How to Prepare for Sitting Shiva
Shiva is observed for seven days after the burial of your father, mother, brother, sister, spouse or child.
Shiva takes place in the home of the deceased or in the home of a principal mourner. Other relatives may choose to “sit shiva” with you, but Jewish law does not mandate their participation.
Some families choose to meticulously observe the traditional rites and customs of mourning while others may be more relaxed in their observance. Some families sit shiva for only a day or few days and sitting shiva on Shabbat, so do not plan to sit shiva Friday at sundown through Saturday at sundown or on a Jewish Holiday.
It is appropriate to dress as if you are attending a synagogue service however in many homes, more informal attire is just as appropriate.
You and your family may want to practice all or some of these Jewish traditions:
- Cover all the mirrors in the house and leave them cloaked for the seven-day period. This discourages vanity and encourages inner reflection.
- Place a pitcher of water outside your front door so people returning from the cemetery can wash their hands, a gesture that separates the mitzvah (worthy act) of honoring the dead from the mitzvah of comforting the bereaved.
- Leave doors unlocked so that visitors can enter without distracting knocks or doorbells.
- Light a 7 day "shiva candle" as a symbol of the divine spark that inhabits the body.
- Remove your shoes when you return home from the funeral and refrain from wearing leather shoes in the shiva house. You may wear cloth slippers or socks or go barefoot, which is considered a sign of being humbled by loss.
- Eat food brought by friends and neighbors for your first meal after returning from the cemetery (called seudat havra'ah, or the meal of consolation). It is traditional to eat round foods such as eggs or lentils, to recall the cyclical nature of life.
- Sit low to the ground, on cushions or very low chairs, on the floor, or on special benches provided by the funeral home. This practice symbolizes being struck down by grief. (Visitors to the house sit on normal chairs and couches.)
- Refrain from virtually all usual activity during shiva. Traditional Jewish law prohibits mourners from cooking, running errands, attending school, shaving, wearing makeup or engaging in pleasures of any kind whether sexual, athletic or intellectual.