shiva' is a term used to describe the action of Jewish mourners participating
in the traditional rituals of observing a shiva. During the period of shiva, mourners sometimes
sit on low stools or boxes while they receive condolence calls.
is where the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from, and it is a practice that
symbolizes the mourner being “brought low” following the loss of a loved one.
seven days starting at the cemetery, the family members of the deceased gather
in one location – typically their own home or the home of the deceased – and
mourns the loss in a variety of way
Whether sitting shiva or visiting a shiva home, you will observe several observances.
Some are traditional while others are more
liberally interpreted. Below, you will see the definitions of some of the more
Mourners do not work during the shiva period and for the most part stay at
home. During the shiva period, mourners also do not participate in parties,
concerts, shows, movies, or similar events that are celebratory in nature.
Mourners are to
focus on their loss in order to be able to gradually heal, and by leaving the
shiva house, mourners are surrounded by distractions and more likely to lose
Sitting on a
Mourners may also be sitting on low stools or boxes as a means of expressing
grief. Furthermore, this practice symbolizes the humility and pain of the
mourner being “brought low” by the passing of a loved one.
Visitors to a shiva home may also see that mirrors are covered. Although there
are many explanations for this practice, the most widely accepted is that a
mourner should not be concerned with his or her personal appearance at this
time. In addition, while in mourning, some people will not wear makeup, men
won’t shave or wear new clothes, and some will not wear shoes for the same
A tall candle traditionally burns in the shiva home for seven days as a sign of
A mourner will usually be wearing a torn
black ribbon on his or her clothing. This practice, known as a keriah (or “kriah”),
symbolizes the tear in the mourner’s heart for his or her loss. In traditional
communities, a person’s actual clothing may be torn near the heart.
This ritual calls for the mourner to
wear a torn garment during the shiva, while on Shabbat, High Holy Days and
festivals, no public signs of mourning are worn.
In the Jewish religion, there are certain prayers recited
to honor of the passing of loved ones, celebrate their life, and help with
coping during the mourning process. Such prayers include the Mourner’s Kaddish and the Prayer of Mercy (or “Kel Maleh Rachamim”).
Upon returning from the cemetery, there may be a pitcher of water outside the
front door to wash one’s hands. This custom has many sources, but the most
common reason is to symbolically wash off any impurities associated with the
cemetery and death.
Holidays or Sabbath – We have a commandment to be joyous on
Jewish Holidays and on the holy Sabbath. Regarding the Sabbath, the general
rule is that public displays of mourning are forbidden, while private displays
of mourning are observed. Private displays of mourning, which include marital
relations, washing and learning Torah are forbidden (i.e are observed). Public
displays of mourning include wearing ones head garment (e.g., tallit or hat
lower than usual, not wearing leather shoes, wearing a shirt that was ripped in
the front (kriyah,at the time of hearing that the deceased died) are not
observed on the Sabbath i.e one must wear leather shoes etc. Some
miscellaneous laws regarding mourning on the Shabbat are that the mourner does
not say “Shalom Aleichem”, nor are the children blessed before Kiddush. It
should be noted that although only some of the laws of mourning are kept on
Shabbat, Shabbat counts as one of the seven days of Shiva.
Regarding Festivals-If the mourner has
already started shiva (i.e., to mourn for the deceased prior to the beginning
of a festival), then the festival cancels out the seven day shiva period and
therefore after the festival only the laws of Shloshim are observed. If a mourner is in the period of Shloshim i.e he has started the Shloshim
period before the festival, then the festival cancels out the Shloshim.
The Festivals above refer to Passover,
Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.(399:6)
Forget to Set Shiva – Someone who forgot to sit Shiva, or
only recently learned about the halachos (laws) of Shiva, can still sit Shiva
for their deceased, provided it is still within 30 days of the burial.(Although
one does not tear ones garment, unless it is for a parent)
Learning Torah – Learning Torah (including thinking in
Torah) is strictly prohibited during Shiva week. The reason is that learning
Torah brings Simcha (joy) to a person. Learning the relevant laws regarding
mourning (and all melancholy sources, e.g. Iyov, Kinos, Yirmeyahu, except for
verses of consolation) is permitted as well as learning books of
“Mussar — ethical conduct, reproof etc. In the event that
teaching Torah is also one’s livelihood, then if a replacement for him or her
is impossible, then he can teach torah even during Shiva week.
Marital Relations – Marital relations are forbidden during
Shiva.. This applies even to the Sabbath and Holidays that occur during
Grooming – Washing is seen as a pleasurable
activity, thus, it is prohibited during Shiva week. Specifically, washing the
whole body with warm water is seen as a pleasurable activity, but washing parts
of the body with cold water is not. Thus, if one needs to clean himself, they
should apply this method.
Cosmetics – Cosmetics are also prohibited during
Shiva week, as applying and wearing them is seen as a pleasurable activity.
That said, an unmarried woman is prohibited from wearing cosmetics during
Shloshim. A married woman is prohibited from wearing cosmetics during shiva,
while a newly married women within 30 days from her chupah may wear make up
according to her normal usage even during shiva. (YD 381:6) Regarding
deodorants/perfumes – the rule is the same as grooming in that if anointing
oneself is done for pleasure then it is forbidden, while anointing to remove a
foul body odor is permitted.
Haircuts – Haircuts are prohibited during Shiva
week. This applies even to taking a haircut for Shabbos.
Shaving – Shaving follows the same laws as
haircuts. One may however trim his moustache after Shiva if it blocks the entry
of food. Notably, some Halachic authorities permit shaving even
during Shiva, while others forbid even all throughout Shloshim.)
Trimming Nails – The mourner may not trim his or her
nails (toe and finger) during Shiva week and Shloshim with a nail clipper,
however he/she may “cut” there nails with there fingers or teeth. It is also
permitted to start “cutting” them with a knife and to conclude “cutting” them
with ones teeth/fingers.
Laundering – The mourner may not launder or wear
laundered clothes during Shiva. In honor of the Sabbath, however, a laundered
shirt may be worn. Separately, if the mourner soiled his clothes, he can wash
that particular spot. If this is not possible, he can use a different garment.
Wearing Shoes – (The biblical verse, Hashem says to
Yechezkial the prophet who was mourning the destruction of Jerusalem) says “You
must wear your shoes” (24:17) implying that other mourners are forbidden to
wear shoes. Leather shoes may not be worn during Shiva week, as they are a sign
of comfort and physicality. However, shoes made of materials other than leather
are permissible and may be worn. (382:1). In certain circumstances leather
shoes may be worn outside of the house, but upon returning they are removed.
The observance of shiva is prescribed for one’s
parent, sibling, child or spouse