jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Mourning - the first Week

Start & Duration of Shivah

Normally, Shivah / שבעה starts right after the burial and lasts for seven days. The first and the last day do not have to be full 24 hours days. There is a principle in Jewish Law: “Miktzat HaYom KeKulo / מקצת היום ככולו — a fraction of a day is considered as a complete day”. It cannot be applied indiscriminately, but Shiva observance is one of the cases when this halachic principle is applicable. The day of the burial is counted as the first day of the Shivah even when the burial was concluded shortly before nightfall. Shiva usually ends after the Morning Prayer on its last day, because a fraction of the last day is counted as a full day.

Unusual circumstances. Under certain circumstances, however, Shivah may start a few days before or after the burial and it may last for less than seven days. It may even happen that individual mourners may start and/or stop their Shiva observance at different times, even in a situation where they are all mourning for the same person.

If there was no burial, e.g., a person is missing in action or lost at sea, Shivah starts immediately after the search is abandoned, or, in the case of a married person, immediately after the rabbinical court issues a declaration of death; this declaration is necessary in order to allow the surviving spouse to remarry. If the body was completely consumed by fire (e.g., cremated against the will of the deceased), Shiva starts as soon as the mourners are notified. They do not wait for the interment of the ashes.

If the deceased is transported to another city for burial, those of the mourners who do not plan to go to the burial usually begin their Shivah as soon as they stop accompanying the coffin. According to many rabbinical authorities, the mourners who live far away and do not plan to go the funeral, should begin sitting Shiva as soon as they are notified about the death. They do not wait for the burial.

Travel. Mourners are permitted to travel as far as necessary after the funeral in order to sit Shivah at their homes individually or join the rest of the mourners and sit Shiva together. In this case, they must start some Shivah observances at the cemetery, for example, remove their shoes and sit on the floor for a short while. The mourners who did not come to the funeral may travel in order to join the other mourners and sit Shiva together.

Latecomers. When some of the mourners join the rest of the family in sitting Shivah the latecomers may, under certain circumstances, complete their Shiva together with the rest of the family even when they arrive on the seventh day when the family is already preparing to stand up from Shivah. Since the exact rules depend on a rather complex set of conditions, it is best to consult a competent rabbi should the need arise.

Delayed news. A person who gets delayed news about the death of one of the seven closest relatives observes Shiva only if the news arrived within 30 days from the death (Shemuah Kerovah / שמועה קרובה — recent news). After 30 days (Shemuah Rechokah / שמועה רחוקה — belated news) only some of the mourning practices are observed and only on the day the news is received.

Jewish Holidays may also affect the start and the duration of the Shivah, as will be discussed in a separate section.