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What is the Hineni Learning Tool?

Hineni is a unique, interactive, web-based tool that gives users a simple, ergonomic, and fast way to get information about Jewish death practices. The word, Hineni, is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase used in the Torah, meaning "Here I am." It was chosen to indicate this tool is here to give succinct, direct answers to everyone quickly and easily. Hineni is intended to be used by various audiences, starting with (1) with those who directly serve families (funeral directors, cemetery workers, hospice personnel, Jewish clergy, chaplains, death doulas, and hospital personnel, who want to learn more to be better able to serve Jewish families and who want to assist families in making end-of-life decisions), and (2) families facing death of a loved one who wish to learn more about our traditions. We also envision community leaders using this tool as they prepare drashot for services, lectures, or classes, along with Chevrah Kadisha workers who want to expand their abilities to share these practices with their community. Additional possible users could include bnei mitzvot classes and their teachers, chevrah leaders, chevrah volunteers, local education champions,  Jewish community lay leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish clergy, JADE helpline responders, and synagogue caring committee members. Acknowledgements The Hineni tool was developed by the JADE staff as a part of ongoing community educational efforts to find the best ways to disseminate and share knowledge about Jewish end-of-life practices, rites, customs, and traditions. An acknowledgement of the contribution of our staff is shown below.
Concept:
Rick Light
Prototype:
Rick Light
Coordination:
Isabel Knight
Content:
HollyBlue Hawkins, Rick Light
Editing:
Rick Light, David Zinner
Marketing
Isabel Knight, Susan Kramer
Implementation:

Jewish Mourning

A Deeper Understanding


When death visits our lives, Jewish mourning practices help us remember the one who died while providing a way to express our deep sorrow. When mourning, we are encouraged to first consciously remove ourselves from daily life, then after a week of only mourning (called shiva), re-engage into our lives gradually. Mourning by its nature is filled with deep feelings; Jewish practice honors those and supports us as we embrace them. Mourning is a time of direct connection with the soul of our departed, as we allow ourselves the time to cry, reflect, pray, and embrace the blessing of their memory.

Overview


Jewish mourning practices help us face the reality of death, cope with the trauma, and learn to integrate it into our lives once again. Most of us will, at some point in our lives, have to face the death of a loved one. Judaism includes practical guidelines, and uses a structured approach for dealing with grief and loss.

The Jewish perspective of mourning is one of directness and acknowledgment in dealing with death. We do not shy away from the reality of death or pretend that it is not a time of great stress and anxiety.  As it says in Ecclesiastes (Chapter 3), there is “a time for being born, a time for dying…. a time for weeping, a time for laughing.” Jewish tradition encourages full expression of the entire range of emotions. Tears at a funeral are a way of expressing our sorrow as well as a sign of honor for the deceased. Humorous stories and laughter may also punctuate the air and help us recall beautiful memories.  The emotional responses of the mourners are individual and there is no right or wrong way to express them. 

At the same time, mourners often begin to reflect on the relationships that were formed and are now changed in form, on what we might have learned, and how we might change our lives to honor and remember those who died. We are grateful for the life we are given and for those with whom we share it, while recognizing our own mortality.

The Jewish timetable for mourning provides a framework that gently guides us through grief. Details of these stages are provided below.

Who Are the Mourners?


In Jewish ritual and practice, the term “mourner” is generally used for someone who has lost a parent, child, sibling, or spouse.  However, there may be other individuals who feel the loss, perhaps quite acutely, who may also be observing mourning rites.

Stages of Mourning


While each mourner’s emotional path is individual, the formal stages of mourning are:

  • Aninut: The time between death and burial.
  • Aveilut: The stage after burial.
  • Shiva: The seven-day period that begins with the day of burial.
  • Shloshim: The 30-day period that begins with the day of burial.
  • Yahrzeit: The annual anniversary of a death.
  • First year: The first year after death, ending with the first yahrzeit; this period often includes the unveiling of the grave marker.


Elements of formal mourning continue beyond the first year of mourning, with the annual anniversary of the death (the yahrzeit), and on major holidays in the annual Jewish calendar (Yizkor services).

