Monday, August 10, 2009

Shiva Call

Consoling the mourner (often referred to as paying a shiva call) is one of the most fulfilling, and challenging, mitzvot.

One who is going to console mourners (menachem avel) should remember that this is not a social visit. The mourner(s) are not meant to serve as host(s). They will not greet those who enter, nor will they see them out.

The food at an Ashkenazic shiva house, unless clearly marked, is for the mourners, not visitors. In Sephardic communities, it is traditional to eat a variety of foods so as to make many blessings in honor of the deceased. If one wishes to bring food to a shiva house, it is advisable to speak to the person who is organizing the shiva to see what is needed.

The laws of being menachem avel stress that it is important for the visitor to follow the lead of the mourner. Therefore, it is customary not to speak until the mourner(s) opens the conversation. There may be situations in which the mourner(s) does not feel like talking and therefore says nothing to the visitor. However, the very presence of the visitor serves as a comfort. One should not speak lightheartedly in the presence of a mourner, nor make idle small talk. Visitors are encouraged to speak about the deceased with the mourner, to relate stories and fond memories of the person.

Unless there is a clear indication that the mourner wants a visitor to stay longer, 15-20 minutes is the maximum time for a shiva call.

At the end of the shiva call, it is customary in Ashkenazic communities to say: May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem (Ha’Makom yenachem etchem b'toch sh'ar aveilei Tzion vee'yerushaliyim). In Sephardic communities, it is customary to say: May you be comforted from Heaven (Tenuhamu min Hashamayim).

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