jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Mourning - the first Week

Who must sit Shivah

One is obligated to observe Shivah / שבעה for the seven closest relatives specified in the Book of Leviticus 21:1-3: one's father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or spouse. It is equally incumbent upon both men and women. The rabbis decreed that it does not matter if the brother or sister is married or has been married — Shiva is required. Similarly, it does not matter if the brother or sister is a half brother or half sister — Shivah is still required. Shiva is an honor to the dead and normally a person may elect to forego an honor. Nevertheless, Shivah is observed even against the wishes of the deceased, if the request was issued out of ignorance or in order to spare the family the trouble of observance. However, if the intent of the deceased was to denigrate Jewish tradition, the request may be honored upon consultation with a qualified rabbi.

One, who was obligated to sit Shiva, and intentionally or unintentionally did not observe Shivah at all,should do so later, but not later than thirty days from the burial. However, the mourner who observed part of the Shiva, even for only a short time, is not required to make up for the missed part of Shivah.

Not obligated. Minors, i.e., a boy under the age of thirteen and a girl under the age of twelve, are not required to sit Shiva. Likewise, one who is seriously ill is exempt from observing Shivah and is not required to sit Shiva later, after recovering from illness.

Shivah is not usually observed for an infant who died before reaching the age of 30 days (and sometimes even older), because the infant was not a Bar Kayamah / בר קיימא — i.e., this child’s life was not considered permanent. Each case must be decided upon by a competent rabbi, however. In general, the 30-day mark in many areas of Jewish Law is a watershed between temporality and permanency. For example, one who dwells in a house for 30 days is obligated to affix a Mezuzah / מזוזה. Up until that point, it is not considered a permanent residency, unless there are some other factors that make it permanent.

One does not sit Shiva for a spouse if their marriage was prohibited according to Jewish law. Likewise, Shivah is not observed for a former, divorced spouse. Rabbinic advice is necessary to clarify the obligations of the Jewish converts and children of intermarriage. There is no Shiva for somebody who was willingly cremated. Shivah is not observed when an apostate dies — it was already observed when an apostate formally renounced the Jewish faith. However, Shiva is observed for an apostate who repented and returned to Judaism.

Adopted children are not obligated to observe Shivah for adoptive parents, but may do so, if they wish. The same applies to those who wish to sit Shiva for stepparents or for parents-in-law. They usually observe a limited type of mourning by adopting some of the mourning practices from the day of burial to end of the following Sabbath. In any case, those who are not obligated to mourn are not allowed to observe those mourning practices that conflict with any positive commandment. For example they are not allowed to refrain from Torah study.

The bride and groom are not obligated to mourn during the week of their wedding feasts even for a parent. The Shivah is, therefore, postponed. However, if due to extreme grief they want to sit Shiva first, the bride can, under certain circumstances, relinquish her right to the wedding feasts in order to observe Shivah. A competent rabbi needs to be consulted, of course.