Judaism is filled with many rituals in life, and provisions within death. Exploring the common traditions of Jewish culture, it is clear that today’s mourning process has changed. With different levels of observance come modern ways of mourning, and less restriction on the 7-day Shiva.
Traditionally there are many customs and rituals to a Jewish burial process. First, Shiva, which is the most common practice, and has been known to exist for over 2,000 years, is when family members can express their bereavement for one week. The week takes place after the burial, and begins on the day the deceased is buried. Traditionally, mirrors are covered and a small tear is made in the mourners clothing, symbolizing a disregard for vanity. Simple clothing is worn and the mourners sit on the floor or on a small stool. In recent times, the mourner can stand, lay down to sleep and sit down at a table to eat. During these 7-days immediate family will “formally mourn” by remembering, telling stories and sharing memories of the deceased with one another. Anything outside of this is prohibited, which differs depending on the situation. For those who must work, they go to work, and function within society.
Traditionally all the all activities of daily life including work or play, chores, television, and activities are restricted. In today’s society, many people cannot afford to miss out on work, and for this reason Shiva is altered for some.
During Shiva, mourners are not to prepare their own meals; they are to leave doors unlocked, so that guests can enter and pay their respects without them having to play host. This time frame allows the feelings of guilt, anger, regret, fear, and other emotions to surface and be dealt with.
The three main Jewish groups in America today are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform (Orthodox being the most strict and traditional of the three). It can be expected that Orthodox Jews will “sit Shiva” in the traditional sense, as opposed to other Jews because of their strict lifestyle and culture. Reform Jews, a North American movement that has taken place for over 130 years, are set in a belief of innovation, while preserving its traditions. There are also individuals that do not practice the religion, but continue to keep it as their faith. For each person the mourning process is different, and not as formal and tradition-based.
Another restriction is that flowers and other gifts are not practiced in Jewish mourning rituals. Several cemeteries provide flowers for Jewish mourning, and allow for flowers to be offered for condolence. Today the beauty of flowers and the gesture seems to be appreciated over a simple donation. For family members it is still customary that instead, a donation is to be made in the name of the deceased to an organization.
The Jewish culture has preserved its mourning rituals for the most part, and to some degree, most followers practice the tradition of Shiva as best as can be. From Conservatives, to Orthodox, to Reformed Jews, the mourning process is immediate and allows each family to face their grief. While the technicalities of the Shiva period may not be practiced, “sitting Shiva” is on all important levels.