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A Summary of the Laws of Mourning

The laws of mourning are derived from various sources in the Torah, Scriptures and Talmud.  The Torah does not expect us to suffer the loss of a loved one nor stand at the graveside without emotion.  In fact, such behavior is described as אכזריות – heartless and lacking compassion.  On the other hand, the Torah does not require uncontrolled weeping and anguish during such time.  As in every facet of life, the Torah guides us regarding the proper behavior and degree of mourning: we express sorrow, while recognizing that death is a manifestation of the will and judgement of Hashem.

An Overview

The laws of mourning, as dictated in the Shulchan Aruch, apply when one of seven relatives (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter or wife) passes away. The mourning process consists of a number of stages:


(First stage of mourning) – Aninut

There is a principle in Halacha that העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה [When one is involved with the performance of one mitzvah, he is free from performing another mitzvah]. When someone passes away, it is primarily the responsibility of the mourning relatives to insure that proper arrangements are made, including, but not limited to:

  1. Insuring that the deceased is retrieved and transported to the chapel in the proper manner, in accordance with Halacha.
  2. Insuring that the deceased is not left alone.  Proper respect for the deceased, according to Halacha, necessitates that someone is designated or hired to constantly accompany the deceased.
  3. Insuring that the deceased is not subject to an autopsy, embalming or other procedure contrary to Jewish Law, unless approved by an Orthodox Rabbi.
  4. Insuring proper preparation of the deceased prior to burial. This includes proper washing, ritual purification and dressing of the deceased in the proper shrouds, as dictated by Halacha and custom.
  5. Arranging that the burial site is properly prepared before the arrival of the deceased, and that the actual burial is performed according to Halacha.
  6. Notifying people of the burial arrangements so they can accompany the deceased and accord him his due honor.
  7. Arranging that someone capable of delivering an appropriate eulogy is present.

It is obvious that the easiest way to insure everything is performed according to Halacha is to enlist the services of an Orthodox mortuary.

Since the mourning relatives are obligated to make the arrangements, they are free from the performance of other commandments, such as davening (praying), reciting berachot etc.  In fact, it is considered an affront to the deceased for them to perform other commandments at this time, thereby giving the impression one is “abandoning” the deceased.  For this reason, one is actually forbidden to perform other commandments until after the burial is completed.

קריעה – Tearing the Garment

Prior to the onset of mourning, the mourning relative is obligated to tear his garment.  Ideally one tears the garment at the time of the deceased’s passing, or upon hearing of the deceased’s death.  However, the relative will not necessarily have the presence of mind to tear his garment then, nor necessarily be familiar with the exact laws of tearing his or her clothes.  It is, therefore common for the mourner to tear his or her clothes after the eulogies (before leaving to the cemetery), or while at the graveside, before covering the deceased with earth.

If a parent dies, one must tear the shirt worn at that time. If the shirt is changed during the seven days of mourning, one must also tear the second garment.  The tear is made on the left side of the garment, starting from its edge until below the heart. Women do not have to tear their garment.  If they wish to do so, they may do so privately.   

If one of the seven relatives mentioned above (other than a parent) dies, only one garment need be torn, and that garment may be changed during the mourning period without necessitating a second tear.  The tear is made on the right side, at the edge of the garment (but only approximately 3 ½ inches down).

Prior to making the tear, one recites the blessing of ברוך אתה ה' א' מלך העולם דיין האמת. (Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech Haolam Dayan Haemet).

Onset of Mourning

After burial, male mourners recite the prayer of צדוק הדין (Tziduk Hadin) and a special Kaddish. The mourners replace their shoes with sneakers or place some sand in their shoes, and the male mourners receive their first condolence as they walk through two parallel rows formed by those attending the funeral. The mourners then return to the home in which they will observe the Shiva [seven days of mourning].

סעודת הבראה – Meal of Condolence

Upon returning from the cemetery it is forbidden for the mourners to eat or drink their own food. It is the obligation of friends to bring a meal consisting of a minimum of cooked eggs or lentils and bread for the mourners to consume prior to nightfall. [If the mourning began during the day and the mourners return home after dark, it is not necessary to provide this meal. If the mourning began at night, the meal is required, and the mourners may not eat or drink before the meal.]

The following is a general outline of prohibitions and observances during various stages of mourning, to familiarize the reader with general issues.  Details of each Halacha should be discussed with one’s Rabbi or researched in the many fine books presently available.

