jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Mourning - the first Year

Twelve Months of Mourning

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 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.

Excessive mourning. Jewish tradition does not approve of excessive mourning, because one who mourns too much appears to question the Divine justice. The Talmud in Tractate Moed Katan 27b warns that whoever grieves excessively will end up grieving for someone else. This doesn't mean not being sad about the passing of a loved one. It means that the mourning practices of Shivah / שבעה and Sheloshim / שלושים should not be extended beyond those periods of time. “Three days are for weeping, seven days for lamenting, thirty days for refraining from laundering and haircutting” (Talmud, Moed Katan 27b). One should not mourn more than this, except for a parent.

Honoring parents. It is not that the natural feeling of grief is stronger after the demise of a parent and therefore requires a longer mourning period. On the contrary, the death of a parent after a full life, especially when preceded by a long illness, is perceived as natural and expected, while the death of a spouse or a child is always a tragedy. The reason for extension of the mourning period beyond the thirty days after the loss of a parent is to fulfill the scriptural commandment of “Honor your father and your mother / כבד את אביך ואת אמך” (Exodus 20:11). As was mentioned earlier, the soul of the deceased might be sentenced to receive punishment in Gehinnom / גיהנום — the inferno of Hell, for up to 12 months after death. By observing the Laws of Mourning and reciting Kaddish / קדיש the children bring merit to their parents and ease their judgment.

Duration of mourning. The twelve-month period concludes the mourning for parents just as the thirty-day period concludes the mourning for the other closest relatives. However, the above-mentioned principle in Jewish Law: “Miktzat HaYom KeKulo / מקצת היום ככולו — a fraction of a day is considered as a complete day” does not apply to the Yud Bet Chodesh observance. Therefore, all prohibitions of this stage of mourning remain in full force throughout the last day as well. The twelve-month period is counted from the day of burial according to the Jewish calendar. During a Jewish leap year, when an additional Jewish month of Adar II / אדר ב is added, the mourning is still observed for only twelve months and not for the whole year, because this would bring the total number of months to thirteen.

Mourning restrictions. The custom is that the mourner does not shave or get a haircut unless his friends and colleagues reprimand him for his unkempt appearance. One does not have to wait until his friends and colleagues actually reprimand him. It is usually assumed that after three months from the last haircut the length of his hair is beyond the accepted norm and the mourner may get a haircut. After the first haircut the mourner may get a haircut as often as he wants, although some have a custom to wait another three months. Those who shave should expect to be reprimanded after thirty days and may start shaving thereafter. The fingernails and toenails may be trimmed in a usual manner immediately after Sheloshim.

The mourners may, however, bathe and shower for pleasure, wear jewelry and use lotions, cosmetics and perfumes. The mourners may wear freshly laundered and/or ironed clothes. Yet, the prohibition against wearing new clothes remains in full force and a mourner should not wear them unless it is extremely necessary and somebody else wears them first for a few days. The prohibition of changing into new garments during the twelve months of mourning does not apply to underwear, whose purpose is to absorb perspiration. The mourners are allowed to buy new utensils and furniture and paint the house.

The mourners may not listen to music or go on pleasure trips. A mourner may not attend parties or send gifts, except for the two Purim / פורים Gifts — Mishloach Manot / משלוח מנות, which is the minimum requirement on Purim. It is permissible, however, for professional musicians, photographers, caterers, etc., to attend festive events as part of their work duties.

Mourning customs. Throughout the entire twelve-month period, the mourners continue to learn the Mishnah / משנה in memory of the deceased. We already discussed the details of this custom. It is also customary in many communities that a mourner should not sit in his regular place in the synagogue during this twelve-month period. On the Sabbath, though, he may return to his original place.

There is a custom to add the words “Hareini Kaparat Mishkavo (Mishkavah) / הריני כפרת משכבו ‏(‏משכבה‏)‏ — I am an atonement for his (her) resting place” when mentioning the name of the deceased parent (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 31a). In writing, the Hebrew acronym הכ"מ is used for this purpose. It is customary to give extra charity during the twelve months of mourning. It is also customary to contribute prayer books, Books of Torah and Prophets, Talmuds and Codes of Jewish Law, Torah scrolls and Torah ornaments, etc., for synagogue or school use in memory of the deceased.