Judaica Guide: A Complete Guide to Essential Judaica & Hebrew

Sitting Shivah

The term "Sitting Shivah" refers to a seven day period of mourning after a close relative of a Jewish person has passed away. A person sits Shivah after the death of one of his parents, brothers/sisters, children, husband or wife. There are many rules concerning the Shivah, which create a great interruption to one's normal routine. However, sitting Shivah has two important purposes: honoring the dead, and helping the mourner deal with his or her loss.

Once they have returned from the funeral, the mourners are considered "Avelim", and are not allowed to do any of the following for seven days:

  • They mustn't do any form of work, apart from cooking and cleaning the house.
  • They mustn't wear leather shoes.
  • They mustn't have intercourse during the Shivah.
  • They are not allowed to learn Torah, apart from learning mourning rules, reciting psalms or reading the books of Job and Lamentations.
  • They mustn't greet anyone "hello" or "goodbye", but after the first three days they may answer if someone else has asked them for their well being.
  • They may not wash their clothes, iron them, or wear clean clothes.
  • They may only sit on cushions and mattresses, or on stools that are less than 30 cm high.
  • They mustn't leave the house, apart from going to the synagogue on Sabbath and going to their homes late at night (if they have trouble sleeping where the Shivah is held).
  • They aren't allowed to shave, have their hair cut, or cut their nails for 30 days (including the 7 days of the Shivah).
  • They are not allowed to attend joyful events for 30 days, and if they are mourning one of their parents, they are not allowed to do so for 12 months. However, they are allowed to attend a wedding or a Brit Milah of their own child even during the Shivah itself.

After the funeral, it is customary for friends or neighbors to arrange a "Seudat Havra'ah" for the Avelim. This is the first meal they eat during the Shivah, usually consisting of bread, hard boiled eggs, etc. In some communities it is customary to cover the mirrors in the house at the time of the Shivah. Throughout the next seven days, it is a Mitzvah to visit the mourners- known as the Shivah Call. On the seventh day of the Shivah, after a short time of mourning someone tells the Avelim "Get up", and that is a sign for them that the Shivah is over. The mourners can now wash, change clothes, etc, and must start returning to their normal life.

It is a tradition to visit the grave on the 7th day of the Shivah, as well as on the 30th day after the death. On the 30th day eulogies are usually said, and a tombstone is positioned on the grave. If the 7th day of the Shivah is Sabbath, it is customary to visit the grave the next day.

Sabbath and holidays

During the Shivah, on Saturday the Shivah still continues, but in a more private manner than on other days. The mourners may wear clean clothes and leather shoes, and they may go to the synagogue. However, they may not shower, read the bible, or have intercourse. In addition, no funerals are held on Saturday, and if someone has died on a Saturday, the mourning only begins on the next day. If someone has passed away and is buried before Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover or Shavuot, the Shivah only continues until the beginning of the holiday.

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