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Mourning

MOURNING

MOURNING (Heb. אֵבֶל), the expression of grief and sorrow over the death of a close relative, friend, national leader, or in response to a national calamity. The lamentation (Heb. קִינָה (kinah, qinah); נְהִי, nehi) is the specifically literary and musical expression of such grief. The rite of mourning most frequently attested in the narrative and poetic sections of the Bible is the rending of garments. Thus Reuben rends his garments on finding Joseph missing (Gen. 37:29). Jacob does so on seeing Joseph's bloodstained cloak (Gen. 37:34). Joshua responds in this way to the defeat at Ai (Josh. 7:6), Hezekiah, to the words of the Rab-Shakeh (ii Kings 19:1 = Isa. 37:1), and Mordecai, to news of the decree of genocide (Esth. 4:1). Job rends his garments on hearing of the death of his children (Job 1:20), and his friends tear their clothing to commiserate with him (2:12). The rending of garments may be simply an outlet for pent-up emotions, or it may have developed as a symbolic substitute for the mutilation of the flesh. Almost as frequent as the rending of garments is the wearing of sackcloth (e.g.,ii Sam. 3:31; Ps. 30:12; Lam. 2:10). Ezekiel prophesies that Tyre will mourn by the removal of embroidered garments and the donning of special mourning robes (Ezek. 26:16; cf. 7:27). The woman of Tekoa whom Joab sent to King David was likewise dressed in mourning garments (ii Sam. 14:2), which may be identical with the garments of widowhood worn by Tamar, the widow of Er (Gen. 38:14, 19). Micah suggests that it was not unusual for a mourner to appear naked (Micah 1:8). Other mourning practices which survived in later Judaism are the placing of dust on the head (Josh. 7:6; ii Sam. 13:19; Jer. 6:26; 25:34; Ezek. 27:30; Lam. 2:10 etc.; cf. Ta'an. 15b), refraining from wearing ornaments (Ex. 33:4; cf. Sh. Ar., yd 389:3), abstaining from anointing and washing (ii Sam. 12:20; cf. Ta'an. 1:6), and fasting (ii Sam. 3:35; Esth. 4:3; Ezra 10:6; Neh. 1:4; cf. Ta'an. 1:4ff.). Isaiah describes mourners beating their breasts (Heb. safad, Isa. 32:12). The Hebrew term for beating the breast (safad, misped; Akk. sipittu) becomes a general term for "mourning" (e.g., Gen. 23:2), which takes on the sense of "wailing" (i Kings 13:30; Micah 1:8). Other rites of mourning related to the hair and beard. At the death of Nadab and Abihu, apparently, the Israelites uncovered or disheveled their hair as a sign of mourning. Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, who as priests were forbidden to mourn, were thus prohibited from following this practice (Lev. 10:6). While it became obligatory in later Judaism for mourners to let their hair grow (mk 14b), the prophets (Isa. 22:12; Jer. 16:6; Ezek. 7:18; Amos 8:10) describe tonsure as a standard rite of mourning. Similarly Job shaves his head on hearing of the death of his children (Job 1:20). Deuteronomy 21:12 even prescribes the shaving of the head as a rite of mourning to be observed by the gentile maiden taken captive in war. According to Ezekiel 24:17 it was customary to remove one's turban as an expression of grief (cf. Isa. 61:10). The covering of the head may also be