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Computing the Shiva and Sheloshim Mourning Periods

Computing the Shiva and Sheloshim Mourning Periods

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When Does Shiva Begin?

Avelut, the process of mourning, begins immediately after the deceased is interred and the casket is completely covered with earth. The mourners walk between the parallel lines of friends and relatives and are formally comforted by them. They then proceed directly to the home where shiva is to be observed. There, the observances commence as soon as the mourners demonstrate formal acceptance of mourning by removing their shoes and sitting on a low bench or stool.

Mourners who do not accompany the deceased to the cemetery begin their avelut at the approximate time of burial or, at the very latest, when the other mourners have returned from the cemetery. There are exceptional circumstances in regard to the beginning of shiva.

Burial at Twilight

When burial occurs late in the day, provided it takes place before nightfall (i.e., even during the approximately eighteen minutes between sunset and dark: the legal duration of bein hashemashot, or twilight), mourning should begin at the cemetery, a short distance from the grave itself. The mourners remove their shoes and then seat themselves on a stone or railing. Thus, while it may already be nighttime when they arrive at the home where shiva will be observed, the law considers that mourning was formally begun during daylight at the cemetery. That day is, therefore, counted as the first of the seven days of shiva. The mourners, however, should be informed that mourning technically began at the cemetery. (This is possible only if the mourner has not yet prayed the evening maariv service. If he has already prayed the service, shiva begins the next day.)

Thus, too, if one is notified of the burial of a relative at twilight, and he finds himself on the road, or in another public place, he should make formal mental note of the fact that his mourning has begun, and he is then permitted to count that day as the first of shiva, even though he was not able to remove his shoes and sit on the low bench-the formal recognition of shiva.

Burial Close to Sabbath or Holidays

  1. If the mourners have made mental acknowledgement of avelut before the beginning of Sabbath services, or in the case of a woman before the kindling of Sabbath candles, even though they have observed the mourning for only a brief time, mourning is considered technically to have commenced on the day before the Sabbath or holiday. The Sabbath would, thus, be considered the second day. If the second day falls on a major holiday, which cancels the shiva altogether, there are to be no further observances of mourning as customarily practiced on the first seven days.

  2. If notification of the burial came after the Sabbath had begun (after kabbalat Shabbat), but before the evening service (maariv) (and for a woman mourner after candle-lighting, but before nightfall), the day of burial is counted as the first day of mourning. Even if only a gesture of formal observance was performed prior to the nightfall of the Sabbath, we may count Friday as the beginning of mourning. Prior to a major holiday, there also must be some actual observance of mourning, no matter how short its duration, in order for the holiday to cancel the rest of Shiva.

  3. If knowledge of the burial came after maariv, or after dark, even though the burial occurred during daylight, the first day of mourning begins as of that night, and not as of the previous day.

Burial on Sabbaths and Holidays

  1. If burial occurred on the Sabbath (in case of some emergency-the burial being performed by non-Jews, or by Jews by decree of the government), mourning technically begins on the Sabbath, although there are no outward observances.

  2. If burial took place on a holiday, whether on the first or last days, or the intermediate days of chol ha'moed, mourning begins on the night following the holiday.

  3. If the burial took place on the first day of a two-day holiday, such as Shavuot, and the second day falls on the Sabbath, counting of shiva begins on the Sabbath, although the formal practice of mourning is not observed outwardly at that time.

  4. If the first day of Rosh Hashanah was the time of burial, counting begins on the second day of the holiday.

Out-of-Town Burials

Those who accompany the casket to the cemetery begin the avelut immediately after burial, rather than after the extended period of time required to return to one's home. Those who remain at home should begin mourning when the body is removed from their presence.

  1. If the intention is to remove the body to a permanent plot at some time during the first seven days, mourning is delayed until the permanent burial.

  2. If reinterment is not scheduled until after seven days, mourning begins immediately. If circumstances change, and the body is then transferred during the shiva period, the counting of shiva begins anew with the permanent burial.

  3. If there was no intention of removal at all, and unforeseen circumstances compel reinterment during shiva, mourning need not begin anew.

Labor Strike

In the case of a labor strike, or government injunction, or other major obstacles that prevent immediate burial in one's own plot, the following procedure should be observed:

  1. The family should provide its own laborers or family and friends if the union will permit this.

  2. It is preferable, especially if it is expected that settlement will come only after an extended time, to effect immediate, temporary burial in a non-struck cemetery, and later to remove the remains to one's own plot.

