An Overview of Shiva Traditions
By Frank A. Oteri, Curious Content Team
A Jewish tradition, Shiva is a seven day period of formal mourning for immediate family members of the recently deceased (spouse, mother, father, sibling, or child). The practices within this custom provide a structured setting that ensures mourners will have the space and time to focus on and pay respect to the departed during the grieving process. The following information is intended to provide readers with a basic understanding of what is involved within this religious tradition.
- Shiva is typically observed in the home of the deceased, beginning after the burial and ending on the morning of the seventh day.
- Mourners (immediate family members) generally do not leave the home during this period. They do not go to work, engage in social activities, or undertake the usual daily tasks.
- Mourners are not allowed to bathe, shower, shave, wash clothes, wear makeup, study the Torah, wear leather or jewelry, or participate in sexual relations during the week of Shiva.
- Mirrors inside the house are covered.
- Mourners usually sit on stools, boxes, cushion-less couches or other items that are close to the ground.
- Mourners can wear a black ribbon that symbolizes the tear within their heart from the loss, or they can tear a portion of their clothing near their heart.
- Once inside the home, a member of the family lights a Shiva candle that will remain lit for the week.
- During the week of Shiva, friends, relatives, and other community members can visit the Shiva home to offer their condolences and support.
- A pitcher of water and a basin are placed in front of the entrance to the Shiva home for mourners and visitors to wash their hands prior to entering.
- Mourners do not rise to greet visitors or thank them for their support. Visitors should follow the mourners lead allowing them to dictate whether or not they would like conversation or silence.
- Friends provide mourners with the first meal of condolence after the burial. The foods that are served during this meal are typically representative of life (lentils, eggs, bread).
- Three prayer services are conducted daily at the mourners’ house.
- Public displays of mourning are suspended during Shabbat. Prior to the beginning of the day, mourners are allowed to bathe and wear their typical Shabbat attire, as well as attend service.
- Shiva ends on the morning of the seventh day. At this time, mourners are allowed to resume everyday activities.