attested as a rite of mourning in ii Samuel 15:30; Jeremiah 14:3–4 and Esther 6:12; 7:8, if the Hebrew ḥafui is derived from the Hebrew verb ḥafah, "to cover." If it is derived from the Arabic ḥāfi, "barefoot," which is also the root of Hebrew yaḥef, "barefoot," the latter references may corroborate the testimony of Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. Alongside tonsure and the shaving of the beard, the prophets take for granted the practice of cutting gashes in the flesh of the hands or elsewhere (Jer. 16:6; 41:5). They seem unaware of any prohibition against these rites. Leviticus 21:5 prohibits only the priests from making incisions in the flesh, shaving the beard, and tonsure, as from all other rites of mourning, except on the occasion of the death of the priest's father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or unmarried sister. Leviticus 19:27–28 prohibits all Israel from shaving, cutting the hair, *tattooing, and making incisions as a rite of mourning. Deuteronomy 14:1 prohibits all Israel from making incisions in the flesh and from employing tonsure as a rite of mourning. In Leviticus 19 the prohibitions are motivated by the desire to avoid ritual impurity, while in Deuteronomy 14 they are motivated by the striving for holiness. Micah (3:7) and Ezekiel (24:17) mention the covering of the upper lip as an expression of grief. The same practice along with the uncovering (or disheveling) of the hair and the rending of garments is prescribed for lepers in Leviticus 13:45. In the Bible the typical posture for the mourner is sitting (Ezek. 26:16; Jonah 3:6; Job 2:13) or lying (ii Sam. 13:31; Lam. 2:21) on the ground, as in later Judaism (Sh. Ar., yd 387:1). Placing the hands on the head (ii Sam. 13:19; Jer. 2:37) and prostration (Jer. 4:28; 14:2; Ps. 35:14) are also attested. The Bible does not distinguish, as does later Judaism, between the mourning that precedes the funeral (Heb. *aninut) and that which follows burial (cf. Ber. 17bff.). The practices which later Judaism associates with the former are therefore referred to simply as rites of mourning in the Bible. Thus Daniel (Dan. 10:23) mourned by abstaining from meat and wine. Although the Mishnah (Ket. 4:4) prescribes the playing of flutes at funerals, the Bible associates mourning with the cessation of both dancing and instrumental music (Isa. 24:8; Jer. 31:12; Ps. 30:12; Job 30:31; Lam. 5:15; Eccles. 3:4), as do later Jewish authorities (Sot. 48a). From the association of gift-giving with the cessation of mourning in Esther 9:22, one may surmise that the exchange of gifts was forbidden to mourners, as in later Judaism (Sh. Ar., yd 385:3). Later Judaism understood its various mourning rites both as an affirmation of the value of the deceased (Sem. 9) and as an appeal to God for mercy (Ta'an. 2:1). Each of these approaches has been advocated to the exclusion of the other by modern schools of anthropology. Most likely both lie behind many of the biblical practices. T.H. Gaster suggests that the mutilation of the body was originally intended to provide the ghost of the departed with blood to drink, while the cutting of the hair enabled the ghost to draw on the strength it embodied.

