June, 8th, 2018
The Rabbi’s Assistant answers questions that someone might be too shy to ask.
When, in the course of life, someone passes away, Jewish tradition has many words which get bandied about. Here are a few, may you be blessed not to have to use them. Let’s jump right in, after a person has died.
Tahara is the ritual washing of a body prior to burial. After this purification process a body is wrapped in a shroud, takhrikhim, very simple, hand-sewn, white with no pockets (can’t take it with you), made of rough linen or cotton. One may then also be wrapped in one’s tallit, prayer shawl, with one fringe cut.
If time will pass before burial, the funeral home or burial society should offer to provide a shomer, a watcher to stay, as we do not leave bodies alone. Between death and burial, each immediate relative is an onen, a person in deep distress.
Before the funeral (or even upon hearing of the death), mourners symbolically rend their clothing. Some substitute a black ribbon, but the real tradition is to tear your actual clothing. This is called keri’ah. The tear is on the left near the heart for deceased offspring, otherwise on the right. One keeps this garment or ribbon on for the next seven days (except Shabbat) or until the shiv’ah period, the seven days of mourning, ends.
After the person is buried (and not before), the shiv’ah period begins. This period may be curtailed by Shabbat inter-vening at the end, by a holiday intervening, or unofficially by the choice of the mourners. During the shiv’ah period, family and friends go to the home with sustenance and warmth and comfort. There may be praying, a shiv’ah minyan, done formally at the home.
Sheloshim is the thirty-day period from the burial. During that time, after the first seven days, mourners return to normal life but many observe the tradition of not attending weddings and other festive occasions, nor hearing music or dancing.
At the 11th month after burial, many unveil the tombstone. (In Israel, it is often done after Sheloshim.)
Yahrzeit (Yiddish for “year time”) is the observance of (generally, depending upon the calendar and leap year) the anniversary of the day the person passed away. Some observe the date of burial for the first year’s yahrzeit, and then the date of death thereafter.
Mourner’s Kaddish is recited when there is a minyan (a quorum of ten adult Jews), during services, officially for the first thirty days, and for a parent for eleven months. (Some congregations recite the Mourner’s Kaddish all in unison, in support of the mourners.)
What is that z”l after the late person’s name? It stands for the Hebrew for “of blessed memory,” in Hebrew: (f.) "זיכרונה לברכה " (zikhronah lebrakha) and (m.) "זיכרונו לברכה " (zikhrono lebrakha) because we wish to continue to elevate the soul. We could write a whole box on honorifics for the departed. They all indicate that we wish the best for the person lost and for those remaining.