The Purpose of Sitting Shiva

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Shiva is the Jewish period of mourning observed the first week after the funeral of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child.
From the time of death until the conclusion of the funeral, the primary focus and concern is on the care of the deceased and the burial preparations. Once shiva begins, the focus shifts to the mourners. Shiva 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.
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 a direct mourner is said to be filled with the spirit of the loved one who is now gone. Memories will come easily there, and part of the comfort of shiva is remembering the deceased by sharing stories of his or her life with friends and family.  Shiva is a very difficult time that can be physically draining as well. Mourners experience a week of intense sadness, with family and friends giving love and attention to their needs. Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief, we should be there to comfort and console.

It is important to know that all Jewish people do not mourn alike.  Some may 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 a day or more and others not at all.

Many mourners will not go to work during the shiva period, run errands outside of the house, or turn on a TV or radio. Some will avoid any type of entertainment or distraction in order to fulfill their need to grieve.

It is considered a great mitzvah (act of kindness) to visit someone “sitting shiva.”  A house of shiva is typically well stocked with food and desserts, intended to sustain and celebrate the on-going cycle of life.
The following explains the meaning of customs practiced while sitting shiva.

The Water Pitcher

It is believed that water is the source of all life, therefore when one has come in contact with death, it is proper to pour water over each hand three times (alternating hands each time) in order to focus on life.

The Memorial Candle

The candle, reminds us that our loved one’s soul is eternal. A person’s soul is compared to a flame, since each person brings light into the world. And just as one can take from a flame to light more candles without diminishing the original flame, so too a person can give of him/herself, touching many lives, without ever being diminished.

Covered Mirrors

Mirrors may be covered, as tradition suggests that mourners need not be concerned about their personal appearance.  Jewish mourning is introspective, dwelling on one’s personal loss. Covering mirrors symbolizes this withdrawal from society’s gaze. Another explanation is that Jewish tradition dictates that there may not be a mirror in a room where people pray. When praying, Jews are directed to focus on God and not on themselves. Thus, the Prayer services which are held in the shiva house, should not take place in a room with a mirror.

The Black Ribbon  -Keriah

Mourners wear this ribbon for the week of mourning as a symbol of their broken hearts- many continue wearing it for thirty days.

Sitting Low

Jewish mourners may sit low to the ground, on cushions or very low chairs, on the floor, or on special benches provided by the funeral home, bringing them closer to the earth in which they just buried their loved one. This practice symbolizes being struck down by grief.

Wearing Socks or Slippers

Jewish mourners may remove their shoes when they return home from the funeral and refrain from wearing leather shoes in the shiva, which is considered a sign of being humbled by their loss.

The Meal of Condolence  - Seudat Havraah

The first meal after returning from the cemetery is called the “the meal of healing.” It is the responsibility of the community and visitors to ensure that there is enough food for the mourning family and well-wishers. When food is provided by others, the mourners are encouraged to eat, reinforcing the belief that that “life must go on.”

Shiva Prayer Services

Prayer services are held in the shiva house, rather than in the synagogue to insure that for the week of shiva, the mourners do not have to leave their home.


The theme of Kaddish is the Greatness of God. We are asked to view the passing of our beloved from the perspective that his/her soul was gathered in, so to speak, by the One who originally created it. Its purpose is to reaffirm our faith at a time when we are especially vulnerable to turning away from God.. In this prayer, we pray for peace - peace between nations, peace between individuals, and peace of mind.

Charity -Tzedakah

Righteous giving is an appropriate way to honor one’s memory. Contributing money, time and effort to organizations and causes that were important to the deceased keeps their beliefs alive and active. Tzedakah connects the living and the dead in the work of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Jewish tradition views charity as the strongest force in the universe… even greater than death.

More information about sitting shiva can be found at - a free service to help Jewish mourners and those wishing to express their condolences.  Visitors can create a “Shiva Registry” to email funeral &shiva details to friends and family, request a Yahrzeit Reminder, send food, gifts & donations, and find helpful resources.

