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The Laws of Shiva

The Laws of Shiva

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Below is a summary of laws concerning the proper observance of the Shiva period. Consult a competent rabbi for complete guidance and for answers to questions.

During Shiva, the mourner is prohibited from:

  • Greeting people in the usual manner (i.e "Hello," "Hi")

  • Wearing fresh clothing

  • Taking a haircut

  • Shaving

  • Playing or listening to music

  • Participating in joyful activities (i.e. reading papers or entertaining books, watching videos or shows, attending social events, concerts, or weddings, etc.)

  • Sitting on regular chairs, stools, recliners, or couches

  • Working

  • Bathing for pleasure

  • Using cosmetics, lotions, oils, and perfumes

  • Wearing leather shoes

  • Engaging in marital relations

  • Studying Torah (except parts dealing with mourning and repentance

All these activities interrupt and negate the intense mourning that should be experienced during this period.

Sitting on Regular Chairs

A mourner should not sit on a regular chair, stool, recliner, or couch during the Shiva. He may, however, sit on a low stool or crate, but it should not be higher than three Tefachim (approximately twelve inches) from the ground.

This restriction does not apply during meals, nor does it apply to a pregnant or nursing mother, or to the very elderly.

Greeting People

A mourner should not greet people with the usual expressions of friendship and recognition (i.e. "Shalom," "Good morning," "How are you?" etc.). Instead, he nods his head in greeting. If a person who is unaware of the passing greets the mourner, during the first three days, he should reply by saying that he is in mourning. After the first three days, he may respond in kind.

A mourner may say "Mazal Tov" or "Congratulations" upon hearing good news, and may also say to guests who leave "Go in peace," and the like. On Shabbat and Jewish holidays, the mourner may wish someone "Good Shabbos,"Shabbat Shalom," and the like. One may greet a mourner with the same expressions.

Working or Conducting Business

A mourner may neither work nor conduct business during the entire seven days of Shiva. This is to prevent him from being distracted from mourning. A store owner must close his store for the entire Shiva, even if he has a partner who is not in mourning.

If the mourner is in extreme financial need, and there is no one else who can do the work for him, and in all other situations (including one who runs a company with many employees), it is advisable to consult a competent rabbi who specializes in this area of Jewish law for guidance.

A doctor may attend a patient during Shiva, even if there are others who may see him as well.

Housework such as cooking, baking, washing dishes, and cleaning the home is permitted throughout the Shiva, although the custom is that it should be done by others (if possible).

Self-Care, Grooming

A mourner may not experience the luxury of a hot bath or shower during Shiva. However, he may wash his face, hands and feet in cool water, and rinse his mouth and brush his teeth. This prohibition against bathing does not include a person who is ill, one whose doctor advised him to bathe, or a woman who gave birth in the past thirty days. However, even in those cases one should be strict on the first day of Shiva.

The prohibition against bathing and showering is very strict during the Shiva. However, if one became dirty or overly sweaty, he may wash those areas alone, but he may not shower.

A woman may not go to the Mikvah during the Shiva. Consult a competent rabbi for guidance in this case.

Anointing with Oils

A mourner may not use cosmetics, lotions, oils, perfumes, makeup and the like during Shiva, unless it is for medical purposes. He or she may, however, use deodorants. A bride in the first thirty days of marriage is permitted to wear makeup.

Haircutting and Shaving

A mourner may not take a haircut or shave for thirty days after the burial; nor may he cut his nails with an instrument. If one is mourning a parent, he is forbidden from cutting his hair even after thirty days. It must grow until his friends reprimand him and tell him to cut his hair (approximately three months from his last haircut).

Clothing and Dress

Mourners cannot change their outer clothing and must wear the shirt and jacket on which the Kriah (rending of the garments) was made for the entire Shiva period. However, at night one may change into sleeping attire, and one does not have to perform Kriah on them. One may change underwear and socks or stockings as needed.

Wearing leather shoes is forbidden, except in the case of a person who is ill or a woman who gave birth in the past thirty days. It is customary for the mourner to wear just socks or non-leather footwear (i.e. slippers or sneakers).

During Shiva, one may not wear new clothing or clothing that has been freshly laundered. One may not wash or iron his clothing, linen, sheets, and towels. This prohibition does not apply to household members who are not mourning.

If one's clothing becomes dirty with sweat or other dirt, he or she may change his clothes. If a fresh shirt/blouse or jacket is worn, it requires Kriah (without the blessing).

Women may not adorn themselves with jewelry (except a wedding ring) during Shiva. A bride in the first thirty days of marriage is permitted to wear her jewelry.

