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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q11.6.3 TOC Q11.6.5 >

Question 11.6.4:
Death and Burial: What are the Jewish mourning customs after the death of an immediate relative?


Judaism has three mourning periods for immediate relatives. The first is Shiv’ah, the seven days starting at the time of interment. Since the Hebrew calendar day begins at sundown, the evening of the funeral is actually the second day. The basic rules for shiv'ah (lit: 7, the first week after burial) are as follows:

  1. One wars the garment torn at the funeral.

  2. One does not wear leather shoes, but other leather clothing is allowed. Typically, one wears slippers.

  3. One does not eat meat.

  4. One does not bathe their entire body (except as needed for basic sanitation, and as preparation for Shabbat), nor wear cosmetics.

  5. There is no sexual intimacy.

  6. One sits on or near the ground. Typically, one sits on low wooden stools.

  7. One does not cut their hair for 30 days (including shaving, for men)

Additionally, mirrors are covered, and Religious Services take place morning and evening where the mourners can recite the Kaddish, a doxology acknowledging the greatness of G-d.The last day one arises in the morning, walks around the block, and Shiv’ah is over. Thus, the period is actually five days, surrounded by a few hours on each end. During Shiv’ah, we remain at home and refrain from just about all activities.

Why does Shiv'ah have these rules? If you note, all relate to signs of physicality. Shoes are to the body as the body is to the soul; both "cover" the lower extremity of the other. Hair care is symbolic of fashion and concern with appearance. Meat, furniture and sex are physical pleasures. Confronting death is a time at which one can reaffirm in themselves the idea that man is more than a clever mammal. To spend time thinking about our physical selves would waste that opportunity. The whole procedure, having you interrupt your life for a definite period of time, is quite cathartic. By having the duration fixed, one doesn't feel that they short-changed their love-one's memory.

When Shiv’ah is over, we enter a period called Sh’loshim, which means thirty. This period actually includes Shiv’ah, so in effect, it is only twenty three days long. During this time, we get back into the outside world. This would include going to work, pursuing volunteer or political activities, or return to school. In other words, we get on with the activity of life. However, we do not go to parties or other “light hearted” events. The Kaddish prayer is recited at three daily services for 11 months.

On the thirtieth day after interment, official mourning is over, except for the 12 month long mourning period for a parent, during the first eleven months of which, one is obligated to say Kaddish daily. All of the above is according to Halachah (rabbinic law). The first yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of burial. Notice that this means that even in a 12 month year, it's common for the yahrzeit to be oberved after the end of mourning. E.g. If someone passes away on the 4th of Teves, and buried on the 5th. Mourning ends on the 4th, and the first yahrzeit is on the 5th. Subsequent yahrzeits are on the anniversary of the death. There are different opinions of what to do when the person died on Adar in a year that had only one, but one is observing yahrzeit in a year that has both. Different rabbis would likely give different rulings -- either the first Adar, the 2nd, or some even say both.

On the anniversary of the death, every year, those who losed loved ones recite the Kaddish prayer. Four additional times during the year, memorial prayers are recited at the synagogue. The earliest reason for Kaddish was to elevate the soul of our loved ones to a high level in the Olum Haba, (heaven or literally, The World to Come) Additionally, there are many psychological reasons for remembering parents and relatives.

Note that Shiv'ah, and the practices during it, are a Rabbinic enactment from the late 2nd Temple period.

Many Reform Jews observe Shiv'ah for only three days. Many do not observe Sh'loshim at all. Many do come to synagogue every Friday night for a year to say Kaddish.

So who should say Kaddish? The traditional laws governing mourning is that a son (child) is obligated to sit shiva and officially perform the Jewish mourning rituals. It doesn't apply, in traditional Judaism, to grandchildren; in such cases, the obligation would fall on the grandchild's father and any uncles. Traditional Judaism, in fact, prohibits reciting Kaddish if your parents are alive. Sometimes (again, in traditional practice), people hire someone to recite kaddish for them if they are unable to attend the synagogue, or are unable to participate in a minyon (for example, a daughter). Progressive movements, such as Reform, permit anyone to say Kaddish for someone they wish to remember.

The first reference to remembering the dead on Yom Kippur is found in Orkhot Khayim by Rabbi Aaron HaKohen of France of the 14th century. It is also mentioned earlier that there was a practice at the time of the Maccabees of "taking a collection amounting to 2000 silver drachmas from each man and sending it to Jerusalem... to pray for the dead... to make atonement for the dead so that they might be set free from their sin." (II Maccabees 12:43-45). Formal Yizkor remembrances were instituted in the 19th century by the earlier reformers. The custom began to be incorporated by other branches of Judaism shortly there after. At Yizkor, we recite a prayer that we remember our loved ones. That we pledge Tzedakah (righteousness and not necessarily charity) to their memory. We ask that G-d keep our loved ones under the wings of his Divine Heavenly Presence.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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