Laws and Customs of Mourning
Jewish law (Halacha) provides a sensitive and compassionate understanding of grief. Its carefully structured approach to mourning teaches us how to express our pain in love and respect, while preventing our becoming bitter or indulging in self pity. This process allows the mourners to accept that there will be no miraculous consolation. The loss is forever. The psychological, emotional and spiritual healing that takes place at every stage is necessary and healthy.
Three stages of mourning guide mourners through their pain, gradually easing them back into the world.
shiva (7 days) The first period is when the mourners abstain from all work and sit together on low chairs receiving visitors who provide company and consolation. Friends and neighbours provide meals and take care of day-to-day tasks for the mourners. During this intense week the mourners refrain from bathing, shaving, haircuts, marital relations and wearing leather shoes.
shloshim (30 days) After the shiva until 30 days from the burial, the mourners may return to work, but usually abstain from entertainment such as concerts, parties and movies. Many continue to avoid haircuts or shaving.
yud-bet chodesh (12 months) From the end of the shloshim until a year of mourning has passed, the close relatives avoid joyous activities, especially music and parties.
Seven immediate family members participate in these stages of mourning: the mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister, (including half-brother and half-sister), husband and wife.
It is important not to attempt to distract mourners from their loss by chatting about other people, world news, business or politics. We avoid asking mourners how they are as we know they are upset. We do not attempt to minimise or rationalise their loss. Instead, we say the traditional expression of condolence in Hebrew or English, “Hamakom yenachem etchem b’toch sh’ar avaylay tsiyon viyerushalayim. May the Almighty comfort you together with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”. Many people also wish the mourners simply, “Long Life”.
Visiting the cemetery
It is traditional to place a small stone on a grave. This act is like leaving a calling card. It is not intended to be a sign to the deceased person. The physical act expresses the reality that we are alive. A stone is simple and basic, a natural product of the earth, yet a symbol of eternity, representing our commitment to uphold the memory of the deceased. Another interpretation may be that by taking a stone from our heart and leaving it on the grave, we leave our cares behind and our tranquillity is restored.
While some people save special stones to place on the grave of a loved one, little stones may be found on the cemetery ground. The JCT provides stones which are stored on the porch of the cemetery office.
It is customary to wash the hands after leaving the graveside. This washing is an affirmation of life after involvement with death. JCT has facilities for washing on the porch of the cemetery office. Further taps are located in each section of the cemetery. See map.
Each year we mark the anniversary of the death of a close family member on the Jewish date. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the secular (solar) date changes from year to year. Click here to calculate the Jewish or secular date.
The prayer beginning with the word, Yizkor (meaning “May G-d remember the soul of ……”) is said during the synagogue service on Pesach, Shavuot, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Often the names of the deceased are read aloud. It is customary for those who have not suffered a bereavement to leave the synagogue during the Yizkor service. Mourners pledge to give tzedakah in memory of the deceased.