When Jacob was told that his beloved son Joseph was dead, he cried out in sorrow and tore his garments (Genesis 37:34). The dramatic act of tearing one’s clothes remains a distinct part of Jewish mourning practices. The act, known as kriah (tearing), is performed by all of the immediate relatives* of the deceased.

Although some people “tear kriah” immediately upon hearing the news of their relatives’ passing, most often the act of kriah is performed as part of the funeral service. Generally, the mourners stand together and either rip their own garment or have someone rip it for them. For those who lost parents, the tear is made over the left breast, above the heart. At the loss of spouse/children/siblings, the tear is made over the right breast.

As the garment is being torn, a special blessing acknowledging the judgment of God is recited:
Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’do’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu melech ha’o’lam, dayan ha’emet.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, the true Judge.

As it is customary that the tear should be approximately 3.5 inches, it is permitted to pin the garment closed, but not to sew it together. After the funeral, it is customary for the mourners to remain in the torn garment throughout the week of shiva, after which one should consult a local rabbi concerning repairing the garment.

*Immediate relatives are defined as spouse, parents, children and siblings.

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