Lamentations

Lamentations are poetic compositions functionally equivalent to the modern eulogy. Composed by literary giants like David (ii Sam. 1:17ff.; 3:33ff.) and Jeremiah (ii Chron. 35:25), these tributes were, in accordance with the standard literary usage, chanted rather than declaimed. These eulogies were frequently composed in a special meter, which modern scholars have designated as the qinah meter (i.e., lamentation meter). It is characterized by the division of each verse into two unequal parts, in contrast to the usually parallel structure of biblical poetry. Jeremiah speaks of a professional class of women who composed and chanted lamentations (mekonenot, meqonenot, Jer. 9:16). Their art was regarded as a branch of wisdom, and thus they are called "skilled" (Heb. ḥakhamot). Men and women singers made lamentations and preserved them for future generations as part of the general education of the young (ii Chron. 35:25). Another expression of grief was the exclamation ho-ho (Amos 5:16) or hoi (i Kings 13:30; Jer. 22:18; 34:5). A specified period of mourning is only prescribed by the Bible in connection with the captive gentile maiden (Deut. 21:13). She is required to mourn her parents for one month. The later Jewish custom of seven days of mourning is observed by Joseph on the death of Jacob (Gen. 50:10); the Egyptians mourned him for 70 (50:3)), the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead upon the burial of Saul and Jonathan (i Sam. 31:13 = i Chron. 10:12), and Job and his friends at the height of Job's suffering (Job 2:13). Daniel's observance of three weeks of mourning (Dan. 10:2) may reflect the author's awareness of the week as a standard period of mourning. Moses and Aaron were each mourned for 30 days (Num. 20:29; Deut. 34:8), while Jacob and Ephraim each mourned "many days" (Gen. 37:34; i Chron. 7:22) for their children. While Jeremiah (41:5) tells of contemporaries who expressed grief by bringing sacrifices to the Temple, Nehemiah (Neh. 8:9) suggests the incompatibility of religious festivities and mourning (cf. Ta'an. 2:8, 10). The comforting of mourners is accomplished by the tenderly spoken word (Isa. 40:1–2), by sitting with the mourner (Job. 2:13), by providing him with compensation for his loss (Gen. 24:67; Isa. 60:2–9), and by offering him bread and wine (ii Sam. 3:35; Jer. 16:7). The bread is called "bread of agony" (leḥem onashim, Ezek. 24:17; cf. leḥem ʾonim in Hos. 9:4), and the wine, "the cup of consolation" (Jer. 16:7). The serving of such a meal has been variously explained as an affirmation of the bonds between the survivors, a reaffirmation of life itself after a period of fasting from death to burial, and as an act of conviviality with the soul of the deceased.

[Mayer Irwin Gruber]

Talmudic and Medieval Periods

Although the laws and customs of mourning are largely based on the biblical references, many additional ones developed out of usage and custom and, as such, are of rabbinical rather than biblical authority. In general, there has been a consistency in mourning practices from the biblical era, but in particular between the talmudic period and modern times. With few exceptions, the rules of mourning described and laid down in the Talmud and the early sources are identical with those observed today. These laws were designed to provide both for the "dignity of the departed" and the "dignity of the living" (cf. Sanh. 46b–47a). The body, regarded as the creation of God and the dwelling place of the soul, was accorded every respect. Likewise, every attempt was made to ease the grief of the mourners and to share their sorrow. The pain of death was mitigated by viewing it as the moment of transition from the temporal world to the eternal world (Zohar No'ah, 66a). One of the rabbis interpreted the biblical verse "And, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31) to refer to death (Gen. R. 9:5, 10; see *Life and Death).

It was customary "to pour out all drawn water" in the neighborhood of the house in which the person died (Sh. Ar., yd 339:5). Originally deriving from folk beliefs, this custom was subsequently explained as a method of announcing a death since Jews were always reluctant to be the bearers of evil tidings (Siftei Kohen, yd 339:5, n. 9). Others interpreted that this act indicated that the deceased was an important person, therefore the supply of water was lessened just as "there was no water for the congregation" (Num. 20:2) after the death of Miriam (Be'er ha-Golah, yd 339:5, n. 8). The dead body was not left alone, and watchers remained with the corpse until the funeral, either to honor the dead or to guard the corpse against possible damage. These watchers were exempted from the performance of other positive commandments while engaged in this meritorious deed (Bet. 3:1). Before the funeral the body was ritually purified (see *tohorah). Professional women mourners, who clapped their hands in grief and sang dirges and lamentations, led the public display of grief at the funeral. Dirges were recited responsively while lamentations were sung in unison (mk 3:8, 9; see *Kinah). The prevalent rabbinic opinion was that only the first day of the mourning period was of biblical authority (Asheri to mk 3:27; 34b; Maim. Yad, Avel, 1:1), while the seven day mourning period was instituted by Moses (tj, Ket. 1:1, 25a). The rabbis distinguished four stages in the mourning period: *aninut, the period between death and burial; avelut or shivah, the seven days following burial; *sheloshim, the time until the 30th day after burial; and the first year (tj, mk 3:7, 83c).

