Who Sits Shiva

A Jewish individual who is mourning the loss of a loved one typically sits shiva. In Judaism, you are considered a mourner when your spouse, mother, father, brother, sister or child passes away. Often, other relatives also “sit shiva” and mourn with you, but traditional Jewish law (or “Halakha”) does not require their participation or officially consider them mourners in the context of a shiva.

During the period of shiva, mourners traditionally sit on low stools or boxes while they receive condolence calls. This is where the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from, and it is a practice that symbolizes the mourner being “brought low” following the loss of a loved one. The rituals of sitting shiva may vary, however, depending on the beliefs of the particular mourners involved as well as their age and/or relationship status.

Suggested Books: 
A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort by Ron Wolfson 
The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm
The Orphaned Adult: Confronting the Death of a Parent by Rabbi Marc Angel
When A Jew Dies: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son by Samuel C Heilman

 

Newlyweds
According to Jewish tradition, the happiness of a newlywed couple is paramount to a successful marriage and the survival of the Jewish people. As such, newlyweds in the first weeks of marriage are often excused from certain mourning rituals. While newlyweds are encouraged to focus on their happiness and new life, they should be mindful of the grieving period and honor the memory of the decedent.

Children
Although children whose ages fall below the bar/bat mitzvah age are not bound by traditional mourning laws, spiritual communities and religious groups often disagree about the type of interactions and involvement children should have during a grieving period. The Jewish canon does not explicitly prohibit or condone the presence of children during shiva; as a result, the decision of whether to include children in the shiva period falls on the mourning family. While contemplating this decision, the family should consider several factors including the relationship of the child to the deceased, the age and maturity of the child in question, and the child's ability to behave properly and respectfully in the grieving environment. Parents who decide to include a young child or children in the traditions of mourning should first explain to the child(ren) in simple and understandable terms what to expect and how to behave properly.

Suggested Books for and/or Regarding Children:
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life For All Ages by Leo Buscaglia 
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Bianco 
Barclay and Eve: Sitting Shiva by Karen Carney 
Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney 
The Saddest Time by Norman Simon
Sad Isn't Bad by Michaelene Mundy