Yechiel Wenger, 1929 – 2012
Jewish tradition has many laws and customs regarding death, including lines to say to people who have just lost a parent, child, sister, brother or spouse.
When you first hear that someone has died, the line to say is (not necessarily to the mourner, just when you hear the news in general):
Baruḥ Dayan HaEmet
Blessed is the True Judge
When someone is sitting shiva, the seven day period after burial, you say:
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
HaMakom Yenaḥem Etḥem BeToḥ Shaar Avlai Zion V’Yerushalayim
May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem
My uncle (who is a very learned rabbi) told us that for the whole first month of mourning one says “etḥem” – the plural of you, and not “ohtaḥ” or “ohtḥa,” the singular for female or male. My cousin (his son, not a rabbi but also quite learned) told me a few days later that he says “ohtaḥ” or “ohtḥa” as if referring to the singular female or male. My aunt (wife of the uncle and mother of the son) says her son is following the German custom, and her husband’s way of reciting the phrase is for everyone else. More on this topic if I figure out more.
If you are Sephardi, instead of the HaMakom line you say to the mourner:
Tenaḥamu Min HaShamayim
May you be comforted from the heavens
If I am talking to someone who is not Jewish who has experienced a loss, I say in short:
May you be comforted.
If you have difficulty with any of these Hebrew phrases, just say them in English. Or say May You be Comforted.
*Note: instead of writing ch, I write h with a dot under it: ḥ
- Chabad has a nice introduction to shiva and the year of mourning for a parent
- How to Pay a Shiva Call: A Guide for non-Jews, non-observant Jews, and anyone else who wants to learn the laws of shiva.