Mourning Period.

Manifestation of sorrow and grief over the loss, by death or otherwise, of a relative, a friend, an honored leader or prophet, or over a national calamity.

—Biblical Data:

It is recorded that Abraham mourned for Sarah (his wife) and wept for her (Gen. xxiii. 2). Jacob mourned "many days" for the supposed death of Joseph. David lamented for Absalom, in spite of the latter's ill conduct. The mourning for an only son was profound (Amos viii. 10). The days of mourning for parents were generally observed (Gen. xxvii. 41). Joseph mourned seven days for his father (ib. 1. 10), while the mourning of the captive Gentile woman lasted thirty days (Deut. xxi. 13), showing that the Gentile period of mourning for a parent exceeded that of the Hebrews.

The death of a person who had been esteemed and honored in life was publicly lamented by the people as a tribute of respect. Jacob was thus honored in Egypt when he died; the Egyptians organized an elaborate public funeral, and their mourning for him lasted seventy days (Gen. 1. 3). Among the Hebrews a public mourning never exceeded thirty days, even in the case of their greatest prophet, Moses (Deut. xxxiv. 8).

The mourning for a national defeat or other public calamity was confined to the day the news of the misfortune was received. For an exceptionally great and epoch-marking calamity, as the destruction of the Temple on the 9th of Ab, every anniversary of the event was observed as a day of mourning.

The manner of mourning differed according to the degree of the loss and distress connected with it. The Gentile captive mourned for her parents by remaining within the house, weeping, cutting off her hair, and paring her nails, abundant hair and long nails being considered marks of feminine beauty; whereas among men, during mourning, the hair and nails were allowed to grow. Mourning was also marked by throwing dust on the head (Josh. vii. 6), by wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, lacerating the flesh, and tearing out the hair of the head and face (Jer. xvi. 6). Such self-mutilation, however, was forbidden by Moses (Lev. xxi. 5; Deut. xiv. 1). Other forms of mourning are indicated in Ezek. xxiv. 17, as (1) crying, (2) removing the head-dress, (3) removing the shoes, (4) covering the lips as a guard of silence, (5) eating "the bread of mourners" (Hos. ix. 4).

To express his sorrow for the death of Saul and Jonathan and the defeat of Israel, David rent his clothes, wept, and fasted all day (II Sam. i. 11, 12). David's lament on that occasion is one of the gems of Hebrew poetry. Seven days' mourning for the dead appears to have been usual among the Jews (comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] xxii. 12).

—In Rabbinical Literature:

According to the Talmud, the seven days of mourning were observed even before the Flood. The seven days of grace granted to the wicked generation of the Flood (Gen. vii. 4) were to allow the period of mourning for Methuselah to expire (Sanh. 108b; Gen. R. xxxii. 10). An inference is drawn from the verse in Amos (viii. 10), "I will turn your feasts into mourning"—the principal feasts, like those of Passover and Sukkot, continue seven days; so also do the mourning days (M. Ḳ. 20a). Another reason for the number seven is that it is a tenth of man's allotted span of three-score and ten ("Sefat Emet," xix.; quoted in Levensohn, "Meḳore Minhagim," § 97).

The mourning proper, according to the Talmud, is divided into four periods. The first three days are given to weeping and lamentation; the deceased is eulogized up to the seventh day, the mourner keeping within the house; the somber garb of mourning is worn up to the thirtieth day, and personal adornment is neglected; in the case of mourning for a parent, the pursuit of amusement and entertainment is abandoned up to the end of the year.

Mourning is represented as a sword raised over the mourner's shoulders during the first three days; it approaches him from the corner of the room up to the end of seven days; it passes him on the street up to the end of thirty days; it is likely to strike any one of the family during the whole year (M. Ḳ. 27b; Yer. M. Ḳ. iii. 7; comp. Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 394, 4).

Limitations to Grief.

Excessive mourning is discouraged, as it would imply that "the mourner is possessed of more pity than the Almighty." "One who persists in mourning overmuch for his dead will mourn for another death" (M. Ḳ. 27b). The prolongation of mourning to twelve months probably originated with the instruction given by Judah ha-Nasi I., that his disciples should close the yeshibah and observe full mourning for thirty days; that to the end of twelve months the yeshibah should be closed during one-half of the day and that the other half should be devoted to eulogies of the dead nasi (Ket. 103b). There is also an allusion in the Zohar to the belief that while the soul of a righteous person clings to his body for the first thirty days before entering heaven, the soul of an ordinary person clings to the body for twelve months (Zohar, Wayaḳhel, pp. 398, 419, ed. Wilna, 1882). The full year of mourning is now observed only for parents.

Mourning Habit and "Keri'ah."

