Special Issues in Mourning

The Jewish tradition explains how converts are to mourn, whether a wedding should be postponed, and the kohen's delimited relationship to the dead.

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This article shares the traditional responses to exceptional situations with respect to mourning customs. Liberal Jews may follow different, more lenient practices. Excerpted with permission from "Death and Mourning: A Time for Weeping, A Time for Healing," in Celebration and Renewal: Rites of Passage in Judaism, edited by Rela Mintz Geffen (Jewish Publication Society).

Converts and Mourning

A convert to Judaism, according to Jewish law, no longer has kinship ties to her gentile family. Therefore, if a parent or other relative for whom Jewish law obligates mourning dies, the convert is under no obligation to sit shiva [the first seven days of intensive mourning]. Jewish law, in fact, discourages shiva in a case like this but looks benignly upon a convert who wishes to recite Kaddish [the memorial prayer] in memory of the deceased relative.

Mourning and Marriage

Should a bride or groom suffer the loss of a close relative within 30 days of a scheduled wedding, it is postponed until the conclusion of sheloshim [the first 30 days of mourning] ([Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah,] 392:1). Even if it is a parent who died, a marriage may still take place after sheloshim--that is, during the 12-month mourning period [required for a parent]. No restrictions are placed on the joyousness of the celebration.

The Kohen and Death

A kohen [or descendant of the priestly class], who in the past was and even today is subject to more demanding laws of ritual purity than other Jews, is not allowed to come into contact with a corpse or even be under the same roof, unless it is one of the seven family members for whom he is obligated to mourn. Because of this holiness code, kohanim may not attend funeral ceremonies of anyone other than close family members if the casket is present, nor may they enter a cemetery. Some kohanim remain outside the funeral chapel during the funeral service to show their respect for the deceased. These rules apply only to male kohanim.

Judith Hauptman

Judith Hauptman is a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. A popular lecturer on Judaism and feminism, she is the author of Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman's Voice.