Definitions

In Judaism, there are several terms commonly used in connection with Jewish death and mourning relating to the rituals, customs and traditions of shiva, death and the postmortem processes. Below is a list of words, phrases and terms referred to throughout shiva.com providing information and definitions of many Jewish words associated with death and Jewish mourning (shiva). For information on burial in Jewish cemeteries, click here.

Ashkenazi
Jewish groups traced back to Central Eastern Europe. Jews of Ashkenazi origin traditionally hold different viewpoints from those with Sephardic roots, including the naming of a child. According to Ashkenazi tradition, for example,it is a kind gesture to name a newborn after the deceased – in most cases, a recently deceased member of the family, such as a grandparent or a great-grandparent. In Sephardic sects, on the other hand, it is not uncommon for newborns to be named after living relatives.

Aninut
The period between death and burial. The mourner during this period is called the "onen." Before commercial burials, the mourner was fulfilling the needs of the deceased in preparation for burial, and therefore was exempt from other religious duties, such as morning and evening prayers and putting on "tefillin."

Avelut
The Hebrew word for mourning, which consists of three periods: shiva, sheloshim, and the year of mourning.

Chai
The word "chai' translated from Hebrew to English means "life." Within the Jewish faith, the word "chai" possesses both numerical and symbolic meaning. The Hebrew word consists of two (2) letters in the alphabet: Chet (ח) and Yud (י). Together these letters form "chai" which signifies life and represents being alive.

Chevra Kadisha
The group of volunteers who perform the mitzvah of making sure the body of the deceased is shown proper respect, including but not limited to proper Jewish burial.

Hesped
A eulogy that is often delivered (by several people) both at the ceremony and at the gravesite -- unless the deceased has specified in his or her will that it not be given.

Keriah
A mourner will usually wear a torn black ribbon on his or her clothing. This ribbon, known as a keriah (torn) ribbon, symbolizes the tear in the mourner’s heart for his or her loss. In traditional communities, a person’s clothing may be torn near the heart area.

Kevura
Burial. The Torah mandates that all kevura take place as soon and quickly as possible, regardless of the nature of the deceased’s passing (i.e., condemned criminals), with exceptions being made for distant family members to attend the funeral and similar extenuating circumstances. It is widely assumed that the origin of this tradition relates to bodies quickly decomposing in Israel due to warm temperatures.

Kosher
"Fit" or "proper." According to Jewish Law, for food to be considered kosher, the ingredients must conform to specific dietary restrictions. If the food is meat, poultry or fish, it must conform to requirements set forth in the Bible and must be slaughtered in a prescribed manner.  

Kosher Certification
Agencies supervising the food-making process ensure that the food is kosher. Each certification agency labels packaging to advise the consumer that the food being purchased has been certified to their standards.

To learn more, please visit: Oukosher.org

Kosher Style
Follows basic kosher guidelines without necessarily being certified as kosher.

Minyan
A prayer service that is held for the mourners every day during shiva. Traditional Jews may hold a morning and afternoon/evening service and require a quorum of 10 men. Mourners are comforted by family and friends who participate in this prayer service. The Kaddish prayer is recited at the conclusion of the service in memory of the deceased.

Mitzvah
There are two meanings for the Hebrew word "Mitzvah." According to the Jewish tradition and law, a mitzvah is primarily known as a commandment given by God. It is secondarily known as a good deed.

Sephardim
Jews of Iberian or Middle-Eastern origin. Unlike their Ashkenazi counterparts, Sephardic Jews commonly name children after living relatives, instead of deceased relatives. There are, however, other fundamental differences between the two Jewish sects.

Seudat Havra’ah
The first meal eaten (or “meal of comfort”) by mourners following burial of their loved ones. It typically consists of boiled eggs and some variation of the lentil stew that, according to the Talmud, Jacob was preparing for his father, Isaac, who was sitting shiva for his own father, Abraham.

Shabbat
The Jewish day of rest, commencing one hour before nightfall on Friday evening and ending at nightfall on Saturday night. During this time, mourners do not to sit shiva and reconvene on Sunday.

Sheloshim
The 30-day mourning period after the burial and including the first seven days of shiva. It is observed by the immediate family and is designed to allow the mourner to get over the shock of the death. The mourners return to work after the first seven days, but other restrictions remain in place, such as refraining from attending weddings, dances, parties and similar celebratory events.

Shiva
The traditional seven-day period of mourning, following the burial, when mourners stay at home and receive guests to offer them comfort and participate in daily religious services.

Shiva Call
The act of visiting or calling the mourner while he or she is sitting shiva. This is commonly referred to as making a condolence call.

Shneim asar chodesh
Whereas sheloshim is the 30-day mourning period after burial and shiva is the seven-day mourning period after burial, shneim asar chodesh marks 12 months after a death. This type of mourning is typically observed by those who have lost a parent, but by this time, the mourners have resumed a mostly normal way of life.

Sitting Shiva 
A term used to describe the action of the mourners as they participate in the traditional rituals of shiva. During the period of shiva, mourners traditionally sit on low stools or boxes while they receive condolence calls. This is where the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from.

Taharah
A term that can be used to mean the entire process of preparing a deceased body for Jewish burial or one step of the three-step process: washing (rechitzah), purification (taharah), and dressing (halbashah).

Tzedakah
It is Jewish custom to perform an act of tzedakah – righteousness sometimes understood as charity to honor the memory of the deceased. This generally takes the form of a donation to a synagogue or other institution the deceased was associated with or supported. For more information on how to help during a shiva, click here.

Yahrzeit
The yearly anniversary of a death that is commemorated with the lighting of a candle that burns for 24 hours and the recitation of the Kaddish prayer.

Year of Mourning
When a mourner is mourning the loss of a parent, the observances performed in sheloshim are extended for a one-year period of time from the day of burial which in Hebrew is shneim asar chodesh.

Yizkor
A memorial service and prayer recited four times a year for deceased loved ones. At yizkor and during the yahrzeit, a yahrzeit candle is lit at sundown on the following days: the anniversary of a death, the eve of Yom Kippur (Kol Nidre), the night of Shemini Atzeret (the 8th night of Sukkot), the last night of Passover, and the second night of Shavuot.


 

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