Author Archives: Joseph Ozarowski

Joseph Ozarowski

About Joseph Ozarowski

Rabbi Joseph S. Ozarowski is Rabbi of the Elmont Jewish Center, Elmont, NY.

Kriah: A Tangible and Obligatory Expression of Grief

Reprinted with permission from Wrestling with the Angel: Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, Jack Riemer ed. (published by Schocken Books).

The practice of tearing a garment as a tangible show of grief goes back to the Bible. There are numerous instances in the Torah where people tear their clothes to show sorrow. Kriah is the graphic act manifesting the anguish one feels at the loss of life.

While many situations in earlier times warranted tearing, kriah today is done for the closest relatives for whom one mourns: parents, children, siblings, and spouse. One may also tear for other relatives.

Reasons to Practice Kriah

Rabbinic sources offer half a dozen possible reasons for the practice of kriah:

1.      It deepens the sense of pain and sorrow.

2.      It confronts the individual with the recognition of the sanctity and importance of life at a time
         of loss.

3.      The loss of an article of clothing graphically symbolizes the personal sense of loss.

4.      The cathartic process rids the heart of cruelty and anger by sensitizing it to loss, thereby
         fostering return, reconciliation, and repentance.

5.      Tearing the clothing is symbolic of the rending of the relationship between the deceased and
         those still alive.

6.      It serves as a substitute for or sublimation of ancient pagan self-mutilation rituals not
         permitted in Jewish law.

Kriah is done on an article of clothing worn on or near the heart, such as a jacket, sweater, vest, shirt, blouse, bodice, or, mini­mally, a necktie or neck scarf. Rabbinic sources describe this as m’galeh et libo, revealing the heart. The tearing of a garment near the heart symbolizes the emotions felt in the heart at this time. The tear is made on the left side for parents and the right side for other relatives.

Parental Sacrifice

Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

The opening verses of Tazria deal with the various rituals a woman undergoes after childbirth. After the birth of a child she brings two offerings: a year-old lamb or a turtledove or a pigeon as an olah, a burnt offering; and a turtledove or a pigeon as a chatas, a sin offering.

The Talmud questions the order of the offerings as they are described in the Torah, pointing out that when these two offerings are brought as a pair, the chatas is always offered first. Yet in these verses about childbirth, the olah is listed first.

Raba maintains that, in fact, the chatas is brought first. Why, then, is it listed second?

The late Rabbi Menachem Sacks of Chicago, in his wonderful homiletic work, Menachem Tzion, views this sequence as a message on how we ought to view our children’s future.

Parents continually sacrifice for their offspring, with their efforts, funds and time spread out on the altar of child development. The olah and the chatas symbolize the dual nature of parenting.

High Aspirations for Children

The olah, considered the highest offering, symbolizes the high aspirations we parents have for our children. We expect great things from them in their Torah learning and personal piety, in their academic and financial pursuits, indeed, in almost everything they do. We want them to be great and we want them to be perfect.

And we want to be perfect parents. We want to give them everything they need to succeed and shelter them from any obstacles to success.

But commonly it is the chatas that is brought for unintentional sins that more closely resembles our efforts. We make mistakes while parenting. We make mistakes raising and training our children. No parent can avoid this.

The Gemara’s interpretation of the pasuk (verse) teaches a profound truth. The olah is listed first in the verse. When a child is born, we have high hopes, and we should never give up those hopes and dreams; we must continue our struggles and efforts, so that our sons and daughters can be the best they possibly can be.

We are bidden to dedicate all our efforts to this end, even though we know that, in reality, perfection is unattainable. We, as parents, cannot always implement every one of our dreams.

Thus the chatas is, in actuality, brought before the olah.

Rav Sacks points out that the chatas represents the Rambam‘s "golden mean." Reality may not equal the dream, but it can be quite good.

If we keep our dreams in focus, we can reach many of them and enjoy satisfaction and nachas (pride) in seeing our children grow as Jews and as human beings.