Shiva


'Sitting 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.

This 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.

For 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 traditional fulfillments.


Staying Home

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 focus.


Sitting on a Low Chair

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.


Covered Mirrors

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 reason.


Burning a Candle

A tall candle traditionally burns in the shiva home for seven days as a sign of memorial.


Mourner Attire

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.


Prayer Service

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”).


Cleansing

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 Shiva week. 


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. (382:3,4)


Whom is shiva observed?

The observance of shiva is prescribed for one’s parent, sibling, child or spouse

In this section

Funeral Customs

Shiva

Stages of Mourning

All Wood Caskets

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