KERI'AH (Heb. קְרִיעָה), rending of the garments as a sign of grief. Keri'ah is a traditional Jewish mourning custom, based on Genesis 37:34 and Job 1:20. At the death of one of the seven relatives for whom mourning is decreed (father, mother, children (at least 30 days old), brother (a half-brother), sister (a half-sister), husband, wife), a rent, at least four inches long, is made in the lapel of an outer garment prior to the funeral. For parents, the keri'ah is made in all clothes, save the undershirt. For parents, the keri'ah is made on the left side; for other relatives, on the right. A member of the *ḥevra kaddisha usually makes the incision with a knife and the mourner tears it to the required length and pronounces the blessing: "Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the righteous Judge." According to the Talmud (MK 25a) keri'ah should be done at the moment of death. Present practice is to defer keri'ah until just before the funeral service or prior to interment. It should be performed in a standing position. The keri'ah is exposed during the whole mourning period. It may, however, be roughly stitched together after the "seven-day mourning period" and completely sewn up after 30 days. When mourning for parents, it may be stitched only after 30 days and may never be sewn up. Women may stitch it together immediately. During ḥol ha-mo'ed (intermediate festival days) the keri'ah rite is delayed and is performed after the festival, except in many communities in the case of mourning for parents. The custom is also practiced on seeing a Torah Scroll destroyed by fire. In talmudic times, it was customary to express grief by keri'ah at the death of the *nasi (president of the Sanhedrin), or of a great scholar (MK 22b), or upon seeing Jerusalem and the temple mount in ruins. In the U.S. Conservative and Reform practice a torn black ribbon can be worn on the lapel for 30 days. Some Orthodox Jews follow this custom, others tear a tie, and some adhere to the tradition as above.
Sh. Ar., YD 340; Maim. Yad, Evel, 8–90; Eisenstein, Dinim, 376; H. Rabinowicz, Guide to Life (1964), 34–37.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.