Questions about sitting Shiv'ah

Recently, I have begun to wonder about some of the details of this ritual. I was unable to find any references that directly addressed my specific questions about the weeklong period of mourning so I have decided to turn to my fellow Dopers.

I have a solid comprehension of the various tasks that need to be performed in preparation for sitting the Shiv’ah. I also understand that the period of mourning is for your father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister or spouse. What I am uncertain of is whether or not you can sit Shiv’ah for a Grandparent or other close relative who does not fall into the category of first-degree relation. Additionally, what are my responsibilities to my parent if one of them is sitting Shiv’ah? Does the other spouse automatically participate when one is taking part in the period of mourning? As always, thanks for your consideration.

I imagine it varies among how strictly one observes the jewish faith. There was a This American Life story once (I can’t remember the theme of the episode, but it did air as a repeat within the last few months if that helps) that was a narrative by a guy who used to do it professionally, since a lot of people don’t actually think it needs to be done by a relative or even someone who knew the deceased. He was just sort of a fallback Shiv’ah sitter that the funeral home would call if the family was indisposed.

FWIM sitting shivah allows closure for a person. It allows a ending so one can let go and move on. I don’t know if this was the intention, but it is a effect. As such if it is a close person that meant a lot to you then going through it may help you.

One does not sit shivah for someone who is not a parent, spouse, child or sibling. That does not mean, of course, that you cannot express grief or mourning. But sitting shivah is reserved for one of the above-mentioned relatives.

Do what you can for them. Comfort them, see to their physical needs (meals, etc.) and just be there for them as best you can. When my grandfather passed away, I spent a lot of time with my mother as she sat shivah.

A spouse serves a support role but does not sit shivah (unless, God forbid, one is sitting shivah for a joint child). A spouse should support and comfort the bereaved spouse, but does not sit shivah with them.

You’re welcome. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.

Zev Steinhardt

I have a vague idea that sitting Shiv’ah is about mourning, but not being Jewish nor living in an area with many Jewish people, I don’t know anything about it. Can someone give an overview? It’s an interesting topic.

Athena, check They’re a pretty comprehensive site for we goyishe interested in the Jewish faith and traditions.

Athena, it’s a period of seven days following the death of a close relative (spouse, parent, sibling or child) during which the mourners don’t work, but remain at home (or in the home of the deceased) receiving visitors to comfort them.

Amongst the customs of the shiva week are that the mourners sit on low stools, wear clothing with a rip over the heart (women safety-pin the rip closed for modesty, but it cannot be sewn back up in a permanent manner), do not wear leather shoes, and do not offer greetings to people.

OK, so others are expected to play a role, they’re just not doing the sitting shivah themselves… I was wondering about that. My only previous exposure to the tradition was an episode of Babylon 5, where Ivanova sat shivah for her father, and her rabbi emphasized that it was an opportunity for the community to mourn with her. There were scenes of Ivanova in company with her friends and (I presume) other Jews on the station, but none of them had any particular connection to the deceased. So I guess they would have been the “visitors to comfort her”.

Oh, apologies. I thought it was the practice of not allowing the body to be alone until it is buried. That’s what the This American Life story was about. I guess I remembered the terminology wrong.

That’s called “shemirah”, the Hebrew word for “watching.”