jewish Funeral Guide

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Jewish Mourning - first Week

Study in the House of Mourning

As was already mentioned, the mourners are not allowed to study Torah. The visitors, however, are permitted to study Torah in the presence of the mourners. In fact, visitors are encouraged to read aloud from the Book of Psalms and study Mishnah / משנה in the house of mourning.

The Mishnah / משנה is the succinct exposition of the Jewish Law that forms the basis of the Talmud. It is divided into six major parts — Sidrey Mishnah / סדרי משנה — literally orders of the Mishnah. Each order is subdivided into tractates, chapters and paragraphs. Each of these paragraphs is called a Mishnah as well. The word Mishnah / משנה is an anagram of the word Neshamah / נשמה — the soul. Therefore, it is considered extremely beneficial for the soul of the deceased, when people study Mishnah in his or her memory.

Mishnah is usually studied in the house of mourning between the Afternoon and Evening Prayers. Any section of the Mishnah may be studied, but topics related to the afterlife, reward & punishment, the purpose of mourning and the good character traits exemplified by the deceased are more common. Plus, there is a tradition to read verses from Psalms and study chapters of Mishnah / משנה whose initial letters spell the first name of the deceased, as well as those chapters whose initial letters spell the word Neshamah / נשמה — the soul.

Another major custom is to study the tractates of the Seder Taharot / סדר טהרות — part of the Mishnah dealing with ritual purity, especially the twenty-fourth chapter of the Tractate Kelim, since every paragraph in this chapter ends with the word Tahor / טהור — pure. It is also customary to study the whole seventh chapter of Tractate Mikvaot, or at least the last four paragraphs whose initial letters spell the word Neshamah / נשמה — the soul. The initial letters of the first three paragraphs of the chapter form the acronym אי"ה — by God’s will.

Some have a custom to conclude the Mishnah study with a special prayer (see, for example, Artscroll Ashkenaz Siddur, pg 808). In presence of a Minyan / מניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer, the mourners may recite Kaddish DeRabbanan / קדיש דרבנן — the Rabbis' Kaddish after learning Mishnah.

Some have a custom to distribute all the tractates of the Mishnah between volunteers, so that by the end of Sheloshim / שלושים — thirty days from the burial, they would together complete the study of all six Sidrey Mishnah / סדרי משנה — major parts the Mishnah is divided into. An excellent website, shloshim.org, helps to coordinate this effort.

A widespread custom among Sephardim is to study the kabbalistic book of Zohar / ספר הזוהר in the house of mourning.