Shiva is the second step in the five-step Jewish mourning tradition. This period of up to seven days has been observed in Jewish culture since the days of Noah, and begins immediately after the burial of the deceased.
There are certain rules and traditions associated with Shiva that both mourners and guests need to understand.
Preparing the Home for Shiva
Shiva is usually observed in the house of a close family member of the deceased. Mirrors and other reflective surfaces are covered as a reminder to focus on feeling and processing the emotions of mourning.
How the Mourners Sit Shiva
Jewish mourners who were particularly close to the dead may wear ripped clothing, particularly over their hearts and will make sure not to wear leather shoes. They’ll forgo makeup and beard shaving, as well as most entertainment and work, and sit low to the ground. This is to give them time to sit with their mourning and allow them to feel what they need to in order to properly grieve the dead. Additionally, the phrase “sitting shiva” comes from the custom that the morning sit low to the floor .
At the beginning of Shiva, the family will light a ner daluk, the ceremonial memorial candle which will remain lit throughout the Shiva period. They are encouraged to talk about the deceased and their emotions openly; it’s natural to have a strong reaction to the death of someone you love, and Jewish tradition accepts and embraces that.
Guests During Shiva
The house of a family sitting Shiva is open to guests throughout the Shiva period. This period is announced at the funeral so that guests can plan their visits and coordinate which gifts – such as Shiva gift baskets of traditional Jewish foods and round foods like bagels – they intend to deliver.
Guests are encouraged to call ahead of their visit and let the mourners know they aren’t facing this grief alone. During the visit, which typically lasts no more than an hour for the family’s comfort, mourners and visitors are encouraged to share memories and talk, as well as participate in prayers such as Kaddish to honor the dead.
Planning a Shiva visit? Kosherline has a fantastic line of practical and thoughtful kosher Shiva gift baskets designed to console mourners when they need it most. Choose from offerings of fruits and nuts, pastries, wine, and chocolate for just the right fit.