Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Shiva – the first seven days of mourning

As discussed in a previous blog once the mourners return to the shiva house following the burial they partake of the meal of condolence. Shiva is the hebrew word for seven. During the period of the shiva various laws apply to the mourners.

The mourners sit on a low stool or remove the main cushions from the sofa. In Israel there is also a custom to sit on cushions or matresses on the floor. If one has a medical problem that will be made worse by sitting on a low chair one should consult the local Rabbi. A pregnant woman should sit on a normal chair – again confirm this with the local Rabbi.

The idea of sitting on a lower chair is meant to bring home the feeling of “feeling low” as according to the English expression. We carry out this literally.

As the mourners should avoid leaving the house, if possible, during the week of shiva it should be arranged for the three services (Shacharit, Mincha & Aravit) to be carried out at the house, especially if one of the mourners is saying kaddish. If the person saying kaddish is not one of the mourners (only women are sitting shiva) then it is quite common for there only to be services in the evening.

During the services one of the mourners that are saying kaddish lead the services. There are certain parts of our daily prayers that we don’t say in a shiva house and a couple that we add. This will be discussed at a future date.

There are certain “luxuries” that a mourner is to abstain from during the week of shiva. They may not shave, take a bath or shower, wear leather shoes – except for Shabbat or Purim, when no public sign of mourning is allowed, have marital relations and launder their clothes.
One is also not allowed to work during the shiva however if the loss involved is a large amount (each individual case is different) then the person may be allowed to return to his work after three days – again the local Rabbi should be consulted.

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Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron – Rememberance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and for Terror Victims – has no particular halachic laws. It is a day that was decreed in law by the Knesset in 1963. However the practice of commemorating this day started in 1951 to make the connection between Independence Day (which is the day after) and the people who died to achieve and maintain this freedom.

Yom Hazikaron starts at sunset and is marked with a countrywide one minute siren at 8pm. This is followed by memorial ceremonies all over the country with the official ceremony taking place at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) with the President and other national leaders taking part.

By law all places of entertainment are closed and flags are flown at half mast. In the morning at 11am there is a second siren lasting for two minutes. During both sirens, people stop what they are doing, get out of their cars, stand up in the stoped buses etc. and pay their respects to the fallen. One custom that some people have during the sirens is to say a chapter/s of Tehillim (Psalms) quietly to themselves.

From the start of Yom Hazikaron in the evening until the beginning of Independance Day the next evening, both television and radio programmes are dedicated to and tell stories of the fallen. Most people in Israel know of someone that has a family member, friend or acquaintance that have fallen in one of Israel’s wars or in a terror attack, and therefore the day takes on a very significant meaning.

Most Shuls say in the morning prayers special prayers for the fallen.
Most workplaces are open as usual however close slightly early for people to get ready to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence day that follows.

This is written in memory of Alan Sober Z”L who died in the first Lebanon War.

Seudat Havra’ah – Meal of Consolation

When the mourners return to the place that they will be sitting shiva in, one of the first things that they will do is to partake of the seudat havra’ah – meal of consolation. This should only be eaten by the people that are sitting shiva – however there is an opinion that all should/can eat it along with the mourners.

At this meal it is forbidden for a mourner to eat of something that they themselves have prepared and according to Rabbi Joseph Karo the author of the Shulchan Aruch it is a mitzva for another to bring the food. The Jerusalem Talmud actually rebukes neighbours for not bringing to the mourners this meal and causing them to prepare it themselves.

Traditionally the meal consists of two foods. One is bread and the second is a hard boiled egg. One custom is for the bread to be round like a bagel or roll, this is to show that the “circle of life” carries on.
The same reason applies to the egg. I have also heard that for the same reason we have an egg on the Peseach Seder plate. Some also have the custom to place some ashes on the egg to represent the grief and loss. Also the egg is the only food that when cooked hardens, showing the mourners that we sometimes have to harden ourselves to deal with reality. Another custom for the egg is that it should not be served whole but cut in half.

Some people have the custom to serve lentils, this is according to tradition is what Jacob was making for his father Yaakov when he was sitting shiva for Avraham when he sold them for Esau’s birthright (Genesis).