The mourning garments worn by a widow (Gen. xxxviii. 14) were probably black (comp. II Sam. xiv. 2). R. Yannai contrasted the black garment ofa mourner with the white garment of a bridegroom (Shab. 114a). Naḥmanides quotes R. Isaac ibn Ghayyat on the custom of wearing black ("Torat ha-Adam," p. 27d, ed. Venice, 1595). Asheri says "one may mourn for his father-in-law by wearing black for twelve months; one may mourn so for a mere friend, as did David for Abner" ("Rabbenu Asher," Rule 27, No. 9). In Russia, Poland, and Galicia the Jews discarded black for mourning in order to avoid seeming to ape the Christian custom. The only outward sign of mourning observed there is the "keri'ah" (rent) in the garment (there are numerous references in the Bible to rending the garments as a sign of grief). The rent must be at least a handbreadth (4 inches) long, and it is usually made in the lapel of the coat. In case of a parent's death the mourner must rend all the clothes worn by him during the mourning period. In ancient times it was customary to mourn for a parent, a principal teacher, or a nasi by exposing both shoulders through the upper garments; for a ḥakam (chief rabbi) the right shoulder was exposed, for the ab bet din the left shoulder. This custom had already become obsolete in the Middle Ages.


Full mourning is limited to the following occasions: the death of a (1) father, (2) mother, (3) son, (4) daughter, (5) brother, (6) sister, (7) wife or husband (comp. Lev. xxi. 2, 3). The Rabbis included a half-brother and half-sister. Mourning need not be observed for a child that has lived less than thirty days. The ceremonies observed in mourning for a kinsman are as follows: The time between death and the burial is called "aninut" (= "deep grief"), during which the mourner must not eat in the same house with the dead, and, except on Sabbath or on a holy day, must not eat in company, nor eat meat, nor drink wine. On returning from the burial "Shib'ah" commences—the seven days during which the mourner is confined to the house, in which he sits on the floor or on a low bench, devoting his time to reading the Book of Job. He is excused from rising when an elder, or even a nasi, passes. The lamentation while sitting may have been derived from Neh. i. 4.

The first meal after the funeral is prepared by a neighbor; it is called "se'udat habra'ah" (= "meal of consolation"). It usually consists of bread with eggs or lentils (B. B. 16a), the latter being a symbol of death. The mourner occupies the front seat in the room when the consolers come to visit him, as indicated in Job xxix. 25, the Talmudic interpretation of which is "as one comforted by mourners" (Ket. 69b). "Silence is the price of consolation in a house of mourning" (Ber. 6b). Aaron "held his peace" when apprised of the death of his sons Nadab and Abihu (Lev. x. 3). Hence the conversation is limited to praises of the deceased. The mourner, however, speaks first, and it is provided that he pronounce the benediction, "Praised be the Almighty, the righteous Judge." The visitors must not make observations reflecting on Providence, as, for instance, "What can you do?" On leaving, the visitors say, "May the Almighty comfort you among all mourners for Zion and Jerusalem."

Mourners' Ordinance.

The things prohibited to mourners during Shib'ah are: (1) manual labor or business transactions; (2) bathing or anointing the body; (3) wearing shoes or sandals; (4) reading the Torah or studying (the reading of the Book of Job or the Lamentations excepted); (5) cohabitation; (6) lying on the bed when it is in its usual horizontal position (hence it was necessary to take down the canopy and fold up the lower supports so that one end of the bed might touch the ground); (7) washing and preparing garments; (8) cutting the hair. The last two prohibitions are in force up to the end of thirty days, while music and all forms of recreation are usually excluded for the whole year, especially when the mourning is for a parent. Marrying is prohibited during the first thirty days; in the case of mourning for husband or wife this prohibition extends to a year. The prohibition against working during Shib'ah is modified where the mourner is dependent on his daily earnings; in such a case he may resume his work in private after three days.

Friends Giving Mourners Bread of Affliction.(From Kirchner, "Jüdisches Ceremoniel," 1726.)

Many exceptions to these regulations are enumerated in Yoreh De'ah, 380-383. The Sabbath excludes public mourning, but is counted in the Shib'ah. A holy day suspends the Shib'ah when the latter has begun at least one hour before the holy day; otherwise the Shib'ah is postponed until after the holy day. The holy days also deduct seven days from the thirty days of mourning ("Sheloshim"),and where the Shib'ah expires immediately before the holy days begin, the thirty days of mourning are entirely suspended. The Feast of Tabernacles causes fourteen days to be deducted from the thirty days, if the Shib'ah begins at least one hour before the holy days. See Burial; Funeral Rites; Jahrzeit; Ḳaddish.

  • Maimonides, Yad, Ebel; Shulḥan, 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 340-403;
  • Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ, Semaḥot, §§ 1-53 (ed. Buber, pp. 337-368, Wilna, 1886);
  • Levensohn, Zerubbabel, iv. 50;
  • Geiger, Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. iii. 214-233;
  • Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie, i. 193;
  • Benzinger, Arch. p. 163;
  • Eisenstein, Mourners' Almanac, New York, 1900;
  • Morris Jastrow, Jr., in Journal of the American Oriental Society, No. 20, pp. 133-150.
A. J. D. E.
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