Making a shiva call by attending a shiva is generally considered one of the highest levels of respect that an individual can pay to a departed Jewish person and his or her family. During a shiva, family members, friends and colleagues gather to offer condolences to the mourning family, along with honoring the departed. Many individuals are unfamiliar with the traditions and customs of shiva and making a shiva call. Often, individuals are unsure when to arrive, how long to stay (i.e., duration of visit), what to say and how to leave the shiva home. The nature of ones relationship to the departed and mourning family may help to influence the decisions that an individual makes when visiting a shiva home. Nonetheless it is always important to take into account and be mindful of mourners requests.

When to Arrive at a Shiva

Many individuals are uncertain when to make a shiva call and visit the mourning family. Similar to many other religions, the information about the funeral, burial and memorial services are circulated by family, friends, religious organizations, obituaries and funeral homes. The information disseminated is established by the mourning family and typically includes the days and times that a family is accepting visitors. It is acceptable to arrive during the stated hours that the family is sitting shiva. When arriving at the location of the shiva, whether it is a house, apartment or other type of venue (e.g., Club House), it is also common to ask How to Enter a Shiva Home. Traditionally doors are left unlocked for visitors to enter, which often remains the case today. However, for safety and security reasons some of these procedures for entering a shiva home have changed over time.

How Long to Stay at a Shiva (Duration of Visit)

A shiva house typically welcomes visitors during a specific period of time. Your relationship with the departed and/or his or her family may be crucial in determining the appropriate length of stay during a shiva call. For example, if you had/have a close relationship with the deceased and/or his or her family then it may be appropriate to stay at the shiva for a longer period of time. However, if you were acquaintances, then a shorter visit may be appropriate and you should not feel an obligation to an extended stay. Lastly, even though a shiva is called for between certain hours, this does not mean that you need to stay for the entire stated time.

Leaving a Shiva Prior to the End

It is not disrespectful to leave a shiva house prior to the end of the shiva. Generally, just the opposite (again based your relationship), for the most part it is suggested that you do not stay the entire time. One should never feel like they are overstaying their visit. Also, always keep in mind the space and occupancy of the shiva house. If the house is feeling crowded that may also be a sign that it is an appropriate time to leave. At what point to leave is a personal decision, but it is suggested that mourners requests be honored.

Staying for a Minyan or Prayer Service

If a minyan or prayer service is taking place or called for during your planned visit to a shiva, then it is recommended to do your best to arrive a few minutes prior to the service and stay for a few minutes after the conclusion.

What to Do or Say to Mourners When Leaving

Depending on your relationship and on the environment at the shiva home, there may be an opportunity to say goodbye to the mourners. If the mourners are receptive to conversation, then you may want to offer them a simple blessing or condolence. A more formal Hebrew blessing that may be offered to the bereaved is: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” Lastly, loss is generally an overwhelming time for those sitting shiva so it is always recommended to sign the guest book upon arrival to leave a short message of condolence for the family.