For seven days following the funeral, the mourners gather in the Shiva home. This is the place where prayer services are held, where mourners recite Kaddish, and where family and friends come to offer comfort and solace. Ideally, mourners should not leave the Shiva home for the entire period of Shiva.

It is written in Kabbalah that the soul returns to the home where it lived and mourns there for seven days. Public worship, prayers, and Psalms console the soul and bring her satisfaction.

Location of the Shiva Home

It is a mitzva for the mourners to observe shiva in the place where the soul departed. If this is not possible, another locatio (i.e., the home where he lived) is designated and publicized so that family and friends can come to pray and express their condolences.

Preparing the Shiva Home

  • Cover all mirrors and pictures of people in the home (or just remove them or turn them around). Some permit leaving pictures of great Torah sages and Tzaddikim.

  • A seven-day candle should be lit. Some kindle five candles representing the five mystical levels of the soul. These candles remains lit for the entire Shiva. If one cannot find a seven-day candle, one may use seven regular candles. In either case, a candle should always remain lit in the home. One reason for this custom is that the candle and light represent a metaphor for the body and soul. Another reason is that the candle helps to console the soul, which returns to the home where it lived and mourns there for seven days.

  • Arrange for low stools or crates for the mourners to sit on, and regular chairs for visitors.

  • Prepare Kippot (Yarmulkas), Tallit and Tefillin, prayer books for services, a charity box, and several books of Psalms.

  • One may put out refreshments, but should refrain from putting out elaborate food and drink (including fancy cakes and cookies), as those are associated with festive occasions. Simple kosher cake and juice and/or coffee is enough.

  • If a Torah scroll is to be kept in the Shiva home for prayer services, it should be placed in a respectable location and covered with a Tallit when not being used.

  • Prepare a copy of the traditional "Condolence Declaration" for visitors to recite.

Daily Prayer Services in the Shiva Home

  • We are taught that the soul benefits when Kaddish is said. Therefore, it is a great merit for the departed soul that the three daily prayer services be held in the Shiva home and for the mourners to recite the Kaddish. Members of the community are expected to help complete a Minyan (quorum of ten Jewish males over age thirteen) that is required to hold services.

  • The daily prayer services at the Shiva home should begin after the funeral. If this is not possible, then at least one of the three daily prayer services should be held in the home following the funeral or the next day.

  • It is customary to light candles during the services. The candles are placed in front of, or near, the prayer leader. Many people light five candles representing the five mystical levels of the soul. One may use the candles already lit in the Shiva home.

  • If possible, the mourner should lead all the services throughout the entire Shiva (except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays). If there is more than one male mourner and enough people for another Minyan, the services may be scheduled at different times, or held concurrently in other rooms.

  • If there are no male mourners, the family appoints a prayer leader from those gathered for the Minyan.

  • If the mourner cannot lead the service, another person is designated as the prayer leader, and the mourner should recite the Mourner's Kaddish at the designated points.

  • If it is not possible to gather a Minyan for all three daily services, one should at least arrange one for the evening service, when the attributes of judgment and severity are strongest.

  • On days that it is not possible to gather a Minyan in the Shiva home, the mourner may leave the Shiva home to attend services in the synagogue and to recite the Mourner's Kaddish.

Additional Notes About the Services

  • Tachnun (supplications of forgiveness) is omitted from prayers during all services in the Shiva home.

  • The Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) is omitted in the leader's repetition of the Shacharit (morning service) Amidah .

  • When reciting the Hallel (Verses of Praise) during the morning service on Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month), the mourner must leave the room while it is said, for he is not permitted to recite it. (However, when one cannot hold services at the Shiva home and thus joins a Minyan in the synagogue, he recites it along with the congregation).

  • On days when the Torah is read during the morning service, the mourner is not called upon to bless the Torah. However he may bring the Torah to the reading table and return it to the Ark. He may also raise it after the reading. (If he raises the Torah, he may sit in a regular chair while it is being wrapped and dressed with the mantle).

  • Psalm 49 is recited following Shacharit (morning) and Mincha (afternoon) prayer services, except on days when Tachnun is not recited (Psalm 16 is substituted). Some communities recite Psalm 49 also following the Maariv (evening) service.

  • The mourner may recite Kiddush Levana (blessing recited when a new moon appears) if the opportunity will pass before the conclusion of Shiva. Some say he omits the Sholom Aleichem greeting found in the prayer.

Studying Mishnayot

It is a great honor for the departed soul when others study Torah on its behalf. For this reason, it is customary for volunteers to divide and study all the tractates of the Mishna (codified compilation of Jewish law), completing it by the Shloshim (thirty days from the burial).

The word Mishna (study) has the same letters as the Hebrew word Neshama (soul). Studying Mishna on the soul's behalf can deliver the soul from harsh judgments and elevate it to a higher level in Gan Eden (the Heavenly residence of souls).