Archive for the ‘shiva’ Tag

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.


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.

Aninut – The start of the process

From the moment that a person dies – one of the seven close family members that one sits shiva for is called an Onen. This applies if one was with the person who died or from the moment that one hears about the death and the burial has not yet taken place. The Onen is free from all mitzvot, as they are assumed to be dealing with the burial details. During this period of time it is not normal to try and comfort the mourner as they are not in a state to receive comfort and consolations.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik states that aninut is the spur of the moment human reaction to death. Doubts and questions appear in the persons mind concerning all sorts of things to do with mankind and his convictions. The mourner may well start to question G-d and his ways,
especially when the person that died is a child, for example.
In this state of mind it is not possible for a mourner to be able to concentrate on any kind of mitzva. The rule of law – the Halacha – says “take a time out”. It displays compassion in this case, it gives the mourner time to start the process of grieving. The whole concept of aninut, shiva, shloshim, the year and then yarzheit is to help the mourner to cope in a manageable way with the task of returning back to their everyday existence.
Unfortunately, in most cases it is only after one has gone through the above process that one can see how consoling and comforting it is to have the various time periods for reflection and let it help the mourner work their way back into their daily workload.