jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Funeral Services - לוויה

Rending of Garments - קריעה

Tradition of rending garments. The most dramatic expression of grief is Keriah / קריעה — rending of garments. This is an ancient Jewish custom since the days of the Patriarchs. And indeed, we find that “Jacob rent his clothes /  ויקרע יעקב שמלתיו”‎ ‎ (Genesis 37:34) when he saw Joseph’s coat stained with blood. The torn garment represents a broken heart, as we can learn from the Book of Joel 2:13. It also symbolizes the immortality of the soul that is not destroyed by the demise of its mortal body, just as tearing the garment does not destroy the individual who wears it.

Who rends. Originally, the custom was that everybody (even a non-relative) who was present at the time of passing — Yetziat HaNeshama / יציאת הנשמה had to rend their garments (Talmud, Tractate Moed Katan 25a). In our time only mourners rend their garments. The mourners, as defined above, are those who are obligated by Jewish Law to mourn the passing of the deceased relative. One is also required to rend for his rabbi from whom he learned the vast majority of his Torah.

When to rend. Originally, the preferred time to rend the garments was immediately after witnessing the death or hearing about the death of a relative. However, since after the eulogy the feeling of loss is strongest, it may be preferable to rend after the eulogy instead. Indeed, nowadays many mourners rend their garments after the eulogy, unless they already did so earlier. There is also the added benefit of having the officiating rabbi available to advise on how to properly fulfill this obligation. However, some people have a custom to perform Keriah at the graveside and some, especially those of Sephardic and Middle Eastern origin, do this upon returning home from the funeral.

The blessing. Before rending the garments mourners recite the full version of the Baruch Dayan Emet / ברוך דיין האמת blessing:

בָּרוּך אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ
מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, דַּיַּן הָאֶמֶת׃

Blessed are You, the Lord our God,
King of the universe, the true Judge.

However, this is not a blessing on the actual rending, but rather on the passing of the person for whom the rending is done and, therefore, one should not repeat this blessing if it was already recited earlier. The idea of this blessing is that we acknowledge the truth and righteousness of the heavenly decree even when we do not see it as an act of kindness towards us. In the future, according to Jewish tradition, people will better understand the true goodness of every decree and will replace this blessing with the blessing of “HaTov VeHaMetiv / הטוב והמטיב — the One, Who is Good and Benevolent”, nowadays recited only on happy occasions.

How to rend will be discussed in the next section.