Shiva Etiquette

Shiva Etiquette

Shiva Etiquette
A Practical Guide for the Confused When Attending a Shiva
The shiva is the seven-day mourning period after the death of the Jewish person. We derive this mitzvah from the Bible when Joseph mourns his father’s death
“When they came to Goren ha-Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they held there a very great and solemn lamentation; and he observed a mourning period of seven days for his father.”
(Genesis 50.4)
The Rambam expounds from the verse and says while the mitzvah does not come directly from this source, Moshe taught it to the people of Israel.The deceased’s seven closet relatives participate in this mourning ritual, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, and spouse. During these seven days the mourner is forbidden to leave his or her house, conduct business or martial relations, prepare their own food, or do laundry. The mirrors of the house are covered and the mourner sits on a low chair. It is customary for people to visit the mourner, or “pay a shiva call”.
Shiva Etiquette
Attending a shiva can be confusing; especially for those who are not of the Jewish faith as it is an esoteric practice. Additionally, even in the secular world one often struggles for the appropriate words to say to a friend at their time of loss. Here are a few practical guidelines:
1. Enter quietly on your own, mourners are forbidden from greeting visitors and the door will therefore be left open for you to enter
2. Only the mourners are to sit on the low chairs, take a regularly elevated seat near the mourner.
3. It is important to maintain an atmosphere of mourning while in the home of a mourner. One should speak in a softer tone, and attempt to focus only on the loss during ones visit.
4. The best way to know what a mourner wants to talk about is by waiting. It is best to allow them to speak first, if they so chose and lead the conversation. Do not attempt to distract the mourner by speaking of other things; allow the mourner to lead the way.
5. It is appropriate to share memories or stories of the deceased if you have any. If the mourner would like to share something with you, listen attentively.
6. It is customary to give charity at a shiva; there will be boxes around the house.
7. When leaving the home, do not wait for the mourner to walk you out; it is prohibited. Upon departure, it is customary to say :
Ha-Makom y'nachem et'chem b'toch sha'ar aveilei Tzion v'Yerushalayim.
May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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