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Judaism has three distinct periods of mourning for a lost relative. These periods of formal mourning are only required if one has lost a parent, child, sibling, or spouse. Mourning for those outside of these close relations is permitted, but is not governed by set rules.

Shiva is the first mourning period, seven days long, which begins on the day of the funeral. Shivah ends on the morning of the seventh day following the morning prayer services. If one of the three Biblical festivals (Shavuot, Passover, Sukkot) interrupt Shivah, the shivah period is terminated early.

Traditional prohibitions during this period include:

  • No sitting on comfortable chairs. Instead, one sits on a stool or box.
  • No shaving or combing hair.
  • No showering on a daily basis for comfort or custom; it is permissible to wash for cleanliness.
  • No use of cosmetics.
  • No sexual relations.
  • One covers all the mirrors in the home that shiva is being observed in.
  • Mourners do not wear shoes made of leather.
  • No attending parties.
  • No listening to music.
  • One may not get married.
  • The mourner tears one's own garment upon beginning the shivah period.
  • No regular study of Torah, which normally is considered a joyous activity. The exception is that one can study sections dealing with mourning, such as Job, Lamentations, and Jeremiah.

The second mourning period is close to a month long, and is known as the shloshim (Hebrew, literally "thirty"). It last from the end of shiva to the morning of the 30th day after burial. Most of the restrictions of the shivah period are lifted. Restrictions still in effect include:

  • No attending parties.
  • No marriages.
  • No shaving or cutting hair.

If anyone other than one's mother or father has died, at the end of the shloshim the formal mourning period has ended. If one's mother or father has died, a third level of mourning known as the avelut (Hebrew, literally "mourning") takes place. This lasts until the end of 12 months (by the Hebrew calendar) after the day of death. Joyous events are avoided during this year. The kaddish prayer is said by children for their deceased parent for the first 11 months of this year.

Judaism has a wide range of beliefs, rituals and practices that relate to comforting mourners. Details about them may be found in the books cited below.


To Be a Jew Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books, 1972
Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition & Practice Wayne Dosick, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice Isaac Klein, Ktav/JTS, 1992
To Comfort the Bereaved: A Guide for mourners and those who visit them Aaron Levine, Jason Aronson Inc., 1994
A Guide to Life: Jewish Laws and Customs of Mourning Tzvi Rabinowicz, Jason Aronson Inc., 1989

See Judaism, burial, death

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