Quickie shiva primer/FAQ, please.

My grandfather died today.

To make a long story short, I’m at my aunt’s house in Florida, and being the bunch of Reform loser Jews that we are, we are rather rusty on our shiva rituals. We remember the stuff about covering mirrors, but what are we forgetting?

(My grandmother, who was raised Orthodox, is in no condition to deal with this stuff right now.)

Sorry for posting something I would normally Google, but I hope you will all understand. It’s been a hell of a week.

Males sitting shiva don’t shave.

All those sitting shiva, must sit lower than all others in the house (eg. remove seat cushions for shiva sitters).

All those sitting shiva, must remove shoes and/or wear slippers AND all others entering house must leave shoes on.

Orthodox rules would state that shiva sitters mustn’t shower/bathe.

More as I remember …

A couple things I should mention:

We are a bunch of 60s hippie children.

I can’t walk properly without shoes on, due to an old ankle injury. Neither can my grandmother, due to knee replacement. Since I injured the ankle on the front lawn of this very house, and subsequently spent a year on crutches and 3 in rehab, I ain’t takin’ no chances on that.

Grandpop was not a deeply religious man, but he was a bg believer in family and togetherness and keeping traditions. Grandmom, however, was raised in a much more religious household than he was, though, and I think the rituals will be immensely comforting to her. That’s my main concern, personally - making her as comfortable as we can. They were together for 66 years, since she was 17.

So this is going to be Shiva Lite. We’re looking for back to basics here.

Um, had you thought of “high-top” houseslippers? The right pair might just provide enough support. Or, I suppose any would do, if you wore an ankle brace with them? I know it’s hard to think in the circumstances.

My Grampa was one of the most important people in my world, so I understand.

And I offer my deep sympathy to you and yours.

Probably won;t help, and being an agnostic myself, I think that if there is a God, he wouldn’t want anyone to injure him/herself further to comply with a rule like that. Actually, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Jewish law might back me up on that in certain circumstances. (Probably more for my grandmother than for me - she is much more frail than I am.)

And no, most house slippers won’t do the trick anyway, and I’m certainly not going to jerk around with slipper-shopping in an unfamiliar area when there are funeral and shiva arrangements to be made, and family to support. Besides, at what point does a slipper cease to be a slipper?

I’ve actually gotten some sleep now, so I’m thinking a bit more clearly, but these are the things I can remember (not many, because my family is so stubborn that they almost never die, so this is really the first time I’ve seen this all up-close and full-blast, which is pretty amazng for someone by the time she reaches 35):

-Cover mirrors
-I guess the typical common mourning-related stuff like wearing somber clothing, and am I correct in thinking you are supposed to tear clothing? Grandpop wouldn’t have wanted us to ruin perfectly good clothing, but heck, I’ll pass it along.

I’m blanking on the rest right now, but maybe some coffee will kick my brain in gear enough to do some Googling. My aunt should be talking to the rabbi in an hour or so.

Only immediate relatives sit shiva. The immediate relatives are the deceased’s parents, siblings, children and spouse. You do not sit shiva for your grandmother.

It is customary that the first meal that the mourners eat after the funeral not be from their own food, but that friends and/or other relatives provide the food.

People sitting shiva begin doing so when the grave is filled with earth. Starting with that day (Day 1) the mourners sit on low stools or the floor of their homes. Preferrably, at least some of the shiva should be spent in the home of the deceased.

Mourners do not bathe, shave or shower. Nor should they remove the torn clothing from the kriah. The mourners cannot wear shoes. If they must have support on their feet, they can wear shoes that do not have any leather in them.

Cover the mirrors in the home. Listening to music is likewise forbidden.

It is customary that people visiting do not initiate conversation with the mourners. The mourners should initiate conversations. When visitors leave, it is customary to say Hamakom Y’nachem eschem B’toch sha’ar aveili tzion V’Yerushalyaim (May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem). Place signs in the home so that visitors will be aware of this custom.

Shiva continues for seven days. The seventh day is customarily only observed for an hour or two. It is also customary that at the end of shiva, people “invite” the mourners for a walk around the block (or at least outside of the house) to symbolize the end of the first stage of mourning.

My sympathies for your loss Eva Luna. May your family know no more sorrow. If you need any further information, please feel free to ask here or email me.

Zev Steinhardt

The funeral home often provides pamphlets so that mourners can conduct minyan at home. They also provide black badges with attached ribbons. The ribbons are torn to follow tradition without violating the wishes of the deceased who wouldn’t want us to tear our good clothes. (I’m not trying to be snide or offensive here. Having lost all four grandparents, I think they would have been rather upset if I tore my nice suit.)

Jewish law and custom also calls for a cheap casket. An unadorned, unfinished wooden box is perfect.

If the burial hasn’t been done yet. Remember to leave a pitcher of water and a roll of paper towels outside the house. When coming from the funeral to the house for the eating of a deli platter and sharing of memories, everybody must wash their hands before they enter the house.

In theory, the right kind of slipper would be safe and meet the requirement to wear slippers. In practice, you’re supposed to spend this time accepting that a loved one has died, not running around trying to find slippers. If your Bubby was raised Orthodox, she may feel obligated to follow customs despite her medical problems. She’s exempt from wearing slippers due to the likelihood she’ll fall and break a hip (G-d forbid). If a low stool would cause similar problems, she’s exempt from that as well.

May peace be upon your grandfather.

Thanks, everyone, for the info. I have no idea how this will turn out in practice, but I will let everyone know. (We’ve already covered the mirrors and put out the stuff for a washbasin near the front door - we’ll put it outside when we get back from the funeral.)

My grandparents, for some completely unknown reason, purchased mausoleum spaces years ago, and the mausoleum requires stainless steel caskets, so a plain pine box is out. Oh well.

If we can all hold it together today, I think that’s the best anyone can expect. Thanks for your good wishes, and please feel free to post if you think of anything else. (Or of rituals we will be needing to know about in the coming few months.)

Further information that I forgot to mention last time:

It is also customary to have a candle burning during the shiva period. You can find tall white candles in glass that will burn for a week in many stores.

For the meal following the funeral, it is customary to have round items, such as lentils and hard-boiled eggs which symbolize the cyclical nature of life.

There are no shiva practices on the Sabbath.

After Shiva, there is a period called shloshim (literally: thirty). For the thirty day period after the funeral mourners may not attend celebrations. In addition, shaving and listening to music are still forbidden. In this case, shloshim will be terminated early by Rosh HaShanah.

For all relatives other than a parent, the formal mourning period ends. For parents, there is a 12 month period of mourning. During that time, the mourners do not attend celebrations or listen to music. Kaddish is recited by the mourners at prayers for 11 months and on the anniversary of the day of death (called the yahrtzeit. On the yahrtzeit and on days that Yizkor is recited (Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, 8th day of Passover and 2nd day of Shavout) a candle is lit that will burn for 24 hours.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask or email.

Zev Steinhardt