  3. If this is not feasible, or if settlement is imminent, the body will be stored by the cemetery and the mourners must proceed with all initial mourning practices. They should rend their clothes and recite the blessing, recite the Kaddish and end the period of aninut, but not observe the shiva and all observances associated with it. They should insist on being called to the interment when it does take place and only then should they begin shiva.

  4. If delaying shiva is impractical, or for some reason cannot be effected, avelut and shiva begin as soon as the casket is received by the cemetery authorities.In all such cases a rabbi should be consulted.

Long Distance Notification

One who learned by telephone or telegram of the death of a relative, but lives too great a distance to attend the funeral, should begin avelut at the approximate time of burial. Delayed news of death and burial is treated in a special chapter below.

Minors Who Come of Age During Shiva

Boys who reach the age of 13 years and one day, and girls of 12 years and one day are obligated to observe all of the laws of the Torah as adults. If minors come of age during the mourning period for parents, they need not start the entire period from the beginning, but are required to observe only the remainder of the mourning period. However, youngsters immediately prior to Bar Mitzvah should be taught to observe the mourning laws, but without the full strictness of the adult observance. If the child attains his majority after the conclusion of the Shiva, he need not observe any of the laws of the seven or the 30 day period.

We fear excessively, in this "Age of the Child," the effects of such experiences upon our youngsters. Psychologists, in counseling normally-behaved children, generally consider it preferable for the child to face the unpleasant fact rather than to have it masked and to repress it.

Those Who Neglected to Mourn

Those who did not observe any of the mourning laws at all, out of forgetfulness, or ignorance, or spite, or for some other reason, must begin the Shiva observance upon the realization of this neglect, so long as it is still within 30 days from the time of burial. If the mourner observes some part of the mourning, even for only a short time, he is considered to have erred in not performing all of the laws, or to have demonstrated a lack of respect in his non-observance. But the shiva is considered fulfilled and he is not required to begin the entire process of mourning anew.

If, because of mental illness, or some physical illness, one was not apprised of the death, he should begin mourning when his doctors consider him capable of doing so, provided the thirtieth day after burial has not passed. If the sick person was aware of the death, and was stable enough, mentally, to accept the fact of mourning, he is considered to have fulfilled the shiva requirement, although he may have been completely unable to perform the actual observances. In such a case he need not begin mourning at a later time.

Missing Persons Assumed Dead

  1. If the remains of the deceased are expected to be found, such as of a person who was drowned in a lake or other land-locked water, or if one was killed by an animal in a known locale, or if he was murdered, and it is anticipated that the body will be found, mourning should begin when the body is discovered, or when, after exhaustive search, all hope of finding the body is abandoned. So long as there is reasonable expectation that the body will be found, mourning need not be observed.

  2. If there is no expectation of finding the body, such as of one who was drowned in an ocean, or judged to have been killed in an unknown location; or if an exhaustive search has yielded no results, and there are no witnesses to the death, then:

    a. If a wife survives, there should be no demonstrative mourning for fear that others may consider her eligible for remarriage, when, in fact, this eligibility is uncertain in the eyes of the law, since there were no witnesses to the death of her husband. If there is one witness, or one who heard of the death from a witness, rabbinic guidance should be sought.

    b. If no wife survives, or the deceased is a bachelor, or divorcee, mourning is begun when the judgment of death is made. However, this is quite an unusual occurrence, and the determination of death is a difficult and complicated rabbinic decision. The reader must appreciate that this is a complex issue for which there is no general rule, and he must, therefore, seek expert advice.

The Duration of Shiva

The seven days of mourning begin immediately after interment. They end on the morning of the seventh day after burial, immediately following the shacharit (morning) service. Those present extend condolences, and the mourner rises from his week of mourning. If no public shacharit service is held in the mourner's home shiva ends after the mourner has recited his private prayers, provided that it is after sunrise.

In computing the seven days, Jewish tradition follows the principle of considering a fraction of a day as a complete day. Thus, the day of burial is considered as the first day, even though interment may have been concluded only a few moments before nightfall. Thus, too, the seventh day is considered a full day even though mourning was observed for only a short time after sunrise. Two fractional days of mourning are counted as two whole days of Shiva.