Intimate Relations

During Shiva it is forbidden to have marital relations or other intimate demonstrations of affection. One need not follow all the Harchokot (customary refraining measures) during Shiva, if one's wife is not in the state of Nidda.

Torah Study

In general, a mourner is forbidden to study Torah, Mishna, Talmud, and Jewish Law, unless they pertain to mourning. One may also study texts that will inspire and awaken the heart to the service of God, including the esoteric parts of Torah, and/or those that arouse the person to repentance. For example, a mourner may recite Psalms if it will arouse feelings of repentance.

Reading and Entertainment

It is forbidden to read newspapers, magazines, novels, and the like if it is done simply for pleasure. The same applies to playing board games, watching videos, television, or movies. One must maximize the time of Shiva to mourn the deceased and to honor the memory through holy thoughts and matters.

Leaving the Shiva Home

Mourners may not leave the Shiva home during the entire seven days of Shiva, except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. If one must go out, one may only do so at night, when the streets have emptied. In a case of dire need, or great financial loss, one may go out during the day, but preferably not during the first three days.

If for any reason it is difficult to have the daily prayer services in the Shiva home, he may leave to bring people to pray or to go to the synagogue to pray with a Minyan and recite the Mourner's Kaddish.

A nursing mother who has joined the mourners in the Shiva home for the week of Shiva, may leave to go to her home to feed her baby, if she cannot arrange to have the baby with her at the Shiva home. The same applies t others for sleeping (see below).

If one has to leave the city during Shiva (i.e. to sit Shiva elsewhere), he should consult a competent rabbi for guidance.

Sleeping

A mourner may sleep in his bed as usual. Some have the custom to remove a pillow (if he sleeps with two), or in some other way reduce one's accustomed comfort as a reminder that he is in mourning. If one cannot sleep in the Shiva home (i.e. there are not enough beds), he may go to another place to sleep, but only late at night.

Joyous Celebrations

A mourner is forbidden from engaging in any activity that brings joy. Thus, he may not attend a wedding, Bar Mitzva, Brit Milah (circumcision of a child), or other happy religious events during Shiva. va.

Needless to say, he also must avoid live music performances, recitals, shows, and all similar events. If one is mourning a parent, this prohibition lasts for twelve months; for all other relatives, the prohibition lasts for thirty days. In general, there are few exceptions to this prohibition, and in all circumstances, it is best to consult a competent rabbi.

If one's child is getting married during Shiva, consult a competent rabbi for guidance.

If a relative or close friend is getting married, one may not attend the wedding during Shiva, but only after the first thirty days. At the wedding, he should help serve food so that his personal honor and feeling of festivity is somewhat reduced. Also, he should not remain in the room when music is playing and/or people are dancing.

Parents may attend the Brit Milah (circumcision of a child), and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the firstborn son) of their son, after the first three days of mourning, but they may not remain for the reception meal (unless it is held in their own home).

In all of the above cases, one may wear fine clothing, including leather shoes, for the occasion. At the conclusion of the event, regular mourning observances resume.

Shabbat and Jewish Holidays

Overt mourning on Shabbat and Jewish holidays is forbidden. Thus the mourners should wear regular shoes, sit on regular chairs, and change into clothing that bears no sign of mourning.

When the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, occur in the middle of Shiva, the remaining days of Shiva mourning are annulled. (This applies as long as at least a few moments of Shiva were observed before the holiday began, i.e. one took off his leather shoes, sat on a low stool, or did any other activity related to mourning.) However, a candle should remain lit for all seven days, but should not be in the same room as the holiday meals.

If the burial took place on the morning leading into the holiday (Erev Yom Tov), the mourners may prepare for the holiday after midday.

Preparing for Shabbat and Holidays

  • On Friday afternoon, and on the day leading into a Jewish holiday, one may bathe and change into Shabbat or holiday clothing as usual, starting two and a half hours before sunset.

  • A mourner is permitted to review the Torah portion ( Maaver Sedra) before Shabbat.

  • One may spread a clean tablecloth on the table in honor of Shabbat or the holiday.

  • The candle that was kindled for the Shiva should remain lit during Shabbat and Jewish holidays, but shouldn't be rekindled if it goes out on the Shabbat. Some remove the candle to another room (before Shabbat) if it was in the dining room, to avoid dampening the Shabbat atmosphere.

  • Those who have the custom to bless their children on the eve of Shabbat should not do so during the mourning period.

  • A mourner may go to the synagogue for services, but he may not lead the prayer services. He recites the Mourner's Kaddish at all the appropriate places throughout the service.

