Shivah Customs and Practices

Shivah Customs and Practices

How Shiva is conducted can vary according to religious affiliation and even regional minhag (custom). Below are some of the traditional practices for Shiva observance which can be used as a guide for building and enhancing your own individual practice.

  1. General Guidelines for the Shivah Period
    • Shivah is observed for our 7 closest relatives—father, mother, brother (or half brother), sister (or half sister), son, daughter, and husband or wife.
    • Shivah begins after the funeral and ends after shaachrit (morning service) on the seventh day.
    • If one is ill during the shivah period one is exempt and need not do shivah at a later point.
    • If one missed shivah for reasons other than illness, then one should make up for it during the sheloshim period (even if news was received on the last day of sheloshim).
    • If a mourner is not attending the funeral, then shivah may either begin when learning of the death or after interment.
    • One observes shivah even if news of death is delayed, assuming the news of the death arrived during sheloshim.
    • If news of the death arrived on Shabbat, then that Shabbat is the first day of shivah, but no public acts of mourning take place.
    • If death occurs before a wedding, then wedding is postponed until after shivah, unless a huge financial cost will be incurred.
    • Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Passover, and Shavuot terminate the shivah period and the remainder is not observed. The candle should be left burning for all 7 days.
  2. Meal of Condolence
    • Mourners do not eat or drink between the interment and the meal of condolence.
    • Meal is held on the day of interment.
    • If news of death is delayed, then meal of condolence can be held during the 30 days of mourning.
    • On Fridays and the eve of festivals (i.e. Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Passover) it is not served past three quarters of the daylight period. It does not need to be eaten after the Shabbat or holiday.
    • The meal traditionally consists of bread, peeled hard boiled eggs or lentils, and a drink.
    • Bread for the meal should be acquired by a non-mourner.
  3. Shivah Call Etiquette
    • A visitor should not start a conversation with the mourner. The person in mourning may, however, initiate conversation.
    • Visitors should not engage in idle chatter or jokes.
    • During the first two days of shivah, the mourner may not respond to greetings. Sometime, therefore, visitors make a condolence call after the second day.
    • Traditionally the mourner does not rise for guests.
    • When leaving, except on Shabbat, the visitor addresses the assembled mourners collectively with: “May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

      המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

  4. Customs and Practices for the Mourner
    • Shivah should be observed near where the person passed away, but can be done where most convenient. Shivah should not, however, be broken up in a way in which shivah is observed in the homes of different mourners.
    • A mourner may return to his or her home at night and return to the shivah house in the morning.
    • A mourner does not leave the house, but may go outside (porch, backyard, balcony, etc.) Casual contact is to be avoided.
    • One may go to the hospital if delay would cause the mourner harm.
    • One may celebrate the wedding of one’s son or daughter, but does not say the sheva brachot, but may dance in order to elevate the spirits of the wedding couple.
    • One may attend a funeral of a close relative.
    • One attends Shabbat services.
  5. Personal Pleasure
    • One may bathe for hygienic or medial reasons, but not for personal indulgence.
    • One should not shave, get a haircut, trim nails, or use cosmetics. One may comb his or her hair.
    • No marital relations.
    • Outer clothing is not changed, but socks and undergarments are. Clothes are not washed unless they are soiled. Children’s clothes may be washed.
    • One may not listen to music.
    • One may sit on the floor or low stools (about 1 ft. above the floor).
    • One may sleep in a bed.
    • Mirrors and windows are covered.
    • One should not wear leather shoes.
    • No jewelry except for wedding rings.
    • Torah study is prohibited, but the laws of mourning, Job and Lamentations may be read.