jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Funeral Services - לוויה

How to rend

Rending of garmentsKeriah / קריעה, must be performed while standing to show respect for the deceased, as described in the Book of Samuel II 13:31 — “and the king stood up and tore his clothes / ויקם המלך ויקרע את בגדיו” and in the Book of Job 1:20“Job stood up and tore his mantle / ויקם איוב ויקרע את מעלו”. One who was sitting or leaning on something while rending the garments must rend again, but this time without reciting the blessing. Someone who is too sick to stand up may perform Keriah while sitting or even lying down.

When mourning for parents, the tear is made in public by hand on the front left side over the heart. The usual practice is that someone else starts the cut with a knife and then the mourner tears the garments by hand making the tear one Tefach / טפח — handbreadth, long in order to bare the heart, as required. The tear should not be made on a seam or along the width of a garment, where it may look accidental, but rather in the fabric of the cloth, vertically along the length of the garment from the neck downwards. If one of the mourners is under the age of Bar Mitzvah / בר מצווה (or Bat Mitzvah / בת מצווה for a girl) an adult starts and completes the cut on the child’s garments. People who see a child performing Keriah will be moved to tears, which is an important sign of respect towards the deceased. That is the reason for this custom, even though a minor does not have an obligation to rend (Talmud, Tractate Moed Katan 14b, Rashi / רש"י ad loc.).

The mourners are required to rend only the outer garments which are worn indoors, e.g., a suit jacket, a vest, a sweater, a blouse or a shirt. Pajamas, underwear, raincoats and overcoats are not torn. The mourners do not have to rend their entire wardrobe or their best, most expensive garments, but only the clothing they will wear until the end of Shivah / שבעה — the first week of mourning, which is described later in this guide. Wearing a black ribbon or tearing it as a sign of mourning cannot substitute for rending of garments. One is not allowed to rend a borrowed garment, unless the owner permits it.

For parents, the mourners must rend all the outer garments they are wearing at the moment. A man will first tear his outermost garment such as a jacket or sweater, and then proceed to his shirt. For reasons of modesty, a woman tears the innermost garment first — her blouse, pins-up or covers the tear and then proceeds to tearing the outer garment — a sweater or jacket. If the garments are changed during the Shiva period, the new garments must be rent as well, except for garments worn on the Sabbath.

For any of the other closest relatives (i.e., brother, sister, son, daugher or spouse) the tear is made either by hand, with a knife or with scissors on the right side and may be done privately. The mourners do not have to rend themselves — the tear made by others on a mourner’s garment is valid. Only one, outermost garment is torn and if the garments are changed during the Shivah period, the mourner is not obligated to rend these new garments.

After the Keriah / קריעה the mourners (as well as other relatives and friends who wish to do so) may individually approach the coffin to forgive and request forgiveness of the deceased.

Mending the tear. It is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:7, “A time to rend and a time to mend / עת לקרוע ועת לתפור”. After Shivah / שבעה mourners are not required to wear torn garments and the tear may be crudely mended right after Shiva and professionally mended after Sheloshim / שלושים, unless the garment was torn for parents. In this latter case the tear may never be mended professionally, but only crudely and only after Sheloshim. Since, as explained below, a Yom Tov / יום טוב — a major Jewish Holiday cancels the observance of mourning, one is permitted to mend the torn garment on the eve of a major Jewish Holiday as well. Some people, however, have the custom to discard their torn garments after Shivah.

Laws of Keriah. If the news of the death comes within thirty days from the burial of one of the closest relatives, one is obligated to rend his or her garments. After thirty days, one is obligated to rend his or her garments for parents, but not for other closest relatives. One may change the clothes before rending.

Keriah may not be done on the Sabbath / שבת or Yom Tov / יום טוב — a major Jewish Holiday and is postponed until the next day. It is permissible to rend the garments on Chol HaMoed / חול המועד — intermediate days of the festivals, but Ashkenazim have a custom to postpone it until after the festival for all closest relatives other then parents. If it is postponed for more than three days, instead of the full Baruch Dayan Emet / ברוך דין האמת blessing the mourners just say:

בָּרוּך דַּיַּן הָאֶמֶת׃

Blessed be the true Judge.

The Code of Jewish Law — Shulchan Aruch / שולחן ערוך analyzes various scenarios when the Keriah / קריעה — rending of garments was not done at the right time or was performed incorrectly and explains how to amend the problem (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 340).