שבעת ימי אבילות – Seven Days of Mourning (Shiva)

During the first seven days of mourning, the following general prohibitions apply:

  1. One may not attend to business matters.
  2. It is forbidden to learn Torah, except for the laws of mourning, or subjects relating to Mussar (self-improvement), or the destruction of the בית המקדש (Holy Temple).
  3. One is not permitted to bathe or shower, even with cold water, unless one becomes soiled. One is permitted to wash one’s hands, face or feet with cold water.
  4. One may not use perfume or other cosmetics. One may use deodorant.
  5. One may not wear leather shoes.
  6. Marital relations are forbidden.
  7. One may not do laundry, nor have his laundry done by others. One is forbidden from wearing freshly laundered clothing. If one’s clothing is soiled, one may have someone else first wear the freshly laundered clothing he intends to wear, for at least a half day.  One may wear freshly laundered undergarments or socks.



  1. It is forbidden to take a haircut, shave or cut one’s nails. It is permitted to bite one’s nails.
  2. The mourners must remain indoors during the entire seven days. If a Minyan (group of ten men over 13 years old) cannot be arranged in the home, a Rabbi should be consulted. If it is difficult for the mourner to sleep at the designated house of mourning, he may go home at night, but should not mingle with other people.  It is permitted to travel to “sit Shiva” with other relatives.
  3. It is forbidden to join in a festive or social meal, even in the home of the mourner.
  4. It is forbidden to listen to music [live or recorded].


שלשים “Thirty Days” (Sheloshim)

From the morning of the seventh day until the morning of the thirtieth day, only certain restrictions still apply:

  1. It is forbidden to shave or take a haircut.
  2. It is forbidden to cut one’s nails with scissors (but one may bite one’s nails, or to file down his /her nails). A woman may prepare for the Mikvah in her usual manner.
  3. It is forbidden to buy new clothing.  A mourner may wear new, previously unworn clothing if someone else wears them first for at least two days. Underwear is exempt from this restriction.
  4. It is forbidden to participate in joyous occasions or social meals or to listen to music.


י"ב חודש – Twelve Months

All restrictions of a mourner end after thirty days (except for those mourning a parent).  A child mourning a parent must observe the following restrictions until the Yartzeit (The anniversary of death):

  1. One may not buy or wear new suits, dresses or similar clothing.
  2. It is forbidden to partake in a joyous or social meal or listen to music.
  3. A mourner may partake in a סעודת מצוה (A meal that was made because of a Mitzvah) if it takes place in the mourner’s home, or if he is a participant in the מצוה. [E.g. a Siyum (Finishing a portion of Torah) in which the mourner is one of the members of the Shiur (Class that finished it)].
  4. All restrictions end after twelve months, even in a “thirteen month” year [שנה מעוברת].


יארצייט – Yartzeit (The anniversary of Death)

Generally, the Yartzeit is calculated according to the Jewish calendar date the deceased died.  On the first Yartzeit, if there was a day [or more] between death and burial [i.e. the death occurred on Monday before sunset and the burial occurred Tuesday evening, Halachically, the night of Wednesday,] the Yartzeit is observed on the Jewish burial date. In a “thirteen month” year, the Yartzeit is observed on the date of death, even during the first year.

On the Yartzeit (the anniversary of death) one should not attend weddings or Sheva Berachot (Special meal that is served for Bride & Groom in the first seven days of wedding). It is the custom to fast on the Yartzeit of a parent   One should learn משניות Mishna (Oral Torah) and visit the gravesite.  One should light a candle and have it burn for the duration of the Yartzeit. 



 How can you help someone who is deceased?

In Judaism we believe that after somebody passes away the body stops functioning but the soul stays forever!

The soul is judged by Hashem (G-d) regarding what he has done in this world: whether right or wrong.

Our sages say that there are ways that the relatives or friends can help one who has passed away:

·         One should try to pray in the Kenissa 3 times a day in order to say kaddish for elevation of the soul.

·         One should try to learn Torah (Chumash, Tehilim, Mishna, ...) for the merit of the deceased person.

·         One should give “Tzedaka” (charity) to poor people in the name of the one that passed away.

At Torat Hayim we can help you with all of these matters.

·         If you cannot say all the kaddishim, we will arrange somebody to say kaddish on your behalf.

·         We can dedicate the Torah learning of our students for the Eilui Neshama of your loved one.

·         We can help you give your charity to poor people in Los Angeles or Eretz Yisrael.

For more information regarding these matters or if you have any questions about the laws of mourning you can call us at 310-652-2626 Ext # 103 or go online at www.ToratHayim.com


Wishing you peace and long life...


Torat Hayim

Rabbi Yoseph Zargari