Aninut


Aninut is the period from the moment of death until burial. An mourner in this period is called an onen.

This can be a very intense period of mourning, and Judaism recognizes this by relieving mourners of nearly all ritual and prayer obligations so that they can focus on preparation and logistics around the funeral and burial. One key exception to this exemption is the ritual of kriahthe tearing of a garment (or the cutting of a ribbon) as a sign of grief, along with the blessing recitation that accompanies this act. Learn more about kriah here.

As Rabbi Maurice Lamm has observed: “The onen is a person in deep distress, a person yanked out of normal life and abruptly catapulted into the midst of inexpressible grief. He is disoriented, his attitudes are disarrayed, his emotions [are] out of gear. The shock of death paralyzes his consciousness and blocks out all regular patterns of orderly thinking.” (The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, p. 21).

We are discouraged from trying to comfort the mourner prior to the burial, as Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches, “Do not console a person whose deceased relative lies before him” (4:23).

Shiva


The period of seven days following burial is known as shiva, which is Hebrew for “seven.” During the period of shiva (and beyond), members of the mourner’s community (synagogue, neighbors, less immediate relatives, etc.) come together to care for the primary mourners, in ways that are physical, logistical, emotional, and spiritual.  In some communities, mourners observe a more limited shiva period, such as three days.

Traditional practice is for the home of the deceased to be used for daily prayer services. This allows the mourners to resume daily prayers without having to leave home. (The kabbalah teaches that the soul of the deceased goes back and forth between the grave and the home for the first 7 days).

During shiva, mourners are said to be “sitting shiva,” which means that they are at home, receiving people who wish to offer consolation. The mourners may designate specific times of day for such visits, as well as designating times for prayer services.

The prayer service in the shiva home is called a shiva minyan, with the Hebrew word minyan meaning a prayer “quorum” (traditionally, 10 adults).  The shiva minyan primarily takes the form of a standard Jewish prayer service (which will depend on the time of day when it is held). The service itself provides the opportunity for mourners to connect with tradition by participating in a centuries-old ritual. A shiva minyan service generally includes special readings related to death, remembrance, and larger spiritual issues. And it generally includes the opportunity for sharing. Depending on the needs and requests of the mourners, this can include simple statements by the mourners themselves or may take a more “open mic” format, in which visitors are invited to share memories of the deceased.

Another common aspect of the shiva minyan is food. Some communities have a “comfort committee” that takes charge of providing meals for the shiva home. The mourners are not be expected to take on this obligation. The community generally deals with the providing of food as well as the clean-up and organization of leftovers. 

The community takes the responsibility to act as “host” during this period, not only providing food but also assisting with all manner of logistical support, such as kitchen clean-up, laundry, childcare, transportation for out-of-town visitors, and so on. (See “Other Aspects of Support” below.)

Other customs and practices during shiva can include:  Covering mirrors (based on the idea that a mourner should not be concerned with matters of vanity).  Refraining from explicitly joyful or celebratory activities, such as attending parties or musical events. (This does not mean a prohibition on the telling of humorous stories about the deceased or the like.). Lighting a memorial candle. (Many funeral homes will provide a 7-day candle for this purpose.)

At the end of the week of shiva, it is traditional for members of the community to come to the home and take the mourners out for a short walk, perhaps just around the block, to symbolize the first “steps” of returning to normal life.

Shloshim


The period of shloshim is an intermediate stage of mourning, with mourners gradually returning to “normal life” (including work, chores, etc.) as they are able.

For those mourning someone other than a parent, the end of shloshim marks the end of the recitation of Kaddishthe traditional prayer of mourning. (Those mourning a parent continue for either a full year or 11 months. See below for more on this prayer.)

Some choose to hold a service on the 30th day following burial to offer reflections to mark this point in time.

Yahrzeit


Judaism has a deep connection to memory – both personal and historical. The anniversary of a death is generally known by the Yiddish word Yahrzeit, and is one of the times when Kaddish is recited. In a community where prayer services are held daily, Kaddish can be said on the exact date of the yahrzeit (preferably based on the Hebrew date). In other communities, it is common to recite Kaddish at a Shabbat service close to the actual date.

