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Mourning
 
 
Mourning

You’ve recently become a member of a club that no one wants to join: those who have lost a loved one. We’re here to help you remember that you are not alone. In fact, Judaism has a wealth of traditions developed to help people get through this time. 

 

One of those traditions is shiva, the seven-day mourning period after the funeral.

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Six Questions About Shiva

1.
What is shiva?

Shiva is a period of mourning that generally lasts seven days, starting when mourners return home from a funeral. During shiva, a mourner traditionally stays at home or at the home of the deceased, wears torn clothing or a torn black ribbon pinned to one’s clothes and doesn’t go to work or school.

2.
When should I sit shiva and for whom?

Shiva begins immediately after the funeral. Traditionally, a mourner sits shiva for a parent, sibling, child or spouse.

3.
How long does shiva last?

Shiva is the Hebrew word for “seven,” and shiva traditionally lasts seven days. Some families sit shiva for shorter periods of time, however. For certain Jewish holidays or Shabbat, there are restrictions on sitting shiva. 

4.
What should I do during shiva?

If you're a mourner, it's traditional to recite the Mourner's Kaddish at prayer services conducted three times a day during shiva. Mourners sit on low seats and receive guests, talk about their loved ones who have died, keep a yahrtzeit candle burning and refrain from certain activities like wearing leather, shaving or looking in a mirror. If you're a friend or family member, it's helpful to visit mourners during shiva and provide food and comfort.

5.
What do I say to a mourner?

During shiva, the mourner gets to decide whether or not to initiate conversation. As Rabbi Sari Laufer writes, "The rules and traditions of Jewish mourning tell us that we — the comforters — do not get to set the mode and the tone. It is the bereaved who can tell you if and what he needs to share, or when she wants to cry or laugh."

6.
How does shiva end?

The traditional end of shiva occurs on the seventh day of mourning. One common end-of-shiva practice today is for the mourner literally to “get up from shiva.” The mourners rise from the low seats they've been sitting on and go for a walk, or for an easy outing.

At the end of shiva, mourners who have not been wearing leather shoes now put on regular shoes, remove the torn clothing or torn cloth worn during shiva and re-engage with the world outside their home.

7.
What happens after shiva?

The next phase of mourning is called sheloshim (pronounced shlo-SHEEM), Hebrew for thirty, and it ends thirty days after burial. Sheloshim is less restrictive than shiva. Mourners can go out, work and perform other everyday activities. 

Whether you're sitting shiva or doing your best to support a friend in mourning, experiencing shiva traditions can help you feel comforted and part of a community during a difficult time.

 

Look out for our next email, where we’ll explore the Mourner’s Kaddish in greater detail.


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Maimonides Fund


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