The Importance of Shiva Traditions

by P-Francone

The Torah scroll is mainly used in the ritual of Torah reading during Jewish services. During shiva an effort is made by the community to lend a Torah scroll to the mourner to be read.

Shiva is the traditional seven day long period of mourning after the death of an immediate family member. Sitting shiva can help mourners to honor the dead and also help the mourners deal with their loss. Family members begin shiva immediately after burial, when they become “avel” (mourners). The family will gather in one house, generally the home of the deceased to pray, mourn and receive visitors.

The word “shiva” comes from the word shi’vah, which is the Hebrew word for seven. It was developed in response to the Old Testament story from Genesis in which Jacob mourns the death of his father Isaac.

ShivaConnect.com is a modern twist on this age old tradition, which was started by Florida business woman Sharon Rosen. When I first met Sharon, I was unsure about what exactly shiva was, but she explained to me the process that mourning Jewish family members go through, and that the purpose of shiva is that it is, “a time of reflection, meditation, contemplation and spiritual healing. The difficult process of mourning begins when pain, loss and sadness are expressed. The purpose of shiva is to acknowledge these feelings, not suppress them”.

She also told me that sitting shiva is intended to be an emotionally healing time where the mourners may dwell together and have friends and loved ones come to support them. The home of the deceased is said to be filled with the spirit of the loved one who is now gone, therefore memories will come along much easier there than if the mourners spent their time at someone else’s home or in synagogue. A major part of the comfort of shiva is remembering the deceased by sharing stories of his or her life with friends and family, but this of course can cause shiva to be a very difficult time that can be very physically draining on the mourners. Mourners experience an entire week of intense sadness, with family and friends giving love and attention to their needs. Judaism teaches us that when a member of the community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief, we should be there to comfort and console.

ShivaConnect.com is a free resource that features educational articles, a personal Shiva Registry to conveniently post and share funeral and shiva details and many other services that are helpful at a time of loss. A mourner, relative or caring friend can easily use the website to notify other mourners about the details of shiva, by entering pertinent information on a private Shiva Registry page. The Shiva Registry however is much more than simply an online Jewish obituary, it includes funeral and shiva dates, times, places, interactive directions, mourners contact information, food notes, synagogue affiliations, family charitable requests, eulogies and who to call if you have a question. A direct link to the Shiva Registry page can then be emailed, texted, tweeted, posted on Facebook or found through a search on ShivaConnect’s home page. This high tech convenience makes it easy to keep everyone informed, and it also contains articles that are of interest to Jews and non-Jews regarding customs, traditions and preparing the home for sitting shiva, visiting the shiva house, Jewish prayers, poems, kaddish, and much more. ShivaConnect.com also exclusively features a “Yahrzeit Reminder” which is emailed each year a week before the anniversary date, noting when to light a memorial candle.

The website is dedicated to Sharon’s mother, whom she credits with always supporting her in the past with everything she did. When her mother passed away, she turned to the Internet to discover what exactly she was supposed to do for shiva, and found the Internet to be the most efficient way to communicate, but she was overwhelmed by the amount of phone calls with questions about food, and the amount of different information on the web. She figured that there simply had to be a one-stop-shop to discover all the information and help to take as much work away from mourners as possible.

Food is an interesting aspect of ShivaConnect.com as well, as mourners can specify on their Shiva Registry what types of food they desire (such as only kosher foods or desserts) and this way they don’t get overloaded with too much of one thing. Visitors can also order food platters from nearby caterers directly off the website, as well as gift baskets, comfort gifts and make donations to charities.

Non-Jewish and non-practicing Jewish mourners may have a hard time with the etiquette of shiva, or may not completely understand it. There is a very specific etiquette for this time of mourning, and not following it may be insulting to some, although many will be understanding if non-Jews stop by to give their condolences and are not aware. When visiting the shiva house, visitors must enter quietly, take a seat near the mourners and not speak until the mourner first addresses them. Mourners are not allowed to do anything that can distract them from mourning such as showering, shaving, wearing leather shoes, doing laundry or having sex. It is however Mitzvah (rightful) for visitors to bring food or do laundry for the mourners. Although technically mourners are not supposed to work during shiva, they will be allowed to in case of desperate economic circumstances or fear of losing their job. Be aware also that mourners will all be seated on low chairs or stools.

In addition to these rules, if the deceased is the mourners’ parent, the children are not allowed to attend joyful events for a full year afterward, other than Brit Milahs or weddings. Anyone other than the deceased’s children may only attend joyful events after 30 days from the beginning of shiva. In times past mourners used to participate in kriyah, where they would tear their clothes to signify mourning, this however is rarely practiced anymore. Upon being notified of the death, mourners should recite the blessing, or a variation thereof, “Blessed are You, our Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, the True Judge,” which shows that they do not blame The Lord for the death. (Note that Jewish people do not write or speak the name of His Holiness.)

The sabbath still takes place during shiva, and mourners are allowed to wear clean clothes to attend synagogue, however they still may not shower or shave. If the death takes place before Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover or Shavuot then shiva will be cut short up until the holiday.

After the funeral, it is traditional to visit the grave on the final day of shiva and on the 30th, day after death. If this day is Sabbath however, then it is pushed over to the next day. The 30th, day sees the tombstone being installed and eulogies being said.

Shiva is practiced by most Jewish people after a death of a close family member, and is a very moving way to remember the deceased, and to honor their memory. We are taught that with faith we can be strong enough to endure the death of a loved one, and that we can be strong enough to honor their memory forever.

Read more:

Shiva Connect

Shiva, the First Seven Days of Mourning | My Jewish Learning

Sitting Shiva | Judaica Guide

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