aninut

During the aninut period, the mourner was called an onen. Although still obligated to abide by the negative precepts of the Torah, the onen was absolved from the performance of many positive religious duties such as the recital of the *Shema and the donning of tallit and tefillin (mk 23b). He thus indicated his respect for the memory of the deceased since he was so distraught that he could not discharge his religious obligations (Sem. 10; Deut. R. 9:1). In addition, freedom from certain religious obligations enabled the onen to attend to the needs of the dead and his burial without distraction. The rule that "he who is engaged in a religious act is exempt from performing other religious duties" applied (Suk. 25a). It was also forbidden for the onen to eat meat or drink wine (Ber. 17b) or overindulge in eating (tj, Ber. 3:1, 6a). If death occurred on the Sabbath, or if the Sabbath was part of the aninut period, the onen was obligated to discharge all his religious obligations (mk 23b), and he was even permitted to eat meat and drink wine on that day (Ber. 18a).

shivah

Immediately after the funeral, the shivah ("seven") mourning period began. The bereaved family gathered in the house of the deceased and sat on overturned couches or beds and enrobed their heads. The mourners were obligated to rend their garments and to recite the dayyan ha-emet ("the true Judge") blessing (see *Keri'ah). They were also not to leave the house (mk 23a), perform manual labor, conduct business transactions, bathe, anoint the body, cut the hair, cohabit, wear leather shoes, wash clothes, greet acquaintances, and study the Torah (mk 15a–b). They were, however, permitted to study sorrowful portions of the Bible and Talmud such as Job, Lamentations, parts of Jeremiah, and the laws of mourning. The mourner's first meal after the funeral was known as Se'uddat Havra'ah (Meal of Consolation). The meal was provided by friends and neighbors in accordance with the talmudic injunction that "a mourner is forbidden to eat of his own bread on the first day (of mourning" (mk 27b). It was also forbidden for the mourner to don tefillin on the first day of the shivah period (Ket. 6b; Sh. Ar., yd 388:1). The rabbis considered the first three days as the most intense, declaring, "Three days for weeping and seven for lamenting" (mk 27b).

sheloshim

Modified mourning continued through the sheloshim period when the mourner was told "not to cut the hair and wear pressed clothes" (mk 27b). During the sheloshim it was also forbidden for the mourner to marry, to attend places of entertainment or festive events (even when primarily of religious significance), to embark on a business journey, or to participate in social gatherings (mk 22b–23a; Yad, Avel 6:2). When mourning for parents, some of the above prohibitions remained applicable during the entire 12 months following the day of death. The mourner was not permitted to trim his hair until his companions rebuked him. He was also enjoined from entering "a house of rejoicing" during this period (mk 22b).

relationships requiring mourning

The observance of these formal rules of mourning was required for the nearest of kin corresponding to those for whom a priest was to defile himself, i.e., a wife (husband), father, mother, son, daughter, brother, and sister (Lev. 21:1–3; mk 20b), but not an infant less than 30 days old (Yad, Avel 1:6). The Talmud also relates instances when aspects of mourning were observed upon the death of teachers and scholars. Thus when R. Johanan died, R. Ammi observed the seven and the 30 days of mourning (mk 25b). In mourning for a ḥakham one bared the arm and shoulder on the right for the av bet din on the left, and for a nasi on both sides (mk 22b; Sem. 9:2).

termination of mourning

Although the Sabbath was included in the seven days of mourning, no outward signs of mourning were permitted on that day. Private observances such as the prohibition against washing remained in force on the Sabbath (mk 23b; Maim, Yad, Avel 10:1). If burial took place before a festival and the mourner observed the mourning rite for even a short period prior to the festival, the entire shivah period was annulled by the holiday. If the shivah had been completed, then the incoming festival canceled the entire sheloshim period. If, however, the funeral took place on *Ḥol ha-Mo'ed, the shivah and sheloshim were observed after the termination of the festival. In the Diaspora, the last day of the festival counted as one of the days of the shivah and sheloshim (mk 3:5–7; Sh. Ar., yd 399, 13; 400).

