In Jewish tradition, a seven day period of mourning begins immediately following the burial of a loved one. This period is referred to as shiva - which literally means seven.
As with all "life cycle" events, there are many traditional customs and rituals associated with shiva.
Here are just a few:
the wearing of small black ribbons that should be visible on the clothes of the immediate mourners
the lighting of a memorial candle (provided by the funeral director) that, once kindled, should burn for 7 days
the covering of mirrors in the house - usually explained as a way of ensuring that one is not concerned with personal vanity during this time of mourning (although the origins of this custom are based in superstitions having to do with the spirit of the departed)
the immediate mourners sitting either on the floor, a hard surface, or boxes provided by the funeral director, as a way of depriving themselves of too much comfort
prohibitions and restrictions concerning: bathing; shaving; sexual relations; and entertainment.
While there are certainly people who choose to follow some or all of these customs, many do not. Much depends upon your individual level of observance, how you were raised, and what you are comfortable with.
Shiva also customarily involves a brief prayer service which include readings, such as the 23rd Psalm, intended to bring comfort to the mourners. As with all Jewish worship services, the leader need not be a rabbi or cantor - just a knowledgeable Jew. The only other traditional "requirement" is the presence of a minyan, a quorum of ten adult (over the age of 13) Jews needed to recite certain prayers - including the Mourner's Kaddish. Within observant circles, only men can be counted in a minyan. As a liberal Jew, men and women are counted equally, and I will officiate at services regardless of how many are present. My personal belief is that comforting a mourner in spiritual and emotional need takes precedence over the presence of a complete minyan.
If you are in mourning, and desire an ordained Jewish clergy person with skill, experience and compassion to lead shiva services at your home, please contact me.
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