Sitting shiva: A guide for the planner

Grief

Posted on October 15, 2013 by Owen Toy

If you haven't read our artciles blogs about shiva make sure to check them out. Our first blog Shiva 101 talks about what is shiva. The second blog deals with Shiva Etiquette. This blog tells you how to help your Jewish friends mourn.

Shiva is observed by Jewish mourners for seven days after the burial of an immediate family member- a father, mother, brother, sister, spouse or child. Some families decide to "sit shiva" for a shorter period of time. Shiva takes place in the home of the deceased or in the home of a principal mourner. It is appropriate to dress as if you are attending a synagogue service however, more informal attire is just as appropriate. Some items are needed to prepare the shiva house for visitors.  This shiva house checklist can serve as a guide. Jewish families may practice all or some of these ‘sitting shiva’ traditions:

  • Cover all the mirrors in the house while sitting shiva. This discourages vanity and encourages inner reflection.

  • Place a pitcher of water outside your front door so people returning from the cemetery can wash their hands, a gesture that separates the mitzvah (worthy act) of honoring the dead from the mitzvah of comforting the bereaved.

  • Leave doors unlocked so that visitors can enter without knocks or doorbells.

  • Upon returning from the funeral, light a 7 day "shiva memorial candle" as a symbol of the divine spark that inhabits the body.

  • Remove your shoes and refrain from wearing leather shoes in the shiva house. You may wear cloth slippers or socks or go barefoot, which is considered a sign of being humbled by loss.

  • Eat food brought by friends and neighbors for your first meal after returning from the cemetery (called seudat havra'ah, or the meal of consolation). It is traditional to eat round foods such as eggs or lentils, to recall the cyclical nature of life.

  • Announce prayer service (minyan) times and times for family and friends to visit.

  • Announce requested charities for Memorial Donations.

  • Sit low to the ground, on cushions, or very low chairs. This practice symbolizes being struck down by grief. (Visitors to the house sit on normal chairs and couches.)

  • Refrain from virtually all usual activity during shiva. Traditional Jewish law prohibits mourners from cooking, running errands, attending school, shaving, wearing makeup or engaging in pleasures of any kind whether sexual, athletic or intellectual. Family and friends should provide meals for the family and snacks for visitors throughout the shiva period.

  • The last day of shiva is observed for just a few hours in the morning. When shiva is over, mourners may take a short walk around the block, to symbolize their return to society.

Note that even though shiva has ended, a parent is considered a mourner for one year and all other relatives until the thirtieth day from burial, "Shloshim." -


About the Author and ShivaConnect

Shiva Connect LogoSharon Rosen is the founder of ShivaConnect, a free service that helps Jewish mourners and those wishing to express their condolences. More information about sitting shiva can be found at www.ShivaConnect.com. Visitors can also create a “Shiva Registry” to email funeral & shiva details to friends and family, find shiva food nationwide, make memorial donations, find helpful resources and request an emailed Yahrzeit Reminder.