jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Mourning - the first Week

Prayer Services

When and where. Starting from the day of the funeral and for up to twelve month thereafter, Kaddish / קדיש for the soul of the deceased should be recited daily, preferably at each of the three daily prayer services. Therefore, a Minyan / המניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer, should assemble in the house of mourning for at least one of the daily prayer services, even if as a result there will not be enough people to hold services in the synagogue. This enables the mourners to recite Kaddish / קדיש for the soul of the deceased without having to leave their home. Even if the deceased left no descendants to sit Shivah and recite Kaddish, it is important to organize prayer services in his or her home, because it gives satisfaction to the departed soul, as explained in the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 152b.

Who leads prayer services. If possible, one of the male mourners over the age of thirteen should lead all the prayer services in the house of mourning, except on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. If none of the mourners can lead the services, they can appoint somebody else to do this. If more than one mourner can lead the prayer services, then they usually take turns, although in some communities each of them leads a separate service in a different room or at a different time.

Making arrangements for prayer services. There should be enough prayer books, prayer shawls, books of Psalms, etc., available for those who come to participate in the daily prayer services. If a Torah scroll is to be kept in the house of mourning for prayer services, it should be placed in a respectable location and covered with a Tallit / טלית — prayer shawl, when not being used. The custom is to have at least three public Torah readings from the scroll. To accomplish this, additional prayer services may be scheduled either on the Sabbath or after the Shivah / שבעה. In some communities, especially among Sephardim, the Torah scroll is not brought to the house of mourning and no Torah reading is performed.

Changes to liturgy. The prayer services in the house of mourning follow the usual format with only a few minor modifications as follows:

  • Mourners usually skip certain sections in the Seder Korbanot / סדר קרבנות — order of Temple Offerings, depending on their custom.
  • Birkat Kohanim / ברכת כהנים — priestly blessings are skipped in many communities during the repetition of the Amidah Prayer / תפילת העמידה (also known as Shemoneh Esrey / תפילת שמונה עשרה).
  • Hallel / הלל — the thanksgiving praise is not fitting for the mourners. Accordingly, on Chanukah / חנוכה and Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש some communities have a custom to omit Hallel / הלל altogether in the house of mourning, while others require the mourners to step out of the room and then recite it. The prevalent custom among Sephardim is that the mourners recite Hallel on Chanukah and stay in the room but do not recite Hallel on Rosh Chodesh.
  • Tachanun / תחנון — supplications of forgiveness prayer is also skipped. This spares a mourner from feeling that his personal sins brought about the death of a loved one. The visitors do not have to recite it after returning home either. However, during the Ten Days of Repentance / עשרת ימי תשובה, Avinu Malkeinu / אבינו מלכינו is recited as well as the shortened version of Selichot / סליחות.
  • Some rabbinical authorities rule that the prayer El Erech Apaim / אל ארך אפים, which is normally recited before bringing out the Torah scroll, should be skipped.
  • Mourners are not called up to the public Torah reading, but may be called to bring the Torah to the reading table. A mourner may also raise the Torah after the reading and sit in a regular chair while it is being wrapped. The mourners are obligated to rise when the scroll is lifted or moved from or to its storage place.
  • After the Torah reading, those congregations that ordinarily recite the series of prayers starting with “Yehi ratzon / יהי רצון — may it be the will of our Father in Heaven”, may do this in the house of mourning as well. Some, however, have a custom to skip them.
  • Psalm 20 is skipped.
  • In the adjacent Uvah LeTzion / ובא לציון prayer that starts with the two verses from the Book of Isaiah, the second verse (Isaiah 59:21) is skipped in most communities.
  • Some have a custom to always replace the Complete Kaddish with the Mourner's Kaddish, while others do it only when one of the mourners leads the services. However, in some communities the Complete Kaddish is always recited, even by mourners.
  • Psalm 49 is recited at the end of the Morning Service and at the end of either Evening or Afternoon Service, depending on the local custom. This Psalm emphasizes that pride, vanity and acquisition of riches is meaningless in the face of death. On the days of communal rejoicing, such as Rosh Chodesh / ראש חודש, etc., Psalm 16 is recited instead.

A common custom among Sephardim is to recite Hashkavah / תפילת השכבה memorial prayer for the deceased at the end of the services and, in some communities, also for other members of the family who passed away.

After the prayer services, the mourners sit down on the floor or low stools and accept condolences as described in the previous section. This allows those who participated in prayer services to fulfill their obligation of comforting the mourners as well.

The mourner's family may serve refreshments, so that after the prayer services the visitors can eat, and drink, and bless the soul of the deceased, as is customary in some communities. In Ashkenazic communities it is customary to serve only drinks with cake or fruit, but many Sephardim serve full meals to the visitors who come to comfort the mourners. It is advisable, however, to refrain from serving fancy food and drinks associated with festive occasions. If a visitor is offered something to eat, he should not refuse, since the blessings recited over food are viewed as a way to elevate the soul of the deceased.