views updated


In Judaism, Shivah (the word for "seven" in Hebrew; unrelated to the Hindu god Shiva) is the seven-day intensive period of mourning following a funeral; its observance is described in the Babylonian Talmud (sixth century c.e.), and it has changed little in modern times. During Shivah the bereaved remain at home, away from everyday activities and concerns. Shivah begins with mourners sharing a "meal of consolation" prepared by friends; this reminder of life's continuity initiates the healing process. Friends and relatives visit the house of mourning throughout Shivah, offering condolences and sharing remembrances; callers bring prepared food to relieve the bereaved of daily chores. Since mourners are required by Jewish law to recite the kaddish (sanctification) prayer, services with a required minimum of ten worshipers are held in the home. Although the Sabbath counts as a day of mourning, Shivah is suspended from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, and mourners recite kaddish at synagogue services. Recognizing work and family pressures, many contemporary liberal American Jewish communities reduce Shivah to three days.

Traditional observances for mourners during Shivah include sitting on the floor or low furniture; rending garments; and abstention from bathing, cutting hair, shaving, wearing leather, use of cosmetics, or sexual activity. In some homes mirrors are covered. Shivah ends on the morning of the seventh day. The twenty-three days following Shivah complete the Shloshim or thirty-day mourning period; during this time many mourners curtail activities and avoid celebrations. Mourners continue reciting the kaddish in communal worship for the next ten months.

See alsoDeath and Dying; Jewish Observance; Judaism; Prayer; Ritual.


Dosick, Wayne. Living Judaism: TheCompleteGuidetoJewish Belief and Practice. 1995.

Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Deathand Mourning. 1972.

Judith R. Baskin

More From