Category: 

What Does Sitting Shiva Mean?

Mourners begin sitting shiva immediately after the burial of a loved one.
Sitting shiva is the Jewish practice of observing the death of a loved one.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
The world’s first dog ate reindeer and horse meat.  more...

October 30 ,  1938 :  Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" was broadcast on radio, causing a panic among some   more...

Sitting shiva or shi’vah (the Hebrew word for seven) is part of the Jewish practice of mourning for a very close relative who has died. Relatives for whom you would sit shiva include parents, children, spouses or siblings. Directly upon burial of the deceased, those who observe this custom begin a seven-day period of sitting shiva to honor the massive loss that has occurred. People usually sit shiva in their homes or those of close family members with all direct family members present when possible.

The practice of sitting shiva provides a time for mourning. To honor this, direct-family mourners do not try to get anything done, instead; they rely on the community to bring them food or do their chores. Traditionally, they do not bathe, work, engage in pleasurable activities, or try to distract themselves with anything. Focus is on feeling the pain and grief of losing someone. When the mourner wants she will also discuss the pain this with people paying shiva visits. The process is meant to properly, fully, and gradually come to grips with the great transition of the soul when the loved one dies.

Ad

A few practices are traditionally observed during the shiva week. These include not wearing leather shoes in the home, not leaving the home, and possibly sitting on low benches or chairs that are close to the ground. Other family members and friends who are not direct relatives bring the first meal that is eaten during shiva. In fact, there is an emphasis on foods that are round or oval in shape because these are representative of the circular nature of life. People who are sitting shiva may also wear clothing or ribbons that are torn to represent the deepest sadness.

Though people sitting shiva do not usually leave their homes, friends and other relatives come to the home to visit and to help grievers. The goal is to give comfort to the bereaved, to listen to those grieving, and to share stories of the deceased if appropriate. Sometimes paying a shiva visit doesn’t mean saying much of anything; one doesn't talk just for the sake of it. Sitting in silence with someone may be more or as comforting as actually saying things that aren’t helpful.

Not all Jews sit shiva, though many sects of Judaism observe and encourage the practice. Some have modified the practice to three instead of seven days of mourning, though this is frowned upon within traditional Judaism. Both within and outside of Judaism, sitting shiva is thought of as a particularly beneficial practice since focus remains on grief. In modern society, people often engage in activities to distract from feeling grief after losing someone close. Observing a seven-day period where most of what you do is focus on your loss and recognize how deeply this loss is felt may be extraordinarily helpful.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

anon177165
Post 6

This is a wonderful custom. I am Catholic, and I wish we did this. I believe it would help those most affected by the loss through the grieving process.

ddljohn
Post 5

I know that many friends of the family and some extended relatives are not familiar with sitting shiva. I actually get asked about it often, about anything they should know before going to shiva.

You can basically wear business clothes, it doesn't have to be black but that's what most people prefer. When you reach their home, you will probably see a container of water. You can pour water over your hands three times before entering the house, as is the custom.

Another thing about shiva calls is that most people bring food (and there is a lot of food!) So I would suggest you bring something as well.

Some people say that it's good to feel lonely during shiva. This is certainly not true. Sitting shiva is meant to be for comfort and support. Your loved ones are there for you, so don't remain immersed in your grief forever. Devout Jews actually continue to mourn for an entire year and might stay away from entertainment and such. Sitting shiva is about bonding, seeing relatives and friends, embracing and discussing the one who has passed away.

burcinc
Post 4

I accompanied my friend to a shiva call one time. One of her uncles had passed away and she was dreading the long drive to go see them. So I thought I would accompany her in the car, meet her family and get to know what shiva sitting is.

The short chairs were definitely interesting. I think they had them made especially with shortened legs. Some family members chose to sit on the ground as well.

The other thing that caught my attention was the mirrors. All of the mirrors in the house were covered with a cloth or fabric. When I asked my friend what that was for, she said that during shiva, they are supposed to concentrate on the loss of a soul and withdraw from society and not care about physical beauty. It's a way to take attention off of themselves and think about their loss and about God instead. Physical relations between husband and wife are also not allowed during shiva.

Overall, it was such a unique experience for me to see them sitting shiva. I think it's such a healthy thing to do psychologically too. There is just no way you can hide from the truth that someone has been lost. Sitting shiva lets people face reality sooner and come to terms with it.

anon133175
Post 3

Jewish mourners would find it helpful to create a "Shiva Registry" to communicate all the details of the funeral/memorial service and sitting shiva.

It can be used to immediately email information to people far and near, avoiding unnecessary phone calls to the bereaved.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email