In addition to the specific practices related to each phase of mourning, many other practical questions arise concerning death and mourning, including:
- What should I expect at a Jewish funeral?
- For which relatives are we officially considered “mourners”?
- How might tzedakah (righteous or charitable giving) be used to honor someone’s memory?
- What should I know if I want to join–or start–a hevra kaddisha (burial society)?
Jewish tradition dictates that one officially mourns (meaning one is obligated to sit shiva and observe other rites of mourning) for parents, siblings (whether half or full), spouse, and children, though the specific obligations vary somewhat depending on the familial relationship to the deceased. In all but Orthodox communities it is de rigueur for both women and men to recite Kaddish for immediate family members, and women saying Kaddish is becoming more common within some segments of Orthodoxy as well. Children below bar/bat mitzvah age are not obligated by any of the mourning rules, but in keeping with contemporary mental health wisdom they may be involved to the extent appropriate.
One is not required to observe the practices of mourning for stepsiblings, stepparents, or stepchildren, but some people choose to do so. Jewish law does not strictly require shiva, kaddish, and the like for adoptive parents and adopted children–perhaps in part reflecting an earlier historical reality in which adoption as we know it was less common –but full mourning is certainly permitted.
For those who are comforters rather than mourners, some thoughts to keep in mind when attending a Jewish funeral:
- Funeral usually start on time–arrive early.
- In most cases, you should not expect to greet the family before or after the funeral, or at the burial. Offer your comfort by visiting the shiva home.
- Pay attention for announcements of shiva location and times, and for organizations to which you might make a contribution in honor of the deceased.
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