Relatives and friends visited the mourner during the week of shivah. Discreet individuals expressed their condolences in sympathetic silence (cf. Job. 2:13). In general, visitors were advised not to speak until the mourner began the conversation (mk 28b). Upon leaving, it became customary for the visitor to approach the mourner and say: "May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem." Rabbinical literature explained the reasons for the choice of seven as the main period of mourning. Commenting on the verse "I will turn your feasts into mourning" (Amos 8:10), it was explained that, just as the days of the feasts (Passover and Sukkot) are seven, so the period of mourning is also for seven days (mk 20a). The Zohar gives a mystical reason: "For seven days the soul goes to and fro between the house and the grave, mourning for the body" (Zohar, Va-Yeḥi, 226a). The institution of shivah was considered even more ancient than the flood. The rabbis interpreted "And it came to pass after the seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth" (Gen. 7:10) to mean that God postponed retribution until after the seven days of mourning for the righteous Methuselah (Gen. 5:27; Sanh. 108b). The rabbis discouraged excessive mourning. Jeremiah's charge, "Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him" (Jer. 22:10) was interpreted to mean "weep not in excess, nor bemoan too much." Accordingly, intensive mourning ceased after the sheloshim. Thereafter, God declares to the one who continues to mourn "Ye are not more compassionate toward the departed than I." The rabbis stated that whoever indulged in excessive grief over his dead finally had to weep for another. It was related that a woman in the neighborhood of R. Huna ultimately lost all seven of her sons because she wept excessively for each one (mk 27b).

Modern Practice

Most of the observances described above are still practiced by traditional Jews all over the world. In most communities today there are burial societies or funeral chapels which arrange the details of the tohorah and the burial. The onenim still have the responsibility of contacting the burial society, as well as obtaining death and other certificates which may be required before the funeral can be held. They must also inform relatives and friends so that proper honor and respect can be paid to the deceased. In the house of shivah couches and beds are no longer overturned, the mourners sitting instead on low stools. With the exception that mourners no longer muffle their heads, all the other restrictions are observed. Slippers of cloth, felt, or rubber are worn instead of leather footwear. Women also abstain from using cosmetics during the shivah period. A candle burns continuously in the house of mourning for the entire seven days. It has also become customary to cover mirrors or turn them to the wall. Among the explanations offered for this practice is that prayer is forbidden in front of a mirror, since the reflection distracts the attention of the worshiper. Another interpretation is that mirrors, often associated with vanity, are out of place at such a time.

Prayers in the Home and Changes in the Liturgy

By the end of the Middle Ages, praying in the house of shivah was a well-established custom (cf. Shab. 152a–b). Nowadays a *minyan gathers in the house of mourning for the daily Shaḥarit and Minḥah-Ma'ariv services. For the reading of the Law during these home services a Torah Scroll may be borrowed from the communal synagogue, provided that proper facilities for its care are available and that it will be read on three occasions. If it is not possible to obtain a minyan in the home, the mourner may attend the synagogue for services and the recitation of *Kaddish. Generally the mourner attends the synagogue for Sabbath and festival service. In the house of mourning and in the mourner's personal prayers, the following changes in the normal order of the services are made:

(1) The talmudical passage pittum ha-ketoret (Ker. 6a; Hertz, Prayer, 546), describing the compounding of the incenses for daily offering in the Temple, is omitted by the mourner since he is forbidden to study Torah.

(2) Likewise the mourner omits the recitation of eizehu mekoman, the chapter of the Mishnah which describes the appointed places for the various animal sacrifices (Zev. 5:1–8; Hertz, Prayer, 38–40).

(3) The *Priestly Blessing (Num. 6:24–26; Hertz, Prayer, 154), which concludes with the greeting of peace, is omitted in the house of mourning because the mourner may not extend greetings. In Jerusalem, however, it is recited.