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Posted by on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011. Filed under Mourning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

  • Arnie Singer

    Good, helpful summary. After going through my own shiva and mourning experience for my mom, I wrote a book to help others going through the same -

  • Payday Loans

     It was a very good and emotional post which is really hitting hard

  • moishela


    Discussion with Moishela (with his family)

    A Handicapped child

    24 Adar 2 5774 (March 25, ’14)

    “Achdus Is To Be One With Hashem”

    I want to tell you something very important. I want to tell you that the only way that we are going to survive this terrible time before Moshiach brings us to the Geula Sheleimah is by having Achdus, and Achdus is to be one with Hashem. Those so-called Jews that do not want to be one with Hashem cannot have Achdus with Jews that have chosen to have Achdus with Hashem, His truth, and His Torah. The Olam Habah of Moshiach that Hashem has promised us will not be able to accommodate the Apikores the atheist the Erev Rav the Jew-hating gentile, the Amalak, the Helininst etc. Therefore I beg all true Jews to band together and separate ourselves from the evil ones. We must stop mixing with them because their distorted Judiasim could rub off on us and our very spiritual and physical existence can be endangered. We can be polite to them, but they are not part of the truth. We can’t mingle with them because it makes us become like them. It rubs off and therefore this is not what Achdus is.

    Achdus is to be one with Hashem. That means Am Yisroel must be one with Hashem. On Har Sinai when Hashem lifted the mountain over our heads and we said Na’aseh Venishma, that was Achdus. Only that Achdus will save us. Therefore I don’t know how many Yidden will be left to greet Moshiach. However those that will be left will be those that stood at Har Sinai, and said Na’aseh Venishma, and that is the true Achdus, and we will do the same thing. We won’t be standing at Har Sinai, but we will be standing together and we will say again Na’aseh Venishma. We will say Shema Yisroel and we will be one, one nation together with the one and only G-d, the Hakol Yachol, the Ribbono Shel Olam and then we will be ready to become true and eternal Bnei Chorin.

    I am very worried about Am Yisroel because I know that as of right now we don’t really have this kind of Achdus, Hashem Yishmor. Some of us have Achdus with the Egel HaZahav, and a bit with Hashem, and some have Achdus only with themselves and their desires, even though they are considered Chareidi Jews and dress like Chareidi Jews. Boruch Hashem, there are still some Jews that are really looking for truth and are trying to have this kind of Achdus. But the Frum society all over the world has broken up into groups. It’s not one Am anymore. It’s this one with this Rebbe and that one with the other Rebbe or with this Rav or with that Rav. Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Chassidish, Litvish, Taimani, etc. everyone with their own little groups and unfortunately those little groups have become the whole world for each one of their members, and therefore it’s hard to have Am Yisroel Echad, and very many times in these Chareidi groups, their connection with the group becomes almost an Avodah Zorah, Shelo Naida. And therefore, there will come a time where all the Sheker will disappear and those who are seeking truth will come together Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Chassidish, Litvish, Taimani, etc. We will come together as one. Until that happens we can’t have the Geula Sheleimah, but it will happen soon, and it will happen suddenly, but I don’t know how many will be part of that group that will enter into the Geula Sheleimah alive.

    I cannot tell you how many nights I don’t sleep over this just thinking how many Jews are going to fall by the way because they really don’t have the souls of Yidden, but Erev Rav. It’s so hard to know who they are, especially if they are considered Frum Yidden. Still this is the fact and this is the way it is going to be. I have to remind you that it doesn’t mean that any Jew that Chas Vesholom, is Niftar before the Geula Sheleimah, is an Erev Rav. No we’ll know at the end who the Erev Rav are and their death will be much different than a regular one.

    But I cry at night many tears because I feel that there will be a comparatively few Jews that will actually greet Moshiach Tzidkainu. I hope and pray that I am totally wrong about this.

    I want to say that I am so glad to have spoken today because I really was suffering last night. Tonight it should be easier……..