Shiva Etiquette: A guide to making a shiva call

Grief

Posted on October 08, 2013 by Owen Toy

What is Shiva?  

Shiva or "sitting shiva" is the act of consoling a Jewish family who has just lost a loved one. You can learn more about shiva here in Shiva 101. We spoke with Sharon Rosen, founder of ShivaConnect to provide us additional insight on the topic on how to make a shiva call:

Making a shiva call is one of the most important acts of condolence. Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the pain of loss, we should be there to comfort and console. If you cannot make a shiva call in person, consider showing your concern and support by sending meals for the family or a memorial donation.

When to visit

Times that the mourners will be receiving guests will be announced at the funeral service or may be found in an online/newspaper announcement or Shiva Registry on ShivaConnect.com. Visitors are usually welcomed immediately after the funeral and it is best to call if you are uncertain about when the mourners are sitting shiva.

What to wear

Dress as if attending a synagogue service, however, in some homes informal dress may appropriate.

Wash your hands

If you are visiting immediately after the funeral, a pitcher of water is traditionally placed at the entrance to the home for the ritual washing of hands when returning from the cemetery.

Walk in without ringing the doorbell

Since all are invited to comfort mourners, the front door of most shiva homes will be left unlocked.

What to bring or send

It is appropriate to bring/send food to a shiva house or make a memorial donation. A list of some local and national charities can be found is provided at ShivaConnect. 

Do not send flowers.

If you are in doubt about the family’s observances, food should be Kosher (please identify it as meat, dairy, or pareve and include your name). Take it to the kitchen immediately when you arrive.

Go to the Mourners

What do you say? The tradition suggests being silent, allowing the mourner to open the conversation. Or, you may simply start with "I'm so sorry" or  "I was so sorry to hear about _______." You may go on to recall a personal memory and remember that crying is a normal part of the grieving process.

Spend 10 minutes or so with the mourners, being aware of others who also want to speak with them. Offer to be helpful with household chores, rooms or rides for out of town relatives and friends, run errands, set up meals, clean up the kitchen, take care of children and/or pets, etc.

Memorial Service

If a prayer service is held while you are visiting, participate to the extent you can or listen respectfully. If the rabbi asks for stories about the deceased, do so, even if it is humorous.

Eat if invited

Do not expect to eat meals with the family during the shiva, but food may be offered. When attending a morning minyan, you will likely be invited to partake of a small breakfast. After evening minyan, coffee and cake may or may not be served.

Conversation

Talk about the deceased. Reminisce about times spent with him or her.

Leaving the shiva house

As you say good bye to the mourners, wish them strength at this difficult time. The formal farewell to a mourner is the phrase recited when leaving the gravesite: “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”


About the Author and ShivaConnect

Sharon 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.