Yes and no. At one point in Jewish history, some had the custom to wear black as a sign of mourning. However, in the words of Gesher Hachaim, the classic work on the laws of mourning, “Nowadays, scrupulous people don’t have the custom to wear black during mourning.”1

But let’s back up a bit.

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides), quoting Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yehuda ibn Ghiyyat (1038–1089), cites a number of examples of mourners specifically wearing black. Here are some of them:

The “Old Man” in Black

The year in which [the high priest] Shimon HaTzaddik died, he said to them: “In this year, I will die.” They said to him: “How do you know?” He said to them: “On every Yom Kippur, upon entering the Holy of Holies, I was met by an old man who was dressed in white, and his head was wrapped up in white, and he would enter the Holy of Holies with me, and he would leave with me. But today, I was met by an old man who was dressed in black, and his head was wrapped up in black, and he entered the Holy of Holies with me, but he did not leave with me.” Indeed, after the festival of Sukkot, he was ill for seven days and died.2

Fitting Into the Crowd

Rabbi Yannai said to his sons: “My sons, do not bury me in black cloths nor in white cloths. Not in black, lest I be acquitted in judgment and I will be among the righteous [in the World to Come] like a mourner among the grooms. And not in white, lest I not be acquitted in judgment and I will be among the wicked like a groom among the mourners. Rather, bury me in the cloths of the bath attendants who come from overseas, which are neither black nor white [but rather grayish in color].”3

(The Code of Jewish Law notes that the actual custom follows the Jerusalem Talmud4 that all are buried in white.5)

Additionally, Nachmanides quotes an unknown Midrash that says Moses told his successor before his passing that he should wear black as a sign of mourning for him.6

This custom to wear black is mentioned in various later sources as well;7 however, as noted, it is no longer the custom to do so.

So what happened?

The Customs of the Nations

The Torah in a number of places warns against “following the customs of the nations.”8 Although there is much discussion regarding the meaning and parameters of this prohibition, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky (1871–1955) explains that once non-Jews adopted the custom of wearing black as a sign of mourning, for one to specifically wear black nowadays can be an issue of following the custom of the nations.9 He adds that this is despite the fact that wearing black as a sign of mourning used to be a Jewish custom, for the Talmud tells us that the prohibition of not following the customs of the nations applies even to old Jewish customs and rabbinic enactments that were later adopted by other nations (as long as they aren’t explicit commandments, in which case we would continue to do them even if they had become common).10

On the other hand, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef writes that, in his opinion, wearing black would not fall under the category of prohibited “customs of the nations of the world,” for it was originally a Jewish custom that was only adopted by non-Jews. However, he adds that, in practice, the custom is not to specifically wear black as a sign of mourning.11

It should be noted that the above discussion is about one who wants to specifically wear black as a sign of mourning, as is the social norm. If one ordinarily wears black, or wants to wear conservative-colored clothing—which just happen to be black—to attend a funeral, it would not be an issue.

May we merit the day when death and mourning are no longer a part of our reality, when G‑d “will destroy death forever. My L‑rd G‑d will wipe the tears away from all faces and will put an end to the reproach of His people over all the earth.”12