It is also common practice to light a 24 hour candle on the evening that begins the Yahrzeit  (noting here that Jewish days begin the night before).

This is often a time when family members visit the gravesite. It is customary to leave a pebble or small stone on the grave marker or headstone. Placing stones on Jewish graves is an ancient tradition that dates back to medieval times or earlier. It's a way to show respect to the deceased, honor their memory, and comfort mourners.  It's a way to show that someone visited the grave and it signifies permanence.  The practice can also symbolize a connection to the Jewish community and heritage. 

Yizkor


Kaddish is also traditionally recited four times a year as part of a community service called Yizkor, which is a special service of remembrance that occurs when the community gathers for the primary Jewish holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Yom Kippur.

Kaddish


The prayer called Kaddish (also called “Mourner’s Kaddish” or Kaddish Yatom) is the primary liturgical element of mourning (and one of the prayers best known by Jews). It is traditionally said by the mourner as part of daily prayer services, not reserved solely for special occasions of mourning.

The recitation of this special prayer can impact our lives in multiple ways, primarily:

  1. By giving the mourner a spiritual conduit through which to express their connection to the deceased or to God
  2. By building a rhythm of daily service attendance
  3. By supporting those who attend daily religious services
  4. By recognizing a person as being a mourner


The word Kaddish means sanctified. The prayer has no reference to death. It is filled with praise of God, declaring God as Creator and that God’s greatness fills the whole world.  The traditional belief is that by saying Kaddish the soul of the deceased ascends higher in the spiritual world. The mourner by praising God and thereby causing the community to affirm that belief positively affects the afterlife of their loved one.  It is customary to recite Kaddish for only 11 months for a parent.

Kaddish recitation not only affects the deceased but can help the mourner feel connected to their loved one. It also identifies the mourner as someone grieving and helps them find a community to support and acknowledge them.

There are several variations to the prayer (including one specific to burial), but unless indicated otherwise, the term Kaddish is mostly used to refer to the version formally called Kaddish Yatom. Read the text of this ancient prayer here.

Comforting Mourners


Directness and acknowledgement—hallmarks of the Jewish outlook on grief and loss—are also important from the perspective of one seeking to offer nechamah to a mourner.  It is important for the comforter to recognize that the emotional pace and style of mourning is determined by the individual mourner.  The mourner may speak in terms of loss and distress but may also speak in terms of joys remembered. There may be tears, but there may also be laughter. The conversation may be somber but may also be light. The mourner sets the tone.

The tradition suggests that when visiting a mourner to offer comfort, especially during the week of shiva, the visitor be silent when initially sitting with the mourner, and let the mourner begin the conversation. A simple gesture of greeting such as holding a hand or offering a brief hug may be appropriate, depending on the relationship. If the visitor feels the need to “move the conversation along,” a simple prompt such as “tell me a story about…” is often one of the best options.

Other Aspects of Support


A visit to the shiva home provides emotional support to the mourner. The community can provide a range of support to mourners. For example:

  • Physical/logistical might include:

    • providing food for a shiva minyan (and clean-up afterward)
    • handling routine household chores, such as laundry
    • providing transportation for out-of-town visitors as they arrive for the funeral, go between events, and return to the airport when they leave
    • offering childcare and the like for young children (both those of the mourners and those of their guests, as appropriate)

  • Spiritual/emotional: We need not delineate a sharp boundary between emotional and spiritual support, but simply recognize that, depending on the individuals involved, the support from close friends might include things like:

    • sharing in prayer
    • having conversations about God or the afterlife
    • discussing complex issues about the mourner’s future and so on


Clearly, such conversations will require great sensitivity. As with other interactions, the main guideline is to let mourners take the lead, permitting them to explore their thoughts and acknowledging their possible conflicts and uncertainties.

Mourning and the Funeral / Burial


Aspects of the funeral and burial are discussed in their specific topic pages. Here we note some elements that relate to the role of these rituals as mourning practices.

