Food and Condolence Baskets
When a death occurs, there is a heightened sensitivity and awareness about the ways each religion, faith and culture may observe different traditions, rituals and customs relating to burial, visitations and mourning practices. When considering how to express condolences to family, friends and co-workers of the Jewish faith, one of the most commonly asked questions is: What is appropriate to bring or send to those in mourning during a shiva?
The Basics of a Shiva
Shiva (translated literally to “seven”) is the weeklong mourning period for first-degree relatives of the deceased, and it is the first part of structured mourning in Judaism. The primary purpose of the shiva tradition, or "sitting shiva," is to create an environment of comfort and community for mourners. Throughout the observance of a shiva, mourners come together in one family’s home to offer their condolence and support. Specific observances may vary depending on the Jewish community, but it is a time for first-degree relatives of the deceased to focus on mourning, honoring and remembering.
Why Is Food Customary during a Shiva?
In Judaism, family, friends, and the greater community take on the responsibility of comforting and providing for those that are mourning by tending to their basic needs while a family is sitting shiva. During the shiva, mourners are required to abstain from participating in some of the most basic functions of everyday life, including cooking and preparing meals. Emotional and physical support, most importantly nourishment is provided by the community.
The first meal occurs upon return from the cemetery, and is called the seudat havara'ah. The seudat havara’ah is considered a private meal to be shared among immediate family members, not a public event where condolences are offered.
For the balance of the shiva, it is the community's responsibility to ensure that mourners receive sufficient food and proper nourishment.
What Is a Shiva Basket?
In Judaism, a shiva basket is a customary condolence gift containing a variety of food items that is sent to the home of those sitting shiva following the loss of a loved one. These food items are generally intended to provide nourishment for those in mourning throughout the weeklong duration of the shiva, as mourners traditionally do not leave the shiva house during this time (except for extreme circumstances, such as traveling to a different shiva or when a human life is otherwise at risk).
Shiva Baskets, Trays, Platters and Meals
In Judaism, following a death, it is customary and traditional to express sympathy and offer condolences by bringing or sending food and condolence baskets (referred to as ‘shiva baskets’) to the family members of the deceased who are sitting shiva. There are several different types of food arrangements, baskets and sympathy gifts that may be sent to a shiva following a burial in Judaism. Appropriate food items found within a shiva basket include baked goods and desserts, fruit, dried fruit, & nuts, and assorted chocolates. An alternative term for a 'shiva basket' commonly referred to in connection with sending a food item is a 'shiva tray' or 'platter’. A shiva tray or platter generally contains meats, fish, specialty salads, fruit and sweets that are delivered or shipped to the shiva home as a meal. In addition or as opposed to sending a basket, family, friends and colleagues may elect to send a shiva platter or even consider catering a meal for the family.
When to Send a Shiva Basket
Shiva begins immediately after burial, with the day of the funeral counted as the first day of a shiva. Families are grateful to receive food and condolence items at any point during the seven-day mourning period. Additionally, it is tradition for friends, neighbors and the broader community to supply and prepare the seudat havra’ah – or “first meal” – upon return to the shiva home, which is generally consumed following the funeral.
Where to Send a Shiva Basket
Shiva baskets or other arrangements are generally sent to the home where the family is sitting shiva. The location of a shiva is commonly announced at the funeral and may even be included within the obituary. Family, friends, synagogues, and places of employment may also circulate a bereavement notice containing the address and hours that the family is receiving visitors.
Why Are Food Items Sent to a Shiva Home?
According to Jewish law, during the shiva, first-degree relatives that are observing shiva are not supposed to leave the house. The shiva period is a time to mourn and reflect and family, friends and the community are relied upon heavily to not only tend to the home of those sitting shiva, but also to provide meals to help the family in mourning. The customs of bringing and sending food items to a shiva home have evolved over time into a gesture and appropriate offering of support to a family of the Jewish faith in mourning. Additionally, those who cannot attend the shiva may consider sending a shiva basket or other condolence item to the home.
What Other Condolence Gifts Are Appropriate to Send to a Shiva Home?
In addition to sending food items to a shiva house, there are other appropriate ways to express condolences within the Jewish faith as a sign of respect or to help memorialize the departed. It is also customary and generally acceptable to plant a tree in Israel, send a sympathy card containing a handwritten message, make a shiva call or even provide assistance in everyday errands.
To send an appropriate shiva and sympathy gift according to Jewish customs and traditions click here. You will find the highest-quality products and items carefully selected by the shiva.com team that are appropriate to send family, friends, colleagues and others of the Jewish faith that are sitting shiva.
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Miscellaneous Acts of Kindness
Helping out during a shiva may not exclusively come in the form of tangible gifts; there are several additional ways a friend or family member may support and assist. For example, individuals may help with organizing, coordinating and overseeing the shiva home. The acts of tending to the home, whether cleaning up, serving food or tending to pets, is helpful, as those sitting shiva generally are prohibited from engaging in such activities. This is a time for family and friends to support and assist those observing shiva – just as it is a time for mourners to focus and reflect on the deceased.
Jewish Delicatessens and Shiva
The cuisine at Jewish delicatessens is considered traditional and a very appropriate type of food that may be sent to and consumed at a shiva. In fact, Jewish deli meats, specialty salads and related accouterments are often considered a comfort food within the Jewish faith and therefore well received. Identifying local delis that are familiar with Jewish mourning and accustomed to catering or providing food items for a shiva home can often be difficult. It is important to identify qualified, reputable delis that are capable of delivering or shipping to the shiva home according to Jewish traditions. Shiva.com provides direct access to its Trusted Business Directory, consisting of the top delicatessens in their respective city or community. This list of Approved Providers can be viewed by visiting the Trusted Business Directory.