Death & Mourning 101
About Death and Mourning
Judaism does not shy away from close encounters with death, but frames them ritually. Much attention is paid to treating the dead (and even a dead body) with respect (k'vod ha-met) and to comforting mourners (nichum aveilim).
History and Development
Many practices surrounding death that continue to this day--such as tearing one's clothes, burial, and mourning the deceased--find their origins in the biblical text. There is both a remarkable consistency and fascinating differences in Jewish burial and mourning practices around the world.
Long before death, one may write an "ethical" will, recording values and guidance for one's descendants. Individuals who may be dying are encouraged to recite the traditional deathbed viddui,or confession of sins.
Before the Funeral
Until the burial, a person who hears of the death of a first-degree relative (a parent, spouse, sibling, or child) is an onen (literally "someone in between"). Traditionally, the enigmatic yet powerful phrase "baruch dayan ha-emet" ("blessed is the judge of Truth") is uttered upon hearing the news, and a garment is torn. The body is prepared for burial with great care by the hevra kaddisha (the sacred burial society), including ritual purification (tahora), and dressing the body in shrouds (tachrichim).
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