The Jewish Mourning Ritual of Sitting Shiva

Members of the Jewish faith observe Shiva, a seven-day mourning period following the funeral of a family member. The word Shiva literally comes from the Hebrew word for seven. While sitting Shiva, family members do not work and typically stay home.


How will you know if the family is sitting Shiva? There is usually an announcement at the funeral, in the newspaper obituary or death notice, or if the bereaved is a member of a synagogue, in the synagogue’s weekly bulletin. The announcement will state what days and times the family is receiving visitors.


What should you expect? While every Shiva is different and reflects the family and their religious beliefs, it is common that during Shiva, family members and friends congregate at the home of the bereaved to comfort the mourners. Traditionally, there is a religious service each evening of the Shiva.


It’s customary to bring food, such as meals, baked goods, fruit or cheese. You might check with close friends of the bereaved to inquire how you can help. When visiting the bereaved, give your condolences and then wait for the mourner to talk about whatever he or she chooses. If the mourner wants to be silent, the visitor’s role is just to be with them; your presence is what’s important.

The following do’s and don’ts will help guide your visit:

  • Do realize that you are there to comfort and listen to the bereaved.
  • Do show up with a food item, either for the Shiva or for the bereaved during the seven-day period of mourning. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, bring a container of fruit, coffee or tea, or trail mix.
  • Do join in on a discussion remembering the deceased, sharing stories that capture their positive qualities.
  • Do clean up after yourself, and anyone else who doesn’t.
  • Do ask if there is anything you can do to help.


  • Don’t show up hungry.
  • Don’t bring a condolence card; the bereaved will appreciate this gesture more when the card is sent.
  • Don’t monopolize the bereaved.
  • Don’t discuss your own life and problems with the bereaved.
  • Don’t leave your cups, plates or napkins for someone else to clean up.
  • Don’t show up if you were estranged from the deceased. Make your peace at another time.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.

Image via Creative Commons/Marian Sigler

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