Shiva

You are sitting Shiva and you need to know exactly when to begin and when to end? Here you will find the answer, and information about the laws and customs of the Shiva mourning period.

The Source

The establishment of the laws of mourning for seven days upon the death of a close relative is attributed to Moshe Rabeynu (Moses, our teacher).

One sits Shiva following the death of one’s closest relatives: a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a spouse.

When does Shiva begin?

Jewish law and tradition dictate burial of the deceased as quickly as possible after death. Regardless of whether or not the burial was carried out in a timely fashion, Shiva is observed for seven days, in fact, the word “shiva” means “seven”. Shiva begins upon internment – the day of the burial counts as day 1 of the Shiva provided that the internment takes place before sunset (the time in Jewish law called “shkiya”.) However, if the burial takes place at night, after sunset, the Shiva begins the following morning. All the laws and prohibitions of mourning begin upon internment.

The Purpose behind Shiva and the Laws of Mourning.

During the period of Shiva for a loved one, it is considered a mitzvah to highlight our feelings of loss by experiencing a degree of personal discomfort. Imagine that following the death of a loved one, we immediately returned to our normal, daily lives. We would be distracted by work and the rest of our routine and would not have the time to direct our thoughts to our loved one. Our holy books say that one who does not mourn as directed by our Sages is “cruel”.

One can look at the Shiva and Laws of Mourning separately:

As to the Shiva, it is believed that it takes time for the neshama (soul) of the departed to go from the world to the higher realms. The Shiva is the period during which we, in a sense, accompany the soul of the departed, and during which his/her neshama will be aware of our prayers and our learning on his/her behalf. Thus, the Shiva benefits the departed. Many mourners feel that the Shiva also helps them because of the embrace of the community and the visits by people who come to offer comfort.

As to the Laws of Mourning, these also benefit both the departed and the mourner. According to the Kabbalah, the discomfort we endure as a result of the shiva laws help ease the soul of the departed loved one. As to the mourner, the period following the death of a loved one is considered a period of divine judgement for the bereaved. Thus, it is incumbent upon the mourners to devote time to inner reflection and to thinking about how to improve themselves, how to strengthen their commitment to Torah, and how to become better people in the future.

Counting the Days of Shiva

Counting the day of burial as day 1, one may get up mid-morning of day Seven, after people who have come to comfort the mourners have left. There is no need to wait until the end of day Seven. Upon getting up from Shiva, the mourners proceed to the cemetery.

Please note that Shabbat is counted as one of the seven days even though mourners do not sit Shiva on Shabbat itself. On Friday, the mourners sit until close to Shabbat. Opinions vary as to the exact time. Some say as early as 1 pm, while others say that mourners should sit until about 75 minutes before Shabbat. The mourners continue the Shiva on Saturday night unless Shabbat was day 7 (i.e. the burial was on Sunday ) – in which case, the Shiva ends on Friday about an hour before Shabbat.

See chart below: Look at first column and find day of burial. The corresponding row shows the 7 days of shiva.

Shiva

Thursday from mid -morning

Note – if burial takes place at night, after sundown, the first day of Shiva is the following day, because in Jewish law, a “day” begins the previous night. So if burial took place on Sunday night, Shiva begins on Monday.

How Holidays affect Shiva

If the internment took place before certain Jewish holidays, so that the Shiva began before one of those holidays, then the Shiva is cut off by the holiday and not renewed. The holidays which cut Shiva short are Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkut, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. However, if the deceased died during one of the days of a holiday, or so close to the holiday that the burial could not take place before the holiday, then the mourners sit the full seven day Shiva after the holiday. The shiva begins after the internment. (If the internment took place before the holiday ended, such as during Chol HaMoed, the Shiva begins as soon as the holiday ends.)

Seudat Havraah – the meal of recuperation

Upon going to the place of Shiva from the cemetery after internment, the mourners do not prepare food for themselves. It is a mitzvah for friends, neighbors, or relatives who are not defined as mourners to prepare a meal for the mourners. This is called “Seudat Havraah”, which can be translated as a special meal of recovery or recuperation. “Round” foods such as hard boiled eggs and/or lentils, are included in this meal.

Remaining at home

It is best to sit Shiva in the home of the deceased whenever possible. When circumstances do not allow, the Shiva can be held at the home of one of the mourners. During the seven days of Shiva, the mourners should not leave the home.

The prohibitions during the week of Shiva.

Mourners do not sit on chairs but rather on the floor or on a low stool. A seven-day memorial candle is lit. In Israel, mirrors are covered.

During the seven days of mourning, mourners do not work. (In Israel, mourners may be eligible for compensation from Bituach Leumi.)

Mourners do not change their clothes during the week of Shiva. They do not wear leather shoes, but rather shoes of rubber or cloth, or slippers.

Mourners do not shower and bathe during the week of Shiva, (though washing as required for personal bathroom hygiene is permitted). Some authorities allow a brief rinsing off in very hot weather if the mourner is greatly distressed by excessive sweating.

Greetings and Comforting

Mourners do not greet people with greetings (such as “Shalom”) or questions about others’ welfare (such as “How are you?”). Neither should people who come to comfort the mourners greet them or ask them how they are. So what should visitors to the house of mourning say?

When coming to comfort a mourner, let the mourner take the lead and begin the conversation. Try to be sensitive to what the mourner would like to talk about. If you have knew the deceased, it is a good time to share your memories of him/her. Before leaving the house of mourning, it is customary to say to the mourners (Ashkenazi custom) “HaMakon yi-na-chem et-chem bi-toch av-ley tzi-yon vi-ye-ru-sha-la-yim”, meaning, “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” (Sefarai custom): “Meen Ha-sha-ma-yim ti-na-cha-mu,” – meaning, “May you be comforted from the Heavens.”

Shabbat

In order to honor the Shabbat, the mourners do not show public displays of mourning. The only laws of mourning that a person continues at home are regarding the prohibition of marital relations, bathing, and learning Torah.

The completion of Shiva

Upon the completion of the shiva, there is a tradition to go to the cemetery with 10 men in order to have a minyan. By the grave, the participants recite various psalms, including the spelling out first the name of the deceased and then the letters nun, shin, mem, hay, according to the psalms by letter in chapter 119 of the book of Psalms. There are booklets which contain the prayers and psalms for cemetery visits.

May HaShem provide comfort to all.

Translated to English by Sharon Tzur in loving memory of her parents, Leonard (Asher Dov) ben Avraham (Madres), and Eleanor (Leah) bat Yaakov (Madres).

שבעה