Shoveling dirt:  It is traditional for the grave to be completely filled before leaving the cemetery after a burial. The sound of the dirt hitting the casket is one of the most jarring moments in the entire burial process, even though we see it coming. It symbolizes the finality and reality of the death.

The process of filling the grave has distinct ritual aspects to it.

  • Primary mourners (or the officiating clergy) begin the process, each shoveling dirt) into the grave atop the casket.
  • The shovel is held upside-down (so that the dirt is actually on the back of the shovel). This symbolizes the fact that this is no ordinary shoveling. We are doing this with great reluctance.
  • Anyone who wishes to participate may take a turn (including children).
  • Those shoveling return the shovel directly to the pile, rather than hand it off to another individual. This suggests that each participant is doing this on their own, of their own free will.


The process continues, traditionally until the grave is filled, or at least until the casket is completely covered.

Shura – Forming Lines:  When the shoveling is completed and final prayers have been said, the comforters (i.e., everyone other than the primary mourners) form two parallel lines, facing each other. The mourners then proceed to walk between the lines, as they are greeted by the formal phrase “May the Holy One comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Thus, the final experience of the mourners as they leave the cemetery is hearing the comforting words of their community.

Grave Markers and Unveiling


Sometime after burial, mourners commonly have a marker placed at the grave, which is likely to include the deceased’s name, dates (and perhaps places) of birth and death, and phrases such as “son/daughter of…,” “parent of…,” etc.

In many communities, especially in the United States, it is customary to hold a ceremony “unveiling” the marker, often toward the end of the first year of mourning. This is generally a fairly informal gathering and can easily be done without participation of clergy.

Pet Loss


Anyone who considers a pet a beloved friend, companion, or family member knows the intense pain that accompanies the loss of that friend. Following are some links to articles on coping with that grief, and with the difficult decisions one faces upon the loss of a pet.


 

Resources to Learn More


 

Jewish mourning practices are structured to help us move through the range of powerful emotions we face as we encounter the death of a loved one. Jewish mourning begins with a week called shiva in which we focus entirely on mourning. After shiva there is a gradual re-emergence into daily life.


Click on icons below to learn about this topic from different perspectives.

Practical

Textual

Emotional

Spiritual

Mourning Practices from the Practical / Physical Perspective

Jewish mourning practices help us face the reality of death, cope with the trauma, and learn to integrate it into our lives once again. Most of us will, at some point in our lives, have to face the death of a loved one. Judaism includes practical guidelines and uses a structured approach for dealing with grief and loss.

Mourning Practices from the Intellectual / Textual Perspective

Mourning practices have traditionally included the recitation of the Kaddish prayer (also called 'Mourners Kaddish') by the mourner as part of daily and Shabbat services. It is among other prayers that are said in response to death. The Kaddish prayer is said for the first 30 days after the death of most family members (siblings, spouse, child), whereas a child traditionally says Kaddish for 11 months after the death of a parent.  Kaddish is additionally said on Yahrzeit (the annual anniversary of a death) and during Yizkor (special times in the year to remember those who have predeceased us in death).

Mourning Practices from the Emotional / Feelings Perspective

The Jewish perspective of mourning is one of directness and acknowledgment in dealing with death. We do not shy away from the reality of death or pretend that it is not a time of great stress and anxiety.  Jewish tradition encourages full expression of the entire range of emotions. Tears are a way of expressing our sorrow as well as a sign of honor for the deceased. Humorous stories and laughter may also punctuate the air and help us recall beautiful memories. The emotional responses of the mourners are individual and there is no right or wrong way to express them.

Mourning Practices from the Spiritual / Soul Perspective

The word Kaddish means sanctified. The prayer has no reference to death. It is filled with praise of God, declaring God as Creator and that God’s greatness fills the whole world.  The traditional belief is that by saying Kaddish the soul of the deceased ascends higher in the spiritual world. The mourner uses the recitation of the Kaddish prayer to positively affect the afterlife of their loved one.

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