Upon the passing of a loved one or individual of the Jewish faith a mourning family will generally observe shiva, the first structured period of mourning. During the duration of the shiva it is common and appropriate for individuals to show respect and support to the mourning family by making what is referred to as a "shiva call." Making a shiva call, is also referred to as paying a condolence call. This act of support entails visiting the shiva home during hours that are generally announced by the family during the funeral service and/or through an obituary. The act of visiting a shiva home is unique and unknown to many outside of the Jewish faith. Therefore, knowing how to act, what to say, what to expect, along with what to bring or send are common questions. When seeking to provide support and show respect to family, friends, and colleagues that are observing shiva, it is considered respectful and a meaningful expression of sympathy to attend a shiva, when possible. This is referred to as a Mitzvah, which is a good deed. Below please find guidance when attending a shiva and making a shiva call, including information detailing suggested appropriate behavior.

Each shiva is different, depending on the traditions and beliefs of the mourning family and the nature of the loss. There are general guidelines that one can follow when making a shiva call:

Who Pays a Shiva Call

Mourning in the Jewish faith is a very personal process; each individual mourns and reflects differently. In many instances, extended family, close friends, casual acquaintances, co-workers and general members of the community will pay their condolences and show support to the mourners.

When to Visit a Shiva (Day and Time)

Many individuals are uncertain about when to attend a shiva. The most frequently asked questions include: “when should we visit a shiva to make a condolence call” and “what day or time should one visit a shiva home?” In general the family establishes the days/hours when visitors are invited to the home. Depending on the level of observance and traditions followed the duration of shiva hours may vary. Often the obituary will contain the details about the shiva. In addition, it is common for an announcement to be made before and after the funeral service about when the family will receive visitors. Most often, immediately following the burial/interment, family and friends and the community are invited back to the house. The established shiva hours are often early in the day or in the evening hours corresponding with the minyan services. It is appropriate to visit during the stated hours. If you are unable to attend at the published times it is always recommended to contact the mourning family prior to paying a shiva call.

How to Enter a Shiva Home

Whether an individual has attended a Jewish shiva before or if it is the first time, the act of paying respect through a condolence call can feel awkward. Find information and guidance on what you may encounter when first arriving at the shiva home, along with appropriate ways to enter the apartment or house. The first decision upon arriving at a home when making a shiva call is how to enter the home.

What to Expect at the Shiva Home

Traditionally, a shiva home is a solemn place. Friends and family gather in a central location to comfort mourners throughout the shiva period. It is important to check the local paper or the funeral home to see what time of day the mourners are receiving condolence calls. Making a shiva call helps bring comfort to the mourners and to fulfill their religious obligations during mourning. Therefore, although we see at times a festive atmosphere, a shiva home is often subdued. In nontraditional homes, dress is usually casual, but any attire should be appropriate for attending a religious ritual.

Engaging in Conversation

Contrary to usual interactions, visitors should typically avoid initiating conversations during a shiva call. Visitors should generally listen and offer support only when engaged. It is important to remember that the purpose of the shiva is to comfort mourners and allow the family to grieve. Visitors making a shiva call should be attentive to the needs of the mourners as well as the atmosphere in the shiva house. The fitting topic of conversation for a shiva is the deceased.

Taking Part in the "Minyan" Service

If a prayer service takes place during the shiva call, it is appropriate to participate providing that an invitation to participate has been extended by the mourning family. Individuals not familiar with the prayer or service may find it helpful to observe others who may be better versed in the Jewish mourning traditions. Visitors should always behave courteously and refrain from conversation during the prayer service. If a rabbi is present and inquires about the deceased's life, it may be appropriate to share a brief, heartfelt story that honors his or her memory. A minyan service, or prayer service for mourners, is generally held daily for the duration of the shiva. Dependent on the level of observance the number of minyans held daily may vary. The most observant Jewish families generally hold multiple services each day; in the morning and afternoon/evening. The primary purpose of these prayer services is to comfort the bereaved family and friends. At the conclusion of the service, the Kaddish is recited to honor the memory of the deceased.

Duration of Visit

A shiva call should not last more than an hour. If the visit coincides with a prayer service, it is appropriate to arrive a few minutes before the service and stay a few minutes after. The shiva process is often lengthy and tiring for the mourners; visitors should be mindful not to overstay their welcome.

When Leaving the Shiva

When leaving the shiva home, visitors may recite the following: המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים which translates to "May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."