jewish Funeral Guide

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Who are Mourners?

The loss of a loved one often causes feelings of grief, confusion, frustration and even anger. People react differently to their loss. Some try to suppress their feelings, while some let the grief totally disable them and prevent them from fulfilling their obligation of burying the dead. Some people are concerned that maybe they do not grieve enough, while others are worried that they grieve too much. The rabbis realized that mourning is both showing respect for the dead and a way for the living to cope with the changed reality. In their wisdom, they ordained the laws and procedures of mourning, which evolved into elaborate Jewish mourning traditions and customs. Without the guidance of Jewish tradition most people simply do not know how to express their feelings and, therefore, feel guilty for not adequately demonstrating their love for deceased relatives.

Seven closest relatives. Obviously we are grieved more by the loss of a loved one than by the death of a stranger or even a distant relative. Therefore Jewish law and tradition mandates mourning only for the seven closest relatives specified in the Book of Leviticus 21:1-3: one's father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or spouse. It is equally incumbent upon both men and women. The rabbis decreed that it does not matter if the brother or sister is married or has been married — mourning is required. Similarly, it does not matter if the brother or sister is a half brother or half sister — mourning is still required. This does not mean that a person may not grieve for others as well. It only means that mourning for the closest relatives involve certain well defined mourning observances required by Jewish tradition, and these observances do not apply when mourning for others.

Mourning not to be observed. No formal mourning is usually observed for an infant who died before reaching the age of 30 days (and sometimes even older), because the infant was not a Bar Kayamah / בר קיימא — i.e., this child’s life was not considered permanent. Each case must be decided upon by a competent rabbi, however. In general, the 30-day mark in many areas of Jewish Law is a watershed between temporality and permanency. For example, one who dwells in a house for 30 days is obligated to affix a Mezuzah / מזוזה. Up until that point, it is not considered a permanent residency, unless there are some other factors that make it permanent.

There is no formal mourning for an apostate — mourning was already observed when an apostate formally renounced the Jewish faith. However, mourning is observed for an apostate who repented and returned to Judaism.

Mourning is not required. Minors, i.e., a boy under the age of thirteen and a girl under the age of 12, are not required to mourn but they should be encouraged to demonstrate their grief. Their clothes should be rent for them by others, as explained later.

Adopted children are not obligated to mourn for their adoptive parents, adopted brothers or sisters. However, adopted relatives should be encouraged to demonstrate their respect and grief by refraining from pleasurable activities and entertainment as mourners do.