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Mourners

Stages of Mourning

As time passes, the grief and pain of the loss diminishes. In recognition of this fact, Jewish tradition defines five different stages of mourning with their distinctive customs and observances. These stages are:

1. From the day of passing to the day of the burial. This stage is called Aninut / אנינות — the period between death and burial, when the grief is most intense and when the family members focus on ensuring a timely and proper Jewish burial. During this time, not only pleasurable activities, but even some positive religious responsibilities are canceled in recognition of the mourner’s troubled mind.

2. The first seven days of mourning after the burial. This stage generally starts after the burial is complete and the grave is filled with earth. It is called Shivah / שבעה — literally seven, because the mourners withdraw themselves from their routine activities and stay within the confines of the house for seven days to mourn, pray, recite Kaddish / קדיש and receive condolences. The first three days of Shiva are the days when the mourning is most intense because the wound is so fresh. They are devoted to weeping and lamentation. Some activities that are permitted during the rest of Shivah are not allowed during these three days.

3. The first thirty days of mourning after the burial. This stage starts immediately after the burial and extends to the thirtieth day from the time of burial. It is called Sheloshim / שלושים — literally thirty. During the time when the Shiva and Sheloshim stages overlap, the rules of Shivah take precedence. After the Shiva many of the restrictions of mourning are relaxed, but mourning is still intense until the end of Sheloshim.

4. The first twelve months of mourning after the burial. The mourners enter this stage on the thirtieth day from the burial. The restrictions of mourning are further relaxed for those who mourn their parents and are completely removed for all other mourners. This stage lasts until the end of twelve months from the day of burial and is called Yud Bet Chodesh / י"ב חודש — literally twelve months. This stage is marked by abstention from parties and festivities, both public and private.

5. Death anniversary. After completion of the twelve months of mourning, the bereaved are not expected to continue their mourning. In fact, Jewish tradition does not approve grieving more than prescribed in each stage (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 394:1), because one who mourns too much appears to question Divine justice. The Talmud in Tractate Moed Katan 27b warns that whoever grieves excessively will end up grieving for someone else. This does not mean not being sad about the passing of a loved one. It means that the mourning practices specific to each stage of mourning should not be extended beyond periods of time allocated to each stage. However, some mourning restrictions apply and a memorial service is held on or close to every anniversary of death, which is usually called by its Yiddish name, Yahrzeit  — the anniversary of death.