The expression of grief and mourning on behalf of a lost loved one is extremely personal. The amount of time spent in mourning, the length of progressing through the grieving process, and the depth and severity of the grief will depend upon the relationship shared with the deceased and the individual’s ability to process and cope with the loss.

Jewish Mourning Traditions, Customs & Rituals

Judaism provides for very structured periods of mourning, allowing for assurance and comfort throughout the grieving process. Below are the main structured periods of mourning in the Jewish faith.


In Judaism, the primary period of structured mourning is shiva. The word ‘shiva’ has different meanings across different cultures and in Hebrew it means ‘seven.’ Shiva, as it relates to Jewish mourning, is the seven-day mourning period for the immediate family of the deceased which consists of spouse, child, parent or sibling.

The primary purpose of the shiva tradition, or “sitting shiva,” is to create an environment of comfort and community for mourners; it helps guide friends and family members through the loss of a loved one. Throughout the week long shiva period, mourners come together in one family’s home to offer their condolences and support. Specific observances may vary depending on the Jewish community and its beliefs.


The period between death and burial. The mourner during this period is called the ‘onen.’ Before commercial burials, the mourner was fulfilling the needs of the deceased in preparation for burial and therefore was exempt from other religious duties such as morning and evening prayers and putting on tefillin (scrolls containing verses from the Torah).


The 30-day mourning period after the burial and including the first seven days of shiva. It is observed by the immediate family and is designed to allow the mourner to get over the shock of the death. The mourners return to work after the first seven days, but other restrictions remain, such as refraining from attending weddings, dances or parties.

Year of Mourning

When the mourner is mourning a parent, the observances held in sheloshim are extended for one year from the day of burial. Which in Hebrew is shneim asar chodesh.


Based on Jewish law, the Yahrzeit is the day one year following the death of a loved one as calculated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar. This remembrance is performed annually by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish and burning a Yahrzeit candle for 24 hours. Traditionally, the observance begins on the anniversary of the Hebrew date of death and the candle is lit at sunset. When a death occurs after sunset, the following day is used to observe the Yahrzeit.

Comforting the Bereaved

Family and friends will express condolences and comfort by attending the funeral and burial services, if possible. Family and friend may also express their condolences by visiting the home of the family while they are sitting shiva. Adherence to a strict mourning period is less common today. Thoughtful words through a card or a phone call are always appreciated. Such gestures help the bereaved know that their loved one is remembered and that they are cared for with compassion.

Excerpted with permission from Get more information about Jewish mourning and sympathy here.