Phases of Mourning

There are five stages to the mourning process:

1) Aninut, pre-burial mourning.

2-3) Shivah, a seven day period following the burial; within the Shivah, the first three days are characterized by a more intense degree of mourning.

4) Shloshim, the 30-day mourning period.

5) The First Year (observed only by the children of the deceased).

Basic Mourning Observances

A. Who Mourns:

The laws of mourning described below are incumbent upon seven first-degree relatives of the deceased: son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother, and spouse (husband or wife). The other relatives and friends form the more outer circle of mourning, and offer support and comfort to the primary mourners.

B. Aninut:

The first, most intense period of mourning is the period between the death and the burial. This period, called aninut, is characterized by a numbing, paralyzing grief. During this period, the first degree relatives' all-consuming concern are the funeral and burial arrangements.

It is during this period that the k'riah, or rending of the garments as a sign of grief, is performed. (According to the custom of some communities, k'riah is performed immediately following the death or upon receiving news of the death; the more common custom is that the first degree mourners tear their clothes during the funeral ceremony, before the burial.)

Our sages instruct, "do not comfort the mourner during the time that his deceased lies [still unburied] before him." At this point, the grief is too intense for any effort at consolation. It is a time to simply be with the mourner and offer practical assistance, rather than words of consolation. It is a time of silence, not words.

C. The Shivah

The Shivah begins after the burial, and extends to the morning of the seventh day. The distinguishing feature of the Shivah is that the mourners take an almost complete break from the routines and involvements of everyday life to focus exclusively on the memory of the departed and the manner in which they will honor him or her in their lives, and receive consolation from their extended family, friends, and the community.

The basic practices of the Shivah:

Condolence Meal

When the mourners arrive home from the cemetery following the burial, they are given a special meal of condolence.

The House of Mourning

For the entire week of the Shivah, the mourners remain in the house of mourning, and their relatives, friends and members of the community come to fulfill the mitzvah of nichum aveilim (consoling the mourner) and participate in prayers, the giving of charity and other mitzvot performed in the merit of the departed. During the prayer services, the mourners recite the Kaddish. It is best to "sit shivah" in the home of the deceased, so that the prayers and good deeds performed in his or her merit take place in his or her "place" and environment.

Working and Conducting Business

One of the most fundamental laws of Jewish mourning is the prohibition of working and doing business during Shivah.

Consoling the Bereaved (making a "Shivah Call")

It is a great mitzvah to console the bereaved. This is done by visiting the mourner in the house of mourning during Shivah, talking about the life and deeds of the person being mourned, participating in the prayers and other activities done in merit of the departed, or simply being there for the mourner.

Daily Minyan.

A minyan (prayer quorum) should gather for the three daily prayers in the house of mourning, so that the mourners can participate in a communal prayer service and recite the Kaddish. If no minyan can be assembled, the mourners should leave the house of mourning to attend services with the congregation.

Memorial Candles.

Candles should be kindled in the house of mourning in memory of the deceased. The candles are kindled upon returning from the cemetery and kept burning for the entire seven-day period of Shiva. (Special Shivah candles are usually provided by the funeral director.)

Covering the Mirrors.

It is a time-honored tradition to cover the mirrors and pictures in the house of mourning from the moment of death to the end of Shivah. While the custom is of uncertain origin, its practice is appropriate to the pattern of mourning.

"Sitting" Shivah

It is an ancient Jewish tradition that mourners, during Shivah, do not sit upon chairs of normal height, but rather on low stools.


During Shabbat, all public displays of mourning are suspended. Shortly before the holy day begins, the mourners bathe and put on their Shabbat clothes. On Shabbat, they may also leave the house of mourning to attend services and recite the Kaddish in the synagogue.

"Getting Up" from the Shivah.

Shivah ends on the morning of the seventh day after burial (with the day of the burial counting as the first day), immediately following the morning service. Those present extend condolences, and the mourners rise from their week of mourning to resume the normalcy of everyday life.

The Sheloshim and the First Year:

Even as the mourner resumes his or her everyday routine after the Shivah, certain mourning practices, such as enjoying music or other form of entertainment, and participating in joyous events (weddings, etc.), are continued for a period of thirty days (beginning from the day of the burial).

In the case of a person mourning the passing of a parent, these mourning practices extend for a full year.