According to the Torah, one of the essential elements of mourning is the performance of the Kriah, the rending of the outer garments by the mourners. It is designed to arouse within the mourner and all those present the ability to express their grief, and creates an "opening" for the person to release the feelings of his heart. The Kriah is performed by the mourners prior to the burial, either during the funeral service or at the gravesite.

The following family members must tear Kriah: Father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, brother, and sister [including half-brother and half-sister].

On a more comforting note, the Kriah signifies that it is only the outer garment (representing the body) that has been torn. The soul of the deceased, and the love that the deceased and the mourners have for each other, remains, and may even grow stronger over time.

Since the proper performance of the Kriah requires one to tear, and thus quite possibly destroy one's garments, one is permitted to change into less valuable clothing prior to the Kriah.

Important note: The modern "innovation" of using a ribbon for the Kriah is insufficient. One should not mistakenly think that he fulfills the Biblical obligation this way. The mourners must still repeat the Kriah again properly.

When mourning a parent, one tears on the left side. For all others, one tears on the right side. If one is wearing an overcoat or raincoat, it is not necessary to tear it, only the jacket and shirt underneath. Women should wear a garment under the blouse, so that upon tearing the blouse or shirt, she is still dressed modestly.

The mourners rise and stand in a row. The officiating rabbi, or representative of the Chevra Kaddisha, makes a small starter-cut on the lapel of both the jacket and shirt with a razor or scissors, and the mourners recite the blessing below (before tearing).

Hebrew and Transliteration:

Translation: Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, the True Judge

After the blessing is recited, tear downward from the initial cut for a length of at least four inches. (Women may use a safety-pin to maintain modesty).

One who has not performed the Kriah (or has not performed it properly), may do it within the first seven days following the burial, but without reciting the blessing. When mourning a parent, there is no time limit. The mourners wear the garments on which the Kriah was made throughout Shiva (except on Shabbat or Jewish holidays).