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In Job 2:12, when Job's friends first see Job at a distance, they "did not recognize him, and they raised their voices, and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads."

I know that tearing of one's clothes is a common mourning ritual as portrayed throughout the Bible, but is throwing dusts upon one's head as well?

Where did the mourning ritual of throwing dusts on one's self originate? What is is symbolic of? What other accounts do we have in the Bible for it?

Is this mourning ritual still performed by some sects of Judaism today?

  • Rashi ad loc. says it was over, not on, their heads. – msh210 Jul 24 '16 at 22:05
  • Note that these people were not afaict Jewish. (So your final question may not be well-founded.) Anyway, +1, interesting question. – msh210 Jul 24 '16 at 22:06
  • @msh210 Aside from Sh'mu'el II 13:19 and Esther 4:1,3, most instances like this in Tanach mention the words dust ("עפר") or dirt ("אדמה"), rather than ash ("אפר"). E.g., Y'hoshu'a' 7:6, Sh'mu'el I 4:12, Sh'mu'el II 1:2, Sh'mu'el II 15:32, Y'chezkel 27:30... – Fred Jul 26 '16 at 20:21
  • @msh210 ...Iyov 2:12 as mentioned in the OP, Eicha 2:10, and N'chemya 9:1. However, see Chullin 88b, where Beis Hillel indicates that "עפר" can also refer to ashes ("ובית הלל אומרים מצינו אפר שקרוי עפר שנאמר ולקחו לטמא מעפר שריפת החטאת"). Perhaps the same is true of "אדמה" in those contexts, as well. – Fred Jul 26 '16 at 20:30
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See here for other Biblical examples and possible symbolism.

Short version: Examples of it come up in several places in Neviim and Ketuvim. The dust might have been from graves, or it might represent lowliness, or might be a reference to humans being created from dust.

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