Details on Observing Shiva
There are several rituals and traditions associated with shiva:
- Entering the home: Upon returning from the cemetery and entering the home, mourners pour water over their hands, as a sign of going from a place of death to a place of life.
- First meal: The first meal eaten by immediate family members upon returning home is called the “Meal of Consolation.” It is traditionally prepared by relatives or friends and consists of bread (considered the sustenance of life), hard-boiled eggs (which are round, like the cycle of life), and cooked vegetables and/or lentils.
- The covering of mirrors: Mirrors are often covered in the shiva home. Some attribute this custom to the superstition of not wanting to see the reflection of the deceased. Others attribute it to not wanting survivors to think about their appearance during their period of grief and to focus instead on their own grieving.
- Shiva candle: Upon returning from the cemetery, a shiva candle is immediately lit. It will last for the seven days of the shiva period. Sinai Memorial Chapel will provide a shiva candle to the family.
- Refraining from one’s normal life: During shiva, the focus is on mourning your loss. People typically refrain from working, taking part in recreational activities, cooking, and cleaning.
- Attire and grooming: It is traditional not to wear clothing made of leather during the shiva period, for men not to shave, and for men and women not to get their hair cut.
- Timing of shiva visits: Condolence visits by friends and family typically take place in the morning, late afternoon, or evening (you can determine what you want to do, and this information can be announced at the funeral or memorial service, and included in the obituary).
- Special seating: Seating for the mourners may be lower to the floor than normal—on a pillow or stool. This reinforces the mourners’ emotions of feeling “low” and is the source of the expression "sitting Shiva." The mourner typically remains seated even as guests arrive. Sinai can lend shiva chairs to families.
- Readings and prayers: With the presence of a minyan (10 people), a simple service is conducted and the Kaddish is recited. Kaddish can also be recited at your synagogue. Sinai can lend prayer books to families observing shiva.
- What to bring: Guests often bring light food and beverages. It is not expected that the family in mourning will provide refreshments.
- Speaking with the mourners: Tradition counsels us not to initiate conversation with the mourner. However, it's important to let the mourning family know that you are there to support them. A simple word of kindness can go a long way without burdening the mourners with the need to make conversation, which may be difficult.
- The final day of shiva: On the final day of shiva, mourners sit for only a small part of the day followed by a walk around the block, symbolizing the return to the regular world.
Timing Issues: If a major Jewish holiday occurs during the shiva period (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot, or Sukkot) then shiva is considered complete and no other days are observed. If a death occurs on the holiday itself, then the burial and shiva begin after the holiday.