How is Shiva Observed
When and How Long
Shiva begins immediately following the burial and lasts for seven days, ending after the morning service on the seventh day. Shiva is not observed on the Sabbath (Friday at sundown through Saturday at sundown) or Holidays.
While shiva is the seven day period following burial, it is common to find that some families may only sit shiva for one to three days or the full seven depending on many factors, including level of observance or the deceased’s instructions or wishes.
A shiva is traditionally observed in the home of the deceased, but may also be observed in the residence of an immediate family member. In today’s world, many families are dispersed and live in cities throughout the country. As a result, it is becoming more common for a shiva to take place simultaneously in multiple locations.
Whether you are sitting shiva or visiting a shiva home, you will encounter various types of observances. Some are traditional while others are liberally interpreted. Below you will see the definitions of some of the traditional fulfillments.
Mourners do not work during the shiva period and for the most part stay at home. During the shiva period mourners do not participate in parties, concerts, shows, movies etc.
Mourners are to focus on their loss in order to be able to gradually heal. By leaving the Shiva house, mourners surround themselves with distractions and lose focus.
Sitting on a Low Chair
Mourners may also be sitting on low stools or boxes as a means of expressing grief.
You may also see that mirrors are covered. Although there are many explanations for this practice, the most accepted one is that a mourner should not be concerned with their personal appearance at this time. In addition, while in mourning, some people will not wear make-up, men won’t shave, wear new clothes and some will not wear shoes for the same reason.
Burning a Candle
A tall candle burns in the shiva home for seven days as a sign of memorial.
A mourner will usually be wearing a torn black ribbon on their clothing. This ribbon known as a keriah (kriah) ribbon, keriah meaning torn, symbolizes the tear in the mourner’s heart for his or her loss. In traditional communities a person’s actual clothing may be torn near their hearts.
The tradition calls for the mourner to wear a torn garment during the shiva [first seven days of intensive mourning]. On Shabbat, Holy Days, and festivals, no public signs of mourning are worn.
In the Jewish religion there are certain prayers recited to honor of the passing of loved ones, celebrate their life, and help with coping during the mourning process.
Upon returning to the cemetery there may be a pitcher of water outside the front door to wash one’s hands. This custom has many sources but the most common reason is to symbolically wash off any impurities associated with the cemetery and death.
A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort by Ron Wolfson
Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning Edited by Jack Riemer & Sherwin B. Nuland
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
Why Me? Why Anyone? by Jaffe, Hirshel, Rudin, James, Rudin, Marcia
Why Me? Coping with Grief, Loss, and Change by Kraus, Pesach and Goldfischer, Morrie
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner
To Begin Again: The Journey Towards Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times by Naomi Levy