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Basic Laws of Shiva

Basic Laws of Shiva

Who is a Mourner - Jewish law considers the following to be mourners.

One who lost a father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, or husband/wife (YD 374:4). When one of those seven die, the surviving relative (if he or she is at least 13 or 12 years old) becomes a mourner.

Minors - Minors are not mourners; boys under thirteen and girls under twelve. (YD 386:3) That said, minors should still try and refrain from overly joyous activities, to the extent that it is possible. If a minor should come of age during the Shiva process, he or she should reserve the remaining part of the ending period, but not start from the beginning. (some say he should start from the beginning of the shiva while other say there is no need to observe the laws of shiva and shloshim at all but, the laws of 12 months of mourning regarding a parent applies because of the commandment of honoring ones parent (Pischei Teshuvah 396:4 ) - consult your local orthodox rabbi how to proceed in regards to this.

Bride and Groom (Hussan and Kala) - When one of the seven relatives die (after the chuppah and consummation of the marriage) the Bride or Groom do not mourn during the first week of marriage, as the first week of marriage is marked by celebration. That said, immediately following the first week of marriage, the Bride or Groom is able to commence the Shiva process. (YD 342:1) Of course, however, the child can send condolences and express sympathy for the deceased. If one of the seven relatives die after the chupah has already taken place but before the marriage has been consummated there is a dispute among the halachic authorities as to whether the shiva is pushed back until after the week of celebration or not. If one of the seven relatives die before the chuppah has taken place, then the shiva takes place immediately after the burial and the chuppah takes place on the seventh day of shiva.

Divorced Couple - If the couple is properly divorced according to Jewish Tradition, then they are no longer connected spiritually. Thus, there is no need for one to mourn (sit shiva) for the other one. If the couple are going through divorce proceedings, there is a dispute amongst the halachic authorities if they need to sit shiva for each other (R. Akiva Eiger on 374:4)

Converts to Judaism - After someone converts to Judaism, he or she is longer spiritually connected to his or her non-Jewish parents. Thus, there is no need to sit Shiva for them, in accordance with the Jewish tradition (YD 374:5). Of course, however, the child can send condolences and express sympathy for the deceased.

Holidays or Sabbath - We have a commandment to be joyous on Jewish Holidays and on the holy Sabbath. Regarding the Sabbath, the general rule is that public displays of mourning are forbidden, while private displays of mourning are observed. Private displays of mourning, which include marital relations, washing and learning Torah are forbidden (i.e are observed). Public displays of mourning include wearing ones head garment (e.g., tallit or hat lower than usual, not wearing leather shoes, wearing a shirt that was ripped in the front (kriyah,at the time of hearing that the deceased died) are not observed on the Sabbath (YD 400:1) i.e one must wear leather shoes etc. Some miscellaneous laws regarding mourning on the Shabbat are that the mourner does not say "Shalom Aleichem", nor are the children blessed before Kiddush. It should be noted that although only some of the laws of mourning are kept on Shabbat, Shabbat counts as one of the seven days of Shiva.

Regarding Festivals-If the mourner has already started shiva (i.e., to mourn for the deceased prior to the beginning of a festival), then the festival cancels out the seven day shiva period and therefore after the festival only the laws of Shloshim are observed.(YD 399:1) If a mourner is in the period of Shloshim i.e he has started the Shloshim period before the festival, then the festival cancels out the Shloshim.(399:3)

The Festivals above refer to Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.(399:6)

Forget to Set Shiva - Someone who forgot to sit Shiva, or only recently learned about the halachos (laws) of Shiva, can still sit Shiva for their deceased, provided it is still within 30 days of the burial.(Although one does not tear ones garment, unless it is for a parent) (YD 396:1)

Learning Torah - Learning Torah (including thinking in Torah) is strictly prohibited during Shiva week. The reason is that learning Torah brings Simcha (joy) to a person. Learning the relevant laws regarding mourning (and all melancholy sources, e.g. Iyov, Kinos, Yirmeyahu, except for verses of consolation) is permitted (YD 384:4) as well as learning books of "Mussar -- ethical conduct, reproof etc (Pnei Baruch 16:3)) In the event that teaching Torah is also one's livelihood, then if a replacement for him or her is impossible, then he can teach torah even during Shiva week.

