As personal pleasures are denied the mourner in all his other activities during shiva, so the mourner may not bathe or shower for pleasure. The tradition of the Jew has always emphasized the urgent requirement of washing and it has never compromised its age-old insistence on the need for total cleanliness. But the sages of the Talmud realized that washing was also practiced for comfort, and this was not consistent with the spirit of mourning.

In having to judge where cleanliness ends and comfort begins, the sages maintained that the bathing of the whole body and the use of hot water were criteria of pleasure, and not essential to the basic cleansing process. While they prohibited washing of the whole at one time, as in a pool, or bath, or shower—and in hot water, they did permit the washing of separate parts of the body, or head and face, in cool water.

  1. One who is ill, or a woman before or after giving birth, or anyone who feels his health requires him to bathe in warm water, may do so during shiva on the direct advice of a physician. He should prepare his bath, however, in as inconspicuous a manner as possible.

  2. One who is inordinately delicate and who has accustomed himself to bathe or shower very frequently, may bathe, even during shiva, if he experiences severe discomfort. He should be careful to do so inconspicuously.

  3. If one has become dirty he may remove the dirt with soap and water.

  4. A woman should not perform the ritual of immersion in the mikveh during shiva since, in any case, she will be prohibited from marital relations during Shiva, as will be noted below.

  5. Children under Bar Mitzvah age may be washed, as they are not obligated to observe the laws of mourning.

The Use of Cosmetics

  1. As mourners must refrain from bathing, so must they, male or female, refrain from the use of oils and soaps and perfumes, or colognes and hair cream, even if they be used only for individual parts of the body, or for the hair. Certainly, if soap or oil must be used to remove sweat or dirt, it is permissible. Rouge, powder, lipstick, mascara and nail polish should also be avoided, as these surely are for cosmetic purposes and not for cleanliness.

  2. If the mourner is a bride, or is engaged to be married, or even dating (for marriage), and she feels that cosmetics are necessary for her appearance, she may use them even during this period of mourning, but she should exercise moderation.

  3. If there are medical reasons for anointing oneself with oils or salves, they may of course be used.


The Talmud, in describing the origin of the prohibition of haircutting for the mourner, cites the command of God to the sons of Aaron that they should not prevent their hair from growing. From an analysis of the biblical text, we learn that the duration of the prohibition is 30 days.

Allowing the hair to grow is another indication of the withdrawal of the mourner from society. It is part of the general pattern of forsaking personal appearance and grooming, at a time of great personal loss. Indeed, one of the prime characteristics of the hermit or the ancient Nazirite, who was a spiritually-inspired rebel against the sinfulness of society, was the unrestrained growing of hair. It expressed, evidently, a rejection of civility. Similarly, in our day, many youngsters, not in the least spiritually-inspired, demonstrate their rebellion by wearing their hair excessively long. It is, in a sense, an abandonment of, and withdrawal from, society which impels the mourner not to cut his hair.

While the mourner is never asked to become a recluse— religious or social—he is nevertheless in a state of social withdrawal. He does not go to business or parties; he does not even go out-of-doors. He does not wish to be bothered with the social amenities of "hellos" and "goodbyes." He allows his hair and beard and nails to grow in a spirit of abandonment. He is disheartened by life's tragic twists and turns. Only upon his emergence from deep despair, when relatives or friends begin to comment upon his unkempt appearance, does the mourner begin to groom himself again.

In ancient times, when the normal custom of society was for all men to grow long beards, withdrawal from society was symbolized by shaving, as in Jeremiah 41: "The people came from Shechem ... with shaven cheeks and rent clothing." Today, in the society of the clean-shaven, the mourner withdraws by allowing his hair and beard to grow. As noted in the chapter on personal hygiene, however, the mourner is not expected to look unkempt and disheveled and, may, therefore, comb his hair in accordance with the minimum acceptable standards of social living.

From these principles the following traditions derive:

  1. When mourning for relatives other than parents, haircuts are not permitted until the end of the 30-day period, the Sheloshim.

  2. Optimally, those in mourning for a parent should not cut their hair for 12 months. However, the law provides for the principle of "social reproach." This means that those in mourning for parents may cut their hair after the 30 days at the first instance of even mild reproach or criticism by friends or neighbors. Immediately after this social reproach, the mourner is permitted to take a haircut. He may not do so before the thirtieth day after interment, even if he is reproached.

    This reproach does not have to be articulated. If the length of the hair is so marked that one may be characterized as an eccentric, he is permitted to take a haircut.

  3. A festival occurring after shiva, but during sheloshim, which ordinarily cancels the remainder of sheloshim, allows one mourning for relatives other than parents to take a haircut prior to the onset of the holiday, toward evening. On Passover this should be done before noon.

    For mourners of parents, the festival before the end of sheloshim does not suspend the prohibition of taking a haircut. However, after the sheloshim, the festival takes the place of social reproach and allows the mourner to take the haircut toward evening before the onset of the holiday.

  4. The onset of the Sabbath is not reason for the mourner to take a haircut.

  5. The female mourner may set her hair and, if absolutely necessary, cut it. The coloring and cutting of hair at the beautician's before the thirtieth day does not appear to be sufficiently important to exempt her from the laws of mourning. The washing and setting of hair at the beautician's, however, is permitted after shiva.

  6. If the mourner is a political figure and must make an important appearance during the 30 days, he should consult his rabbi regarding the advisability of cutting his hair. Likewise, one who is compelled to appear in court, or before a distinguished gentile body, or before important business leaders who do not understand Jewish law, and his unkempt appearance would seriously damage his cause or his business, should request rabbinic advice regarding his taking a haircut.

  7. The moustache may be trimmed after shiva if its growth interferes with eating in any way.

  8. Hair combing is entirely permissible during shiva, both for women and men. Neatness, as cleanliness, should not be ignored during shiva. It is entirely in keeping with the dignity of the deceased to honor him through the observance of the law, and also by a display of respectability and neat appearance despite the fact that he is in mourning and is not clean-shaven.


Shaving follows the laws of haircutting: Theoretically, for relatives other than parents, shaving is permissible only after 30 days, and for parents, not until the mourner experiences the social reproach after the sheloshim. However, it should be realized that this law obtained in a predominantly beard-wearing society. In the modern, western world, where the clean-shaven face is standard, the estimated time for social reproach in regard to shaving can hardly be longer than a few weeks. After this time, the excessive growth would surely cause the mourner anguish and shaving would be in order.

There is, however, less permissiveness to shave because of an appearance before a group of knowledgeable and observant Jewish people. So, too, if the mourner attends the circumcision of his son, there is no reason to violate the mourning practice of haircutting or shaving.

  1. The occurrence of a festival after shiva, before the sheloshim, would permit the mourner for relatives, other than parents, to shave before the onset of the festival.

  2. Even a mourner for parents, if he must represent the Jewish community in some endeavor, as was noted in the previous section on haircutting, may shave.

  3. A groom, on the day of his wedding, may shave.

  4. If the hair growth causes or aggravates a skin condition, the mourner may shave.

Nail Trimming

The male mourner may not trim his nails with scissors or nailfile during the sheloshim. However, if nail trimming is performed in a manner not normally used, such as the tearing of nails by hand, they may be torn even during shiva.

The female mourner who requires the trimming of her nails, such as for ritual immersion, or if they have grown to abnormal length, should preferably have her manicurist trim them after shiva. If she prefers to do them herself, she may do so, using file or scissors or other instruments.