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What is Shivah?

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Sitting Shivah is a Jewish practice in mourning one's death.

Sitting Shivah is a Jewish practice in mourning one’s death.

A family member has just passed away and you and your family have returned home after the funeral. Now is the beginning of a seven-day period of mourning in the Jewish tradition called sitting Shivah. What is Shivah? The custom originates from the verse in Genesis in which Joseph mourns Jacob, his father, for a week.

What is Shivah?

There are several ritual practices that make this period distinctive. The first of course is the seven days of mourning. But it involves mourning for any of the seven principle relatives: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter and spouse. The mourning is done by these seven principle family members. Others are allowed to participate, but they are not mandated by Jewish law.

The mourning is done at the house of the deceased. Shivah is supposed to focus attention on the life of the deceased. Services are held in the home of the deceased so mourners can pray the Mourner’s Kaddish. Otherwise, the prayer service is held at a synagogue.
Practices of Sitting Shivah

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  • All the mirrors in the home are covered to discourage vanity.
  • A large candle also known as the burning light (ner daluk) should be lit and kept burning for seven days and nights.
  • Your attire at home during Shivah is important. Remove your shoes upon return from the funeral and do not wear leather shoes in the Shivah house. It is acceptable to go barefoot or wear cloth slippers. This is a sign of being humbled by the loss.
  • Your diet during Shivah should be around the food brought to you by friends and neighbors. Your food should reflect the cyclical nature of life, so it should be round.
  • You should sit on the ground, or low to the ground or on cushions. This symbolizes the grief that you are experiencing, i.e. being struck down.
  • Callers should follow certain rules themselves. They should not initiate conversation, but only respond if conversation is called upon to speak. Initially one should come in silently and sit close to the family member of the deceased. They should respond to cues from the mourners. If they feel like speaking, let them indicate it to you by speaking first. Conversation should be about the deceased. Stories about the life and deeds should be told.
  • Finally, the Shivah period means that you refrain from all pleasures, sensual, sexual or intellectual. It is a period of reflection about your life and that of the deceased.
When does Shivah Start?

The first day is the day of the funeral, regardless of when the funeral takes place. The morning of the seventh day is the end of Shivah, after the Morning Prayer service called Shacharit.

Sitting Shivah is prohibited by Jewish law on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays.


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