  • The mourner does not recite the hymn "Sholom Aleichem" before making Kiddush Friday night, but he may sing the regular Shabbat and holiday songs during the meal.

  • He may not engage in marital relations, study Torah, nor be called to recite the blessing over the Torah reading (Aliyah). If he is called to the Torah by mistake, he may accept.

  • At the conclusion of Shabbat or holidays, the mourner says "Böruch hamavdil bayn kodesh l'chol" (short Havdallah ), and removes his shoes before praying the Maariv (evening) service. Once he is back home, he should immediately change into the clothing on which the Kriah was done.

  • The mourner should hear Havdallah from another person. If this is not possible, he may recite it himself, omitting the opening verses and beginning with the blessing over wine.

Rosh Hashana, Erev Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanuka, Purim, Passover, Fast Days

On Rosh Hashana, Shiva is annulled. The mourner goes to the synagogue and hears the blowing of the Shofar.

On Erev Yom Kippur, the mourner should do Kaparot in the Shiva home. If this is not possible, Kaparot is done with money.

On Sukkot, Shiva is annulled. The mourner eats in the Sukkah, and performs the mitzva of Lulav and Etrog (the four-kinds).

On Chanukah, the mourner should kindle the Chanuka Menora with a blessing.

On Purim, the Megilla is read in the Shiva home. Mourners send only the two minimum Mishloach Manot (food gifts) as is customary on Purim; however, one should not send items associated with joy (i.e. wine, fancy foods, etc.). One does not send the customary Mishloach Manot to a mourner.

On Passover, Shiva is annulled. The mourner is obligated to search for Chametz (leavened bread), perform all the requirements of the Seder, and observe all the laws of Passover.

On all public fast days, the mourner is obligated to fast. On the fast of the Ninth of Av, one may go to the synagogue.

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Discussion (15)
June 8, 2014
To Hellen
If the person was buried and shiva was observed before the onset of the holiday, there would be no more shiva, and sheloshim would be truncated. Was this the case?
Menachem Posner
Montreal
June 6, 2014
if a person dies erev shavuot does one sit shivah for the remaining days
hellen
israel
April 9, 2014
Is it permissable to sing tal as a duet on the bimah with the Chazan during the year of mourning
Anonymous
London
February 19, 2014
Re:
Sitting Shiva for a parent is an actual Halachic obligation, not only a means for others to come and visit. So while you can create opportunities for people in your own community to visit, comfort, and talk about your mother, this is not "Shivah" and its various laws which apply only for a set time.

Another idea would be to create a "Shloshim" event for your community where you come together to discuss the life of your mother together.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
February 18, 2014
Sitting shiva twice
Is it okay to sit shiva twice? My mother died in another country and I sat shiva for a week in her home. Now I am back in my home and am thinking of sitting shiva again so that people here can come and comfort.
Anonymous
israel
January 21, 2014
Disillusioned with my shul
My family is Shomer Shabbat, but more "traditional" than Orthodox. My shul is Modern Orthodox, but the shul leadership is dismissive of anyone they think of as not religious (or wealthy) enough. This has resulted in my feeling alienated and unmotivated to attend services. Try as I might ( and I have) to focus on the beauty of the sanctuary or the words of prayer, it has affected my ability to feel more spiritually connected. I live in an area where I don't have many other choices : only a Conservative synagogue or Shteibl--neither of which would be a good fit. Compounding this, my beloved Dad passed away in October and I wish I could cope with the loss with more of a spiritual/communal anchor. Any advice or suggestions?
Anonymous
January 20, 2014
Re: Get-togethers
During the 12 months, having over a few guests for refreshments should be fine.

From Rabbi Lamm's book of mourning:

Large house parties also are to be discouraged the mourner for parents for 12 months, and other mourners for 30 days, even though no full meal is served. There is no stricture against get-togethers, inviting a few friends or relatives at a time.

The important consideration to be remembered is that these events must not develop into social "occasions." Fellowship is fine, but festivities are not appropriate.
Yisroel Cotlar
January 15, 2014
Having friends over
Is it permissible during the 12 months (I am mourning a parent), to have people over for coffee/dessert? No music would be played, of course.
Anonymous
NYC
January 8, 2014
Re: Child and School
As stated above, one is to stay home not leaving the Shiva House during the week so yes, an actual mourner (child) would not be at school.

In unique situations, (family thinking it would not healthy for the child to immersed in Shiva House all week) this could be a discussion with one's Rabbi but the general rule is indeed to stay home all week.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
December 16, 2013
Removing food from a shiva house
Is it okay to donate left over food from a shiva house
Francine
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