Every week, parshaoftheweek.com brings you a rich selection of material on parshat hashavua, the weekly portion traditionally read in synagogues all over the world. Using both classic and contemporary material, we take a look at these portions in a fresh way, relating them to both ancient Jewish concerns as well as cutting-edge modern issues and topics. We also bring you material on the Jewish holidays, as well as insights into life cycle rituals and events...
The Shiva Overview
Jewish tradition dictates a number of mourning rituals which are followed upon the death of a close relative. The first, most immediate and dramatic of these is the "shiva" - the seven day period, beginning immediately after the burial, during which the mourners literally "sit" at home, and are visited by friends and relatives. Mirrors in the Shiva house are covered, and the mourners traditionally sit in low chairs or couches, indicative of their status. This mandatory period of reflection and seperation from our every-day lives gives the mourners the chance to grieve, remember their loved one, and begin to come to terms with their loss. It is customary for visitors to speak with the mourners about their memories of the deceased, and try to celebrate his or her life. The visitors refrain from greeting the mourners, and instead recite a formula which wishes them consolation, together with all the mourners of Zion. This formula reminds us that we have all suffered loss, both personally and communally. The mourner does not go out of the house during this period, and prayers are held in the home, for which a "minyan" of ten is neccessary. Kaddish is recited by the mourners.
Traditionally, mourners during the shiva week refrain from bathing (as much as possible), listening to music, and from haircuts or shaving. The week is meant to be a time of focusing on the lost loved one, and is an important step in the mourning process, which continues, in lesser degrees, until the end of the thirty-day "shloshim" period and through the first year after the death, during which kaddish is said.