(4) *Taḥanun (Hertz, Prayer, 168–86) is omitted because its theme, "I have sinned before thee," is deemed inappropriate for a mourner.

(5) Psalm 20 (Hertz, Prayer, 200) is also omitted because it will intensify the mourner's grief during his "day of trouble" (Ps. 20:2).

(6) The verse beginning, "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord" is omitted from the u-Va le-Ẓiyyon (Hertz, Prayer, 202) because the mourner does not desire a covenant which will perpetuate his unhappy situation.

(7) Psalm 49, which declares that the injustices and inequalities of human existence are corrected in the hereafter, is recited after the daily service in the house of mourning (Hertz, Prayer, 1088–90).

(8) The mourner omits the six Psalms (95–99; 29) recited before the Ma'ariv service on Friday night (Hertz, Prayer, 346–54). He remains in the anteroom until the conclusion of *lekhah dodi. He then enters the synagogue and the congregation rises and greets him with the traditional greeting extended to mourners: "May the Almighty…" Hertz, Prayer, 358).

(9) *Hallel (Hertz, Prayer, 756–72) is not recited in the house of shivah on *Rosh Ḥodesh because it contains such verses as "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence" (Ps. 115:17), and "This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Ps. 118:24). In most rites, however, it is recited when the mourners leave the room. If Rosh Ḥodesh coincides with the Sabbath, Hallel should be recited even if the services are being held in the house of mourning since no public display of mourning is permissible on the Sabbath.

(10) The mourner is not called up to the reading of the Law during the week of shivah even if he is the only kohen or levite in the congregation.

There are indications that it was customary for mourners to wear black throughout the sheloshim (Yoma 39b; Shab. 114a; Sem. 2:8). Nowadays, however, Jews are not permitted to dress in black clothing or to wear black armbands as signs of mourning since these are considered non-Jewish customs (see *Ḥukkat ha-Goi). Similarly, the bringing of gifts to the house of shivah is considered an emulation of non-Jewish practice. During the sheloshim period it is customary for the mourner to change his synagogue seat for weekday services. When mourning for parents, a different seat is occupied during the entire 12-month period. The *Kaddish, however, is recited by the person mourning a parent or child for 11 months. *Yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of the Jewish date of the person's death. There is an opinion that when three or more days elapse between death and burial, the first Yahrzeit is observed on the date of burial. Nevertheless, during subsequent years, Yahrzeit is observed on the anniversary of the date of death (Taz, Shakh and Be'er Hetev, yd 402:12). Reform Judaism has greatly modified the above laws and customs. The week of mourning is often shortened, and, frequently, only a period of three days is observed. Practices such as the rending of garments, sitting on low stools, not wearing leather shoes, and not attending places of entertainment during the period of the 30 days or first year are not generally observed by Reform Jews. Some have the religious services in the home only for the first three days, while others have them only after returning home from the funeral.

[Aaron Rothkoff]

bibliography:

bible: K. Budde, in: zaw, 2 (1882), 1–52; B. Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion (1925); E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1947); Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 2 (1960), 544–56; K.V.H. Ringgren, Israelite Religion (1963), 239–42; T.H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (1969), 590–604. talmud and medieval periods: Y.M. Tykocinski, Sefer Gesher ha-Ḥayyim (1947: 19602); J.J.(L.) Greenwald (Grunwald), Kol-Bo al Aveilut, 3 vols. (1947–52); C.N. Denburg, Code of Hebrew Law, 1 (1954); B. Yashar, Seder ha-Aveilut ve-ha-Niḥumim (1956); S. Spero, Journey into Light (1959); H.M. Rabinowicz, Guide to Life (1964); D. Zlotnick (ed. and tr.), The Tractate "Mourning" (Semahot) (1966); M. Lamm, Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (1969). add. bibliography: S. Glick, Light and Consolation: The Development of Jewish Consolation Practices (2004).

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