Judaism’s Mourning Practices

A Time for Each Stage in Life

Basic Guidelines to Judaism’s Mourning Practices

Every human being has, as the old joke goes, two certainties in life: taxes and death. The ways in which human beings cope with these truths of life are as varied as people themselves are.

When people gather under the umbrella of a given religion or culture, the ways of coping with death develop into rituals and traditions. In spite of the fact that rituals and traditions have over the centuries become standardized, many individual Jews and sections of the Jewish community will follow their own interpretations of established tradition.

I would say that the formal Jewish way of dealing with death follows a series of basic principles:

  • Respect for the body of the deceased;
  • Acknowledgement of the reality and pain of death;
  • Support and care for the immediate family members and their mourning process;
  • Remembrance of the departed.

When a Jew passes away, the responsibility for the body falls upon the “Chevra Kadisha,” the Holy Burial Society. Formed, more often than not, by volunteers, the “Chevra” is in charge of preparing the body for burial. Naturally there is a male group and a female group. The body, until death the receptacle of a divine soul, is carefully washed and dressed in a shroud. Jewish tradition mandates that it be placed in a plain and simple pine casket, following the belief that during life we might have accumulated riches, but when we depart from this world, we are all equal.

Jewish Burial Traditions

According to Jewish tradition, burial should take place as soon as possible, the latest being the next day. In some situations, the funeral may take place the same day. Jewish Tradition encourages individuals to face the reality of the passing of a loved one. The sooner this reality is internalized, the sooner recovery starts. This is also behind the practice of shoveling earth into the open grave. We participate in this last act, as something we can do for the deceased.

Mandatory Mourning

When a loss happens it is highly convenient to take some time off to process the experience. The mandatory mourning period called shiva lasts for seven days. In this period of time the mourners stay home, prayer services are held in the home of the mourners, and friends will make sure there are meals for the mourners as this is a time when there is no emotional space to worry e.g. about lunch.

After the passing of at least thirty days after the funeral and maximum after a year, friends and family will gather at the cemetery to dedicate the tombstone which becomes a lasting monument to the loved one.


Rabbi Alejandro Lilienthal

Rabbi Alejandro Lilienthal was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, South America. His parents immigrated there from Germany shortly before WWII.

The product of a Jewish home, Rabbi Lilienthal grew up surrounded by Judaism and Zionism, exposed to many different Jewish practices. Not surprisingly, his first visit to Israel in 1981 generated the desire to become a rabbi.

Teaching science was left behind, but the soul of a teacher is always there. Twenty-two years after ordination at the Hebrew Union College -Jewish Institute of Religion, Rabbi Lilienthal is still teaching: this time around about life in general and Jewish life in particular. Rabbi Lilienthal had four pulpits in his career: Porto Alegre (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Waco (TX) and Parkland (FL).

Now, twenty two years later, together with his wife Sandra, Rabbi Lilienthal leads the Family Chavurah, a small independent Jewish community in South Florida.