A Jewish individual who is mourning the loss of a loved one typically sits shiva. 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 first-degree relatives, but traditional Jewish law (or “Halakha”) does not require their participation or officially consider them mourners.

During the shiva period, mourners traditionally sit on low stools or boxes while they receive visitors and condolence calls. This is where the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from, and it is just one of many customs associated with the observance of shiva. Other rituals, while not strictly practiced at every shiva or within all sects of Judaism, might include the prohibition of bathing, showering, marital relations, studying the Torah and wearing leather or jewelry. The direct descendants of the deceased are also technically not supposed to leave the home in which they are sitting shiva, except for extreme circumstances, such as when a human life is in danger.

For more information about sitting shiva, please visit the Who Sits Shiva page under Sitting Shiva.