Shiva (Hebrew: שבעה, literally "seven") is the week-long mourning period in Judaism for first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and spouse. The ritual is referred to as "sitting shiva". Immediately after burial, people assume the halakhic status of "avel" (Hebrew: אבל; "mourner"). This state lasts for seven days, during which family members traditionally gather in one home (preferably the home of the deceased) and receive visitors. At the funeral, mourners traditionally wear an outer garment or ribbon that was torn at the funeral in a ritual known as keriah. This garment is worn throughout shiva.
The word "shiva" comes from the Hebrew word shiv'ah, which literally means "seven". The tradition was developed in response to the story in Genesis 50:1-14 in which Joseph mourns the death of his father Jacob (Israel) for seven days.
Length of shiva
The Hebrew word "shiva" means "seven", and the official shiva period is seven days. The day of the funeral is counted as the first day of shiva, even though the practice does not begin until after the mourner(s) arrive at the designated location following the funeral. On day seven, shiva generally ends in the morning, following services. On Shabbat during the week of shiva, no formal mourning takes place, but the day is counted as one of the seven. Sometimes, a minyan with a Torah reading will take place at the mourner's house.
If the first day of a Yom Tov (holy days which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot) occurs during shiva, the shiva ends, regardless of the number of days that have already been observed. Even if a Yom Tov begins at nightfall on the day of the funeral, the remainder of shiva is cancelled.
If the death occurs during Yom Tov, shiva does not begin until the burial is completed. Burial may not take place on Yom Tov, but can on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of Sukkot or Passover). Burial can also take place on the second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora. In addition, it is also permitted to delegate the burial to gentiles even on the first day, though such is not usually done.
If a burial occurs on Chol HaMoed of Passover, shiva does not begin until after the Yom Tov is completed. In the Diaspora, where most Yom Tovim are observed for two days, mourning does not take place on the second day, but the day is still counted as one of the days of shiva.
Traditionally, the first meal after the funeral, the seudat havra'ah (Hebrew: סעודת הבראה; "meal of comforting"), is supplied by neighbors and friends. The mourners do not bathe or shower for pleasure, they do not wear leather shoes or jewelry, men do not shave, and in many communities household mirrors are covered. The prohibition of bathing includes bathing or showering the whole body, or using hot water. It is permitted to wash separately various parts of the body in cool water. Marital relations and Torah study are not permitted. (It is permitted to study the laws of mourning, as well as that material which may be studied on Tisha B'Av, including Job, Lamentations, portions of Jeremiah and the third chapter of Talmud tractate Moed Katan.) No public mourning may occur on Shabbat, nor may the burial take place on Shabbat; "private" mourning restrictions continue during the Shabbat. It is customary for the mourners to sit on low stools, or even the floor, symbolic of the emotional reality of being "brought low" by the grief. Typically, mourners do not return to work until the end of the week of mourning.
Many communities have an arrangement where members of the chevra kadisha (local Jewish burial society) organise the meals for the mourners, and serve refreshments for visitors. If prayer services are organized in the house of mourning, it is customary for an adult mourner to lead the prayers.
Visiting a shiva home
It is considered a great mitzvah (literally "commandment" but usually interpreted as "good deed") of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit (make or pay a shiva call) to the mourners, a practice known as Nichum Aveilim (ניחום אבלים). Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement. Once engaged in conversation by the mourners, it is appropriate for visitors to talk about the deceased, sharing stories of their life. Some mourners use the shiva as a distraction from their loss, other mourners prefer to openly experience their grief together with friends and family.
Upon leaving an Ashkenazic shiva house, visitors recite a traditional blessing: "May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem" (המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים, transliterated HaMakom yenachem etchem betoch sha'ar aveylei Tziyon viYerushalayim). Some Ashkenazic customs add to the blessing the following: "And may you have no more sorrow" ( ולא תוסיפו לדאבה עוד, transliterated Velo tosifu leda'ava od). At a Sephardic shiva house, visitors say, "May Heaven comfort you" (מן השמים תנוחמו – min haShamayim tenuchamu).
It is considered a mitzvah for visitors to bring prepared food for the mourners. The mourner is not allowed to serve food to the visitors and it is family and friends who take care of the guests and everyday issues.
Leaving the shiva house
Leaving the shiva house is permitted when traveling between two locations where shiva is being observed by different members of the family, in cases of pikuach nefesh, e.g., a human life is in danger, whether that of the mourner or someone else; when something must be done to prevent another person from suffering and no one else can do it, such as caring for a child or an elderly or sick person; to feed or care for one's animals if there is no one else to do so; if another relative for whom the mourner is required to sit shiva dies, the mourner may attend the funeral. Leaving the house is also permitted on Shabbat.
Generally, one does not work or conduct business during shiva, although an exception may be made for those whose duties involve pikuach nefesh (doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians). The same is true for mourners who are liable to suffer serious economic loss. A mourner may do the minimal amount of work necessary in order to assure the survival of a business, or if his position is important in meeting the needs of the public and no substitute can be found. This includes elected officials whose work is necessary for the citizens. During the shiva period, the mourner is permitted to give instructions on how to handle business in his absence.
During shiva, a minyan (a quorum of ten or more adult male Jews, or male and female Jews in Conservative and Reform communities) traditionally gather at the shiva home for services. The services held are like those at a synagogue, except that certain prayers or verses are either added or omitted. On days that the Torah is read in a synagogue, it is likewise read at the shiva home. An effort is made by the community to lend a Torah scroll to the mourner for this purpose. Kaddish is recited during the services; the mourner, if eligible, may recite kaddish.
The torn garment, usually a shirt, jacket or vest that "covers the heart," is worn throughout the shiva period (a practice known as "keriah"; alternative spellings "keriyah", "kria"), except on Shabbat. Conservative and Reform Jews will usually wear a torn piece of black ribbon instead of a torn garment. The torn garment symbolizes and expresses the grief of the mourner.