Can you explain what “shivah” means?

Joyce P. Smiles, Indianapolis, Indiana

Shivah” refers to the first stage of mourning following the loss of a close relative.  Specifically, the word means ‘seven’, as this particular period lasts for a week. Jewish Law requires a mourner to observe specific practices and restrictions associated with mourning. The week immediately following the funeral is understandably intensely emotional. Suitably, the observed restrictions at this time are the most intense of the full mourning period, as the thoughts of the bereaved are wholly focused on the departed. In the ensuing mourning periods (known as “shloshim” — reflecting a thirty-day period observed for relatives; for a departed parent, a year-long mourning period is observed), the restrictions are somewhat lessened. Upon completion of the process, all restrictions are lifted.

A singular aspect of the shiva period involves the participation of others. During this time, friends, neighbors, and extended relatives come to visit the mourner, to offer comfort. This particular activity is known as ‘Nichum aveilim’ (Comforting mourners). The act of taking the time to share one’s company with the mourner is considered to be extremely meritorious, and can provide a measure of solace for the bereaved.

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