Thursday, June 4, 2009

What are the do's and don'ts for sitting Shivah?

What are the do's and don'ts for sitting Shivah?

Torah provides comfort and solace during bereavement and acts as a guiding light, particularly when the Torah guidelines for mourning are followed.

Jewish law divides mourning into three distinct periods:

1. Shivah - The first week following bereavement.
2. Shloshim - The first thirty days following bereavement.
3. The first year, ending with the anniversary of death, known as the Yahrtzeit.

Here are some of the laws and customs1 that apply to a mourner during the Shivah period:

* It is customary to pray and recite Kaddish in the house of a mourner. Kaddish may only be recited if ten Jewish men over the age of Bar Mitzvah are present. If a son of the deceased is capable of leading the prayers, he should do so. However, any other relatives should not lead the services unless nobody else present is capable of doing so.
* Mishnayot are studied (by someone other than the mourner) in merit of the loved one's soul, since the word “Mishnah” shares the same Hebrew letters as the word “Neshamah".
* Doing business and going to work is prohibited during these days. This prohibition includes having someone else do work for you. However, if this will cause a great financial loss, a competent Rabbinic authority should be consulted. Necessary household tasks are permitted.
* A mourner may wash his hands, feet and face in cold water; any other bathing is prohibited.
* Although anointing is normally forbidden, if a mourner does this for the sake of hygiene (deodorant etc.) or health it is permitted.
* Leather shoes may not be worn. However, non-leather shoes may be worn.
* During the first three days of mourning, a mourner should not exchange greetings. If a mourner is mistakenly greeted, he should not return the greeting, instead, he should inform the person that he is a mourner and is not permitted to exchange greetings. However, during the remaining four days of mourning, he may return a greeting when mistakenly greeted.
* Marital relations; wearing freshly laundered clothes and participating in celebrations are also prohibited.
* Although Torah study is forbidden (since Torah gladdens the heart), mourning related matters may be studied.
* In order to minimize laughter, a mourner should refrain from holding a child, or conversing with others at length.
* He may not sit on a bench or on pillows and cushions; instead, he should sit on the ground, or on a low stool. There is a Halachic opinion that a mourner should sleep on the ground.
* He may not cut his hair during the entire first month following the bereavement. When mourning a parent, this prohibition is usually extended to three months.

The purpose of these laws is to allow a mourner to pay proper attention to his feelings of grief.

We hope and pray for the coming of Moshiach, when G-d ”will destroy death for ever; and the L-rd G-d will wipe away tears from off all faces”.2

See also "For whom does one sit Shivah?" and "What is forbidden for a mourner during Shloshim?"
shloshim (Hebrew for 30) refers to the first 30 days of mourning an immediate family member. During this time:

1. It is forbidden to attend a wedding.
2. It is forbidden to listen to live music.
3. It is forbidden to take a hair-cut.
4. It is forbidden to cut nails (with a utensil).
5. It is preferable not to take hot showers.
6. It is forbidden to buy or wear new clothing.

When mourning a parent some of the mourning observances continue for 12 months.
Counting the Twelve Months

The 12-month period concludes the full mourning period for those who are bereaved of their parents just as the thirty days concludes the mourning for other relatives. It should be noted that the counting of the 12 months does not follow the rules used in the counting of Shiva and Sheloshim.

Following are the differences:


When counting the 12 months we do not follow the principle that a portion of the day is equal to a full day and that, therefore, a portion of a month is equal to a full month. We must count 12 full months.

The counting of the 12 months begins from the day of death, not as in counting shiva, from the day of interment. Thus, one who died on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tevet is mourned until the' end of the first day of Tevet of the following year. If death occurred on the second day, he is mourned through the second day of the next year, and so on.

The duration of mourning observances is not one year, but 12 months. Thus, on leap year, when the Hebrew calendar adds one full month, called Adar Sheni, only 12 months are observed, but not the thirteenth that is added to make the leap year. This applies to all mourning observances except Kaddish, which is recited only 11 months, as will be described in the next chapter.

Survey of Observances

Following is a brief survey of the observances of the 12-month period:


Haircutting, technically prohibited for 12 months, is permitted upon the occasion of social reproach after the sheloshim, as indicated above.

Similarly, the wearing of new clothes is permitted upon "social reproach" after the sheloshim, and after being worn for a brief period of time by others, although technically it is a twelve-month observance.

The mourner should change his usual seat in the synagogue at prayer. On the Sabbath he may sit in his usual place.

The mourner should, in general, pay closer attention to educational, charitable and religious matters for these, say the sages, are most eloquent tributes to the teachings of the deceased parent. Thus, it is customary for the mourner to study a portion of the Torah before or after daily services. He should also learn to lead all or part of the congregational services.

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