Shema Yisrael and Amidah, the Kaddish is one of the most important and central elements in the Jewish liturgy. Kaddish cannot be recited alone. Along with some prayers, it can only be recited with a minyan of ten Jews.


A kittel (Yiddish: קיטל‎) is a white linen or cotton robe worn by religious Jews on holidays, in the synagogue or at home when leading the Passover seder. Kittels are sometimes worn by grooms. It is also customary for Jews to be buried in a kittel.


A Memorbuch (German for "memory book"; plural Memorbücher) is a book dedicated to the memory of martyrs in the Ashkenazi world.


Mikveh or mikvah (Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה, Modern: mikve, Tiberian: miqweh, pl. mikva'ot, mikvoth, mikvot, or (Yiddish) mikves, lit., "a collection") is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity.

After the destruction of the Temple, the mikveh's main uses remained as follows:

by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation and childbirth before they and their husbands may resume marital relations;

by Jewish men to achieve ritual purity after ejaculation;

as part of the traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism;

to immerse newly acquired metal and glass utensils used in serving and eating food;

to immerse a corpse as part of the preparation for burial (taharah).Most forms of ritual impurity can be purified through immersion in any natural collection of water. However, some impurities, such as a zav, require "living water", such as springs or groundwater wells. Living water has the further advantage of being able to purify even while flowing, as opposed to rainwater which must be stationary in order to purify. The mikveh is designed to simplify this requirement, by providing a bathing facility that remains in contact with a natural source of water.

In Orthodox Judaism, these regulations are steadfastly adhered to, and, consequently, the mikveh is central to an Orthodox Jewish community; they formally hold in Conservative Judaism as well. The existence of a mikveh is considered so important that a Jewish community is required to construct a mikveh even before building a synagogue, and must go to the extreme of selling Torah scrolls or even a synagogue if necessary, to provide funding for its construction.


Misaskim (Hebrew: מתעסקים‎ Mit'asḳim) is an American Orthodox Jewish not-for-profit organization that provides services for the care of the dead and the needs and conveniences of mourners in accordance to Jewish law and custom.

Misaskim provides moral support and bereavement assistance to individuals experiencing crisis or tragedy. This is achieved by providing vital community services, which include safeguarding the dignity of the deceased, assisting the bereaved by providing free shiva-related services and supporting individuals during these times.

Organ donation in Jewish law

Certain fundamental Jewish law questions arise in issues of organ donation. Donation of an organ from a living person to save another's life, where the donor's health will not appreciably suffer, is permitted and encouraged in Jewish law. Donation of an organ from a dead person is equally permitted for the same purpose: to save a life (pikuach nefesh). This simple statement of the issue belies, however, the complexity of defining death in Jewish law. Thus, although there are side issues regarding mutilation of the body etc., the primary issue that prevents organ donation from the dead amongst Jews, in many cases, is the definition of death, simply because to take a life-sustaining organ from a person who was still alive would be murder.

Because in Jewish law, organ donation raises such difficult questions, it has traditionally been met with some skepticism. In both Orthodox Judaism and non-Orthodox Judaism, the majority view holds that organ donation is permitted in the case of irreversible cardiac rhythm cessation. However most organs must be transplanted before the heart has ceased, and this has led to much discussion and assessment of Jewish law so that today, whilst there continues to be opposition to transplantation before cardiac/respiratory death, there are several authorities which argue that it is allowed, and this is now the official position of the government of the State of Israel and its Chief Rabbinate.

Shiva (Judaism)

Shiva (Hebrew: שִׁבְעָה, literally 'seven') is the week-long mourning period in Judaism for first-degree relatives. The ritual is referred to as "sitting shiva". Traditionally, there are five stages of mourning in Judaism. Shiva is considered the third stage, and lasts for seven days. Following the initial period of despair and lamentation immediately after the death, shiva embraces a time when individuals discuss their loss and accept the comfort of others. Its observance is a requirement for the parents, spouses, children, and/or siblings of the person who has died. It is not a requirement for an individual who was less than thirty days old at the time of death. At the funeral, mourners wear an outer garment that is torn before the procession in a ritual known as keriah. In some traditions, mourners wear a black ribbon that is cut in place of an everyday garment. The torn article is worn throughout the entirety of shiva. Typically, the seven days begin immediately after the deceased has been buried. Following burial, mourners assume the halakhic status of avel (Hebrew: אבל, "mourner"). It is necessary for the burial spot to be entirely covered with earth in order for shiva to commence. This state lasts for the entire duration of shiva. During the period of shiva, mourners remain at home. Friends and family visit those in mourning in order to give their condolences and provide comfort. The process, though dating back to biblical times, mimics the natural way an individual confronts and overcomes grief. Shiva allows for the individual to express their sorrow, discuss the loss of a loved one, and slowly re-enter society.


Tachrichim (Hebrew: תכריכים) are traditional simple white burial furnishings, usually made from 100% pure linen, in which the bodies of deceased Jews are dressed by the Chevra Kadisha, or other burial group, for interment after undergoing a taharah (ritual purification).

In Hebrew, tachrichim means to "enwrap" or "bind". It comes from the Biblical verse (Esther 8:15) "And Mordechai left the king's presence in royal apparel of blue and white and a huge golden crown and a wrap of linen (tachrich butz) and purple, and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was happy".

Ten Martyrs

The Ten Martyrs (Hebrew: עשרת הרוגי מלכות‎ Aseret Harugei Malchut) were ten rabbis living during the era of the Mishnah who were martyred by the Roman Empire in the period after the destruction of the Second Temple. Their story is detailed in Midrash Eleh Ezkerah.

Although not killed at the same time (since two of the rabbis listed lived well before the other eight), a dramatic poem (known as Eleh Ezkera) tells their story as if they were killed together. This poem is recited on Yom Kippur, and a variation of it on Tisha B'Av.

Yahrzeit candle

A yahrzeit candle, also spelled yahrtzeit candle or called a memorial candle, (Hebrew: נר נשמה‎, ner neshama, meaning "soul candle"; Yiddish: יאָרצײַט ליכט‎ yortsayt likht, meaning "anniversary candle") is a type of candle that is lit in memory of the dead in Judaism.This kind of candle, that burns up to 26 hours, is also lit on the eve of Yom Kippur or of the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony (Yom HaShoah) to burn through the entire occasion. (Judaism reckons "days" to begin at sundown, in accordance with Genesis, e.g., 1:5: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day.")

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