Marital Relations - Marital relations are forbidden during Shiva.. (383:1) This applies even to the Sabbath and Holidays that occur during Shiva week. (399:1.400:1)

Grooming - Washing is seen as a pleasurable activity, thus, it is prohibited during Shiva week. Specifically, washing the whole body with warm water is seen as a pleasurable activity, but washing parts of the body with cold water is not. Thus, if one needs to clean himself, they should apply this method. (YD 381:1)

Cosmetics - Cosmetics are also prohibited during Shiva week, as applying and wearing them is seen as a pleasurable activity. That said, an unmarried woman is prohibited from wearing cosmetics during Shloshim. A married woman is prohibited from wearing cosmetics during shiva, while a newly married women within 30 days from her chupah may wear make up according to her normal usage even during shiva. (YD 381:6) Regarding deodorants/perfumes - the rule is the same as grooming in that if anointing oneself is done for pleasure then it is forbidden, while anointing to remove a foul body odor is permitted.

Haircuts - Haircuts are prohibited during Shiva week. This applies even to taking a haircut for Shabbos.

Shaving - Shaving follows the same laws as haircuts. One may however trim his moustache after Shiva if it blocks the entry of food.(YD 390:1) Notably, some Halachic authorities permit shaving even during Shiva, while others forbid even all throughout Shloshim.)

Trimming Nails - The mourner may not trim his or her nails (toe and finger) during Shiva week and Shloshim with a nail clipper, however he/she may "cut" there nails with there fingers or teeth. It is also permitted to start "cutting" them with a knife and to conclude "cutting" them with ones teeth/fingers.

Laundering - The mourner may not launder or wear laundered clothes during Shiva. In honor of the Sabbath, however, a laundered shirt may be worn. Separately, if the mourner soiled his clothes, he can wash that particular spot. If this is not possible, he can use a different garment.

Wearing Shoes - (The biblical verse, Hashem says to Yechezkial the prophet who was mourning the destruction of Jerusalem) says "You must wear your shoes" (24:17) implying that other mourners are forbidden to wear shoes. Leather shoes may not be worn during Shiva week, as they are a sign of comfort and physicality. However, shoes made of materials other than leather are permissible and may be worn. (382:1). In certain circumstances leather shoes may be worn outside of the house, but upon returning they are removed. (382:3,4)

Preparing Home for Shiva

Where a person's spirit rests, is where the Shiva should be observed. As such, all of the relatives should come to this house and observe Shiva there. Why? With a person's memorabilia present, and other items, it is easier for the mourner to personify the deceased and articulate his or her feelings.

That said, logistically, it is often impossible for the mourners to travel thousands of miles to the home of the deceased. Thus, they are to sit Shiva in their own home.

The following are ways in which the Mourner can prepare a home for Shiva:

Candles -- Candles should be lit as soon as the mourners return from the cemetery. These candles should last for a full seen days.

Candles are present at meaningful events in Judaism. Whether for the Holidays or Sabbath or for other events, lighting candles is a common theme. So too, during Shiva we light a candle signifying the death of the human being. While the body has passed over, our candle reminds us that soul lives on and continues its journey, as well as providing comfort to the deceased.

Where To Light Candle - It should be lit wherever people are observing Shiva.

Type of Candle - It is preferable to olive oil, but if not, then a traditional wick and flame is fine. In the event that these are unavailable, one can use an electric light.

Number of Candles - One is enough for the whole family

When to Light Candle - One lights upon returning from the cemetery.

Lighting for Shabbos - While we do not mourn (publically) on Shabbos, the candle should burn even through Shabbos.

Mirrors -- During Shiva week all mirrors are covered. (Pnei Baruch10:4). Mirrors are the symbol of vanity in our modern culture. We spend hundreds of hours each year in front of the mirror, focusing on our image and beauty. This is obviously inappropriate during Shiva week, in which a death has just occurred, and we are removed from social pressures. By covering the mirrors, this shifts the mourners focus from himself to the deceased. Another reason is that ones reflection causes simcha (joy). Lastly, we cover the mirrors because in Jewish law it is forbidden to worship an image. By leaving up mirrors in the midst of the prayer services, people's reflections could be shown in the mirror, and this could undermine Jewish law (Mishnah Berurah 90:71). Some are accustomed to cover pictures of people as well (Pnei Baruch 10:4)

Benches or Chairs - One should gather chairs and benches for the visitors during Shiva week, and for the services.

Prayer Books - One should have enough prayer books to meet the needs of the prayer service that is conducted from the house. Often one can obtain these from the local synagogue or local Gemach, lending organization.

Torah Scroll - The mourner should obtain a Torah scroll, which will be read as part of the service on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat..

Stool - The mourner sits on a stool during the Shiva week, in order to stay low to the ground and revel in the loss.


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