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Mourning Customs

Upon entering a house of mourning directly from the cemetery, it is customary for a pitcher of water to be placed outside for the ritual washing of hands.

THE SHIVA CANDLE

The Shiva candle is lit upon returning from the burial in the house of mourning for the entire seven days.  Should immediate family mourners need to return to their home in another location and wish to continue to sit Shiva, it is not uncommon for another candle to be lit. 

SHIVA

Beginning after the funeral has taken place is a period of mourning or Shiva.  The Hebrew word for seven, the immediate family members observe Shiva for what has traditionally been a period of seven days.  For some denominations of Judaism, the mourning period has been shortened to three days or even less.  Mourning has no right or wrong way.  It truly is a personal choice.  All sects of Judaism follow the same customs of the mourning period.  Shiva is not observed on Shabbat or holidays.  If a funeral should occur prior to a Jewish holiday, and the mourners have observed Shiva for at least one hour before the holiday begins, then the sitting of Shiva ends with start of the holiday at sunset.   Should a funeral occur during the intermediate days of a holiday such as Passover, then Shiva begins on the night the holiday ends.  Children under the age of 13 are not obligated to observe the mourning rituals.

What is the proper etiquette for a Shiva house?

  • When visiting a house of mourning, one should be mindful a family’s need for private time, i.e. meals.  Your presence during the shiva services is greatly appreciated and should be timed accordingly.
  • It is customary to enter a Shiva house without knocking.  Mourners are not expected to greet friends at the door.
  • People feel they need the right words to help take away the grief.  There are no right words.  Your presence and ability to listen to those in mourning is all that may be necessary.  However, many mourners have found it comforting to share in the memories or stories of their loved ones.
  • It is customary for family and friends to provide for the family meals in a house of mourning during Shiva.  

SHELOSHIM –FIRST THIRTY DAYS

Shiva is the beginning of the first thirty days of mourning after the funeral.  Upon the completion of the Shiva period, mourners resume their normal daily activities both professionally and socially with some restrictions.  During the Sheloshim period, the partaking in festive activities is discouraged.  Weddings are to take place during this time; however, mourners are not expected to attend the reception.  If one is mourning a parent, this period of mourning may be extended.  We encourage mourners to speak with their Rabbi for proper guidance.

UNVEILING OF THE HEADSTONE

The marking of the gravesite by a headstone/monument is customarily done one year after the death to mark the end of the formal mourning period.  That being said, it is perfectly acceptable to have the unveiling take place anytime after the first thirty days.

It is the custom of all Jews to properly mark the grave of a loved one, however, the type of headstone to be used is not specified.   Each cemetery has a prescribed set of guidelines for an approved headstone.  Unveiling services are scheduled by the family and should be coordinated with the Rabbi and monument company. 

YAHRZEIT

The anniversary of a death in Judaism is observed annually and is referred to as the Yahrzeit.  Traditionally a Yahrzeit candle is lit at sunset on the preceding day and concludes at sunset on the anniversary day of the death.   Those observing Yahrzeit recite the Kaddish prayer in Synagague during services.

Your synagague may be able to notify you in advance of the Yahrzeit of a loved one.