To illustrate, if interment occurred on Wednesday, afternoon, Wednesday is the first day, Thursday the second, Friday the third, Saturday the fourth, Sunday the fifth, Monday the sixth, and Tuesday morning is the seventh and final day. A simplified method is to consider the shiva as concluding one week from the morning before the day of burial.

Computing the 30-Day Sheloshim Period

The following principles are used in computing the thirty-day period:

  1. Counting starts from date of burial, not the date of death.

  2. Partial days are to be considered full days (the same as with shiva).

  3. Sheloshim ends after morning services on the thirtieth day after burial.


The Sabbath During Shiva and Sheloshim

The Sabbath day does not terminate shiva as does a major holiday, for while public mourning observances are suspended, private mourning practices are observed. It is, therefore, counted as part of the seven days. Because public mourning observances are suspended and the bereaved are permitted to put on shoes and leave the house for services, it is necessary to establish the exact duration of the Sabbath respite. Also, the torn garments are not worn on the Sabbath during shiva.

The bereaved should not arise from shiva (on Friday) until as close to the Sabbath as possible, allowing themselves the time necessary for Sabbath preparations, such as cooking or dressing. This should not take more than approximately one hour and a quarter. In an emergency, approximately two and one half hours is allowed for such preparations. Contrary to popular opinion, avelut does not cease at noon on Friday.

The bereaved should return to their mourning on Saturday night, immediately after the evening services.

Holidays During the Shiva and Sheloshim

  1. The spirit of joy that is mandatory on major holidays is not consistent with the sorrow of bereavement. In Jewish law, therefore, the holiday completely cancels the shiva. Thus, if mourning was begun even one hour before dark, the onset of the festival nullifies the remainder of the shiva, and we consider one hour of shiva observance as the equivalent of seven full days.

  2. If, however, death occurred during the holiday, or even before the holiday, but without the knowledge of the mourner, shiva and sheloshim begin after the holiday is concluded.

  3. Also, if shiva had been completed even as late as on the morning before the holiday, the remainder of the sheloshim is cancelled, and all its observances suspended. Thus, a man may shave and take a haircut immediately prior to the holiday, in honor of the festival, the sheloshim having been fulfilled.

  4. If the holiday occurred in the midst of shiva, not only is Shiva considered completed, but the days of the holiday are counted toward the sheloshim, and the counting of 30 days need not be delayed until after the holiday.

Summary of Holiday Regulations

The following is a summary of the somewhat complicated holiday regulations:

If mourning began before Passover

  1. The partial mourning before the holiday equals seven days.
  2. Eight days of holiday, added to the seven, make a sum of 15 days.
  3. Required for the sheloshim: 15 additional days.

Shavuot

  1. Mourning period prior to holiday equals seven days.
  2. The first day of Shavuot is considered the equivalentof another seven days, giving the sum of 14 days.
  3. The second day of the holiday marks the 15th day.
  4. Required for sheloshim: 15 additional days.

Succot

  1. Mourning period prior to holiday equals seven days.
  2. Seven days of holiday, added to the seven, makes a sum of 14 days.
  3. The holiday of Shemini Atzeret, which falls on the eighth day of Succot, acts as Shavuot in regard to sheloshim, and is regarded as another seven-day period. This makes 21 days.
  4. The day of Simchat Torah marks the 22nd day.
  5. Required for sheloshim: eight additional days.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Although there is no commandment to "rejoice" (technically) on these holidays, they are considered the same as the other festivals in all three respects, namely, a) They cancel the remainder of the shiva, if mourning was accepted prior to the holiday; b) They delay the beginning of mourning if interment for some reason occurred during them; c) They cancel the remainder of the sheloshim if the shiva was completed before the onset of the holiday. Thus,

Rosh Hashanah:

  1. Mourning prior to Rosh Hashanah equals seven days.
  2. Yom Kippur completes the sheloshim.

Yom Kippur:

  1. Mourning before the holy day equals seven days.
  2. Succot completes the sheloshim.

If burial took place, for any reason, during the festival itself, or on chol ha'moed of Succot or Passover, then:

  1. Shiva observance begins at the completion of the holiday (in the case of Succot-after Simchat Torah).

  2. The last day of the festival (Passover, Shavuot, Succot, and Rosh Hashanah) is counted as the first day of shiva.

  3. The days of the holidays are, nevertheless, counted as part of the sheloshim. (Hence the unusual circumstance of having the sheloshim begin before the shiva.)

  4. The day of Shemini Atzeret is counted as only a single day.

The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. To purchase the book click here.
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