Shiva, meaning “seven,” is a mourning period which begins immediately following the funeral. The dedicated time for Shiva is the first seven days, including the day of the funeral. Throughout the seven-day Shiva, friends and family of the deceased and community members come to pay respects to the mourners (the deceased’s mother, father, daughter, son, sister, brother, and/or spouse). Usually, friends and members of the extended family who are not “sitting Shiva” will help prepare meals for the mourners. A bowl of water is left outside of the Shiva house for those that attended the funeral to wash their hands prior to entering the home.
There is no Shiva on a Jewish holiday or Shabbat. The first three days are known to be the deep mourning period, followed by four days for mourning and introspection. Click here for additional resources on Shiva.
Kaddish is said at the home each evening after sundown, during a Minyan (ten people). Upon returning from the cemetery, family members light a seven-day memorial candle that will burn during the entire week of mourning. The candle is usually provided to the family by the funeral director, along with a copy of the appropriate prayers.
During the Shiva, work is suspended. As mourners are not meant to be concerned with their physical appearance during this period, all the mirrors in the Shiva home are covered, and men typically refrain from shaving.
Sheloshim is the thirty-day period of continued mourning for the immediate family that follows the Shiva. When this period ends, one returns to work, and says daily or weekly Kaddish in the synagogue. Shanah continues for eleven months from the day of burial, during which many people choose not to attend celebratory occasions, until the unveiling of the gravestone.
Yizkor is observed by people who sat Shiva for a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son or spouse. It occurs four times per year, in addition to a Yahrzeit, on Yom Kippur, Shimini Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and Shavuot. A twenty-hour memorial candle is lit and Kaddish is recited at synagogue. Some people only light a candle on Yom Kippur, and give tzedakah to the synagogue in memory of their loved one.
The word Kaddish means sanctification and the theme of Kaddish is to praise the Greatness of God. Although the Kaddish is often referred to as the "Jewish Prayer for the Dead," there is actually no reference to or mention of death in the prayer, so that designation is more attributed to the prayer called "El Maleh Rachamim," which specifically prays for the soul of the deceased. Kaddish is an expression of acceptance of Divine judgment and righteousness at a time when it could be easy for a person to become bitter and reject God. By publicly sanctifying the name of God, the mourners increase the merit of the deceased person.
Jewish law states that the Kaddish be recited daily, from day of burial throughout the first eleven months following the death of a parent, or thirty days for a loved one, as well as near or on each anniversary of the death. Kaddish is traditionally said with a Minyan (a group of ten Jews).
The word “Yahrtzeit” is Yiddish for “year’s time.” Yahrzeit, the anniversary of a loved one's passing, is a time to honor their memory by reciting prayer, giving extra charity, and learning Torah.
A twenty-four hour candle is kindled before sunset on the eve of the Yahrzeit. This is a separate custom from that where mourners light the seven-day candle upon returning home from a funeral, which burns throughout the Shiva period.