jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Mourning - the first Week

Shivah / שבעה

This stage of mourning generally starts after the burial is completed and the grave is filled with earth. It is called Shivah / שבעה — literally seven, because the mourners withdraw themselves from their routine activities and stay within the confines of their house for seven days to mourn, pray, recite Kaddish / קדיש and receive condolences.

Observing seven days of mourning is the Jewish custom going back to the days of the Patriarchs. Indeed, we find in the Book of Genesis 50:10 that Joseph “observed seven days of mourning for his father / ויעש לאביו אבל שבעת ימים”. The Talmud in Tractate Moed Katan 20a points out that the seven days of mourning correspond to the seven days of the Jewish festivals, as it is written in the Book of Amos 8:10“And I will turn your festivals into mourning / והפכתי חגיכם לאבל”. Many customs of mourning are also mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel 24:17.

The first three days ofShiva are the days when the mourning is most intense because the wound is so fresh. They are devoted to weeping and lamentation. As we shall see, some activities that are permitted during the rest of Shivah are not allowed during these three days. The reason for this is that for the first three days the soul stays near the body, but when it sees that the appearance of the face has changed, it departs (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Moed Katan 14a). Unlike the previous stage of mourning — Aninut / אנינות — the mourners are no longer exempt from any of their regular Jewish responsibilities. The only exception is putting on Tefillin / תפילין — phylacteries; this is forbidden until the second day of Shiva.