Scheduling the Funeral

The most pressing, initial requirement is to arrange the time of the funeral. This must be done with the Chevrah Kadisha (the Jewish burial society). The funeral director will propose a time, which may need to be confirmed with the officiating rabbi. Once a time is set, the relatives and friends can be notified and notices placed (if applicable).

Read: What to Expect at a Shiva House?

Minimizing Any Delay

It is a very important Mitzvah to bury the deceased as soon as humanly possible, preferably on the very same day. When children live overseas and express their desire to come for the funeral, it must be emphasized to them that it is imperative to arrive at the earliest possible time, even if it takes greater effort and expense. This may entail a less direct routing, etc. In the event of an unavoidable delay, this should never exceed 72 hours. Obviously, the less delay, the better.

Under no circumstances should a funeral be delayed for inconsequential reasons; such as waiting for a Sunday or to accommodate other schedualed events, etc.

Read: Why the Rush for the Jewish Funeral?

Prayers During the Week of Shiva

Ideally, these should take place in the home of the deceased. A person’s spirit is more tangible in the place where he/she has lived their life. If this is not possible, other arrangements may be made. Remember, though, that the principal purpose of prayers is not merely to hold a memorial service, but to obviate the need for the mourner to leave the house of mourning during Shiva. When there are no prayers at home, the mourner is advised to attend synagogue services in order to recite Kaddish.

Many synagogues and communities provide a portable Ark and Torah scroll for morning services.

Read: Prayers in the Shiva House

Memorial Candles

You will need a seven-day supply to last throughout Shiva. No blessing is recited. The first light may be kindled immediately or, alternatively, upon returning from the cemetery.

Arranging the Home for Prayers

We pray facing east (Jerusalem). Separate areas should be designated for men and women. A small table is placed on the north wall with two candles for the service (Shabbat candlesticks are fine) and the Yahrtzeit candle.

Female mourners should be on the women's side of the room but closest to the men so that they can participate meaningfully and hear what is being said. Contrary to popular myth, there is no reason why female mourners should be made to feel awkward and uncomfortable by sitting alone amongst the men. In fact, it is inappropriate.

Mourners' Seating

One should sit on something low, close to the floor, thus showing that we’ve been “grounded” by our loss. Any seat less than 12 inches off the ground is adequate. It may be a soft seat. Jewish law does not expect us to break our backs. If the cushions of one’s couch are removable, this is the simplest option. Many times the synagogue or a local organization has low chairs available.

Read: Why Sit Low During the Seven-Day Mourning Period?

Who Is a Mourner?

Although the entire family is, emotionally, in mourning, halachically, not everyone is considered a mourner. Principal mourners are those who have lost a father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, son or daughter. All other family members are not required to sit Shiva. Obviously, they will grieve with you, but their main obligation is not to do anything which might offend the sensitivities of the principal mourners.


Mirrors and all reflective glass (e.g. T.V.) should be covered. Photographs, portraits and any artwork with faces should be covered, removed or turned inside out. There is no need to place wall-hangings at an angle.

The Funeral

When the deceased is a male, his tallit should be brought along and given to the Chevrah Kadisha representative. You should have the Hebrew (or Yiddish) name and father’s name of the deceased and whether they were Kohen, Levi or Yisrael. (In cases of doubt, older family members, a marriage document or a rabbi should be consulted.)

Read: What to Expect at a Jewish Funeral

Viewing the Body

This is a non-Jewish practice. We Jews do not view the body out of respect to the dignity of the deceased. Psychologically, too, it is far better to remember our loved ones in good times, rather than be haunted by a deathly image. When, for legal reasons, a body must be identified, this should be done by a close friend or relative rather than by an immediate family member.

Read: Why Don't Jews Have Open-Casket Funerals?

Kriyah - Rending the Garments

This is the traditional manner in which we can appropriately give vent to our grief. By tearing the clothing over the heart, we show that our heart is truly torn by this traumatic loss. This Mitzvah, therefore, applies to both men and women equally. It is only that, for women, it is done privately, before the service begins. For this reason, female mourners must dress accordingly. Wear a blouse that you won’t mind tearing and have a shirt underneath to ensure that there is no exposure.


This most sacred prayer, expressing our faith in G‑d even during this time of sorrowful loss, is the obligation of the sons of the deceased. Where there is no son, other principal mourners or next of kin should recite Kaddish. Bear in mind that this Mitzvah applies not only to the funeral and prayers, but also for the duration of the year on a daily basis (actually, 11 months to be exact).

Even if one was not previously a synagogue-goer, this is an excellent and opportune time to become one. Countless Jews have become more knowledgeable, more enriched and more comfortable in synagogue by attending daily services during the year of mourning. It is the finest memorial a son can do for his father or mother.

Read: What Is Kaddish?

The Mourners’ Meal

Upon returning from the cemetery, the first meal the family partakes of is, traditionally, provided by neighbors or friends. Round foods are the custom, usually bagels and hard-boiled eggs. These symbolize the Cycle of Life. At the moment, we are feeling at the very bottom of the wheel of fortune; but, please G‑d, soon, the wheel will turn for the good and we will again be on top of things.

Sitting Shiva

There are three excellent reasons for sitting Shiva.
1) Out of respect for our loved one. By taking the week off, we indicate that it’s not “business as usual.” We’ve lost a near and dear one and so we ‘stop the world’ for a while to mark this most significant event in our lives.
2) The seven-day Shiva period corresponds to the spiritual journey the departed soul is currently experiencing. The transition from this world to the next is neither simple nor instantaneous; it is a process. By the family observing Shiva properly, we assist the neshoma (soul) in this difficult transition.
3) It is psychologically advisable for the bereaved to sit shiva because it helps us work through the grief process. Spending these early days together helps a family cope infinitely better now and in the long term. Sitting together and remembering, shedding a tear, supporting one another is all part of an important rite of passage. From a mental health perspective, sitting Shiva is positively therapeutic.

Family members who live elsewhere, may go home at night but should still spend the day with the family in the House of Mourning.

Shiva is observed for seven days or part thereof. The day of the funeral is counted as the first day and on the seventh day, Shiva ends early, just after the morning service. On the seventh day, people may return to work. Thus, if the funeral was at any time on Wednesday, Shiva would end on Tuesday morning.

Personal Grooming

From after the funeral, until the end of Shiva (with the exception of Shabbat) mourners should not wear leather shoes. Any non-leather footwear of your choice is acceptable.

From the time of death and throughout Shiva, male mourners may not shave and female mourners should not wear make-up.

As for bathing, Jewish law distinguishes between hygiene and pleasure. While we must keep clean, we may not enjoy the luxuriating sensation of sinking into a hot bath. Neither may we stand under a hot shower and wash our whole body simultaneously. A few inches of bath water to allow us to clean ourselves limb by limb is permissible. Remember, we are focusing our attention on the life and death of a loved one. The usual pleasures and vanities of life are, therefore, dispensed with during this concentrated mourning period.

Read: The Rules of Shiva


- On Fridays, one sits Shiva until the late afternoon and gets up in time to change and prepare for Shabbat. When Shiva does not end on Saturday, it resumes on Saturday night immediately after Shabbat.

Friday Night in the Synagogue

The male mourners should be in synagogue for afternoon services (Mincha) in order to say Kaddish. In many communities, the custom is that they step outside into the corridor and they should enter following L’cha Dodi when the family then returns to its seats. On Shabbat, mourners should not wear the torn shirt or non-leather shoes. You may sit on regular chairs and leave the home.

Hamakom yinachem etchem b’toch shaar aveilei tziyon v’yirushalayim.

"May G‑d comfort you together with all the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem."