Archive for the ‘mourners’ Tag

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).


Starting to sit shiva

Following the burial the mourners that are sitting shiva return to the “shiva house” and commence the seven day period whose name shiva is taken from the hebrew number seven – sheva. This period is normally refered to as sitting shiva. It is a healing time both emotionally and spiritually where the mourners are comforted by their family and friends.

One only sits shiva for the seven close relatives -mother, father, child, brother, sister, husband or wife. No matter how much the loss of another person might be felt one does not sit shiva for others.

If possible, the mourners should sit shiva in the residence of the deceased. This is not always possible or practical for various reasons.
You are allowed to sit shiva in whichever place you like. Normally all the mourners sit for the week together.

The mourners should move into the shiva house for the week. If this cannot be done then they should leave after dark and return early in the morning.

Mourners should ideally not leave the shiva house for the duration of the shiva. With the exception of Shabbat, Festival and according to some Purim, all prayers services should be held there. If by having prayers at the shiva house it means that there will not be a minyan at the local synagogue because the people from there will come to the shiva, then the prayers should take place in the synagogue and not at the shiva house. If errands need to be run others should do them. If there are questions concerning financial or other loses then the local Rabbi should be consulted.
Once shiva starts the focus turns to the mourners and away from the deceased. The mourners are meant to feel a loss and grief. The task of the visitors is to help them start to in overcoming their loss by comforting them and providing for their needs.
People are sometimes confused as to how to pay a shiva call and this will be discussed in a future posting.