Good Mourning

The do's and don'ts of making a shiva visit

Comments (24)

(24) Anonymous, January 9, 2012 5:22 PM

Hello Rabbi--I just listened to what you had to say for the third time, and I am so appreciative of your words. I lost my mother this past November, and I was so glad to see my friends and neighbors. Unfortunately my siblings chose not to sit shiva at all, but that was out of my control. For me sitting shiva was a privilege.

(23) Anonymous, September 22, 2011 8:44 PM

Rabbi--Thank you for this most enlightening presentation. Believe it or not, it was only 7 years ago that I learned one does not knock on the door before entering a shiva house. Up until that time I was woefully ignorant regarding this fact. Whenever a Jewish person in my community is sitting shiva, I do my best to pay a call. For me, doing this mitzvah is a must.

(22) YY, May 26, 2009 12:06 PM

Another doozy

Two days into shiva, a very respected ultra-litvish member of the community came in, sat in front, who also lost a child. After a while, said two things, one being the most upsetting thing I ever heard, the other one of the most comforting. Without preamble or correlation, told me the story of a particular litvish gadol, who after three days of mourning his young son, was told by his rebbitzen, that they were not permitted to cry any more tears, as it appears that they are questioning the ways and good intentions of G-d. I just sat there open-mouthed. I know everything he does is for the best, that doesn't mean I am not in tremendous pain from missing my child. To turn off the waterworks for that reason is the coldest human response I can think of. It was certainly inappropriate. He subsequently told me that the only time HASHEM calls us his children in the Torah is when we are grieving the loss of a family member and we are tempted to let out the emotion by tearing out our hair or scratching our skin, and HASHEM says in Devarim (14:1), (don't take it out that way, because I still love you,) my children.

(21) yocheved yaeger, August 17, 2008 4:34 AM

my experience

we just finished sitting shiva for my mother-in law, of blessed memeory. it very often seemed as if it was a party atmosphere here, with my husband (as well as all of us) really enjoying the "company" and all the shmoozing with all the friends and relatives, especially those we have not seen in a long while. i felt this was not the purpose of the shiva experinece. also, it was so greatly difficult for my diabetic husband and elderly father-in-law to eat dinner, as people kept coming all evening, especially around dinner time. i do understand that people want to visit on their way home from work (as i so often have) but how do the mourners eat when people stream in all day and night. i do have to admit that the week was very suportive and nurturing, and healing overall. now we look foward to the shloshim, with the siyum and sueda.the hard part now is living without my mother-in law. thank you for this opportunity to express my feelings.

(20) Anonymous, August 15, 2008 5:27 PM

Please prepare a printed guidebook!

Dear Rabbi Salomon, This is such an important topic - it's time to print a guidebook for the public. (Is there one?) Every time someone in my family or community sits shiva they are appalled at how little people know about proper (as well as halachic) 'shiva etiquette'. It's discussed often but forgotten too quickly. So good that you brought up the topic... why don't you take it a step further? Yasher Koach.

(19) A, August 13, 2008 7:29 PM

for the benefit of the doubt

ok, so some of you like chit chat even during mourning... but the point is when you inform yourself of Jewish Tradition, wether the visitor is Jewish or not, this is the safest way to behave so you don't make a fool out of yourself! just the safest way, that's all, many well intending people simply goof and come up with the stupidest things to say and at a time of mourning, it is the worst time to say them... so doesn't it make sense to shut up and just lend support to the mourner!?

(18) Daniela, August 13, 2008 4:12 PM

Aron, let up on the Rabbi !

Waiting to be greeted by a mourner is Jewish custom, not Rabbi Solomon's opinion. It's how we do things. Saying "my condolences" may be nice, but it's a non-Jewish custom, and we don't follow the ways of the non-Jews. Frankly, I like our way better - it allows the mourner to not feel like saying anything when otherwise s/he might feel bad making people obligated to talk, which is unnecessarily awkward.

(17) Shmuel Zev, August 13, 2008 4:10 PM

a topic anyone should/could bring up

I often ask the mourner to tell me what they learned from the deceased or what was special about him/her. This usually directs the discussion to a proper way. It also allows me to feel comfortable speaking to the mourner, even if we do not have a close relationship. Additionally, it leaves us both with a greater appreciation for the deceased

(16) Cheryl Ruth, August 13, 2008 1:58 PM


Thank you Rabbi always for your insitefull information!May HaShem continue to bless and keep you!

(15) Jennifer Kelly-Bowser, August 13, 2008 1:45 PM

I Work with the Dead

I am still in school for Funeral Services, and part of our training is how ro talk to mouners. Some Funeral homes have people ha are stupid when they open their mouth, and those are he ones you try to avoid. We are all taught the same thing, be courtous and don't say anything you wouldn't want said to you at a time like this. , and remember you may be asked o join the family after services, so the same rule applies, "Say nothing Stpid, or hat you wouldn't want said to you at a ime like this". Now, i'm just geting to this point, many family members would rather talk o us, than some of the friends or family members. One lady ask if she could call me, and my answer was when ever you need to. Our Service doesn't stop after burial. We feel we should be there in your time of need, for anything you need. One of my instructors was there and was delighed I said that, She told me I had common sense, and tat was the correct reply. Seems to me many people in an effort to reassure the gref stricken, try to make them laugh, orsomething out of desperation, because they haven't experienced it or what ever. They could say it was a nice service, I think your family member would have enjoyed it, or you did a nice job on the funeral if hey can't think of anything else.

(14) shaul, August 13, 2008 9:33 AM

small addition

Some years ago a friend of mine had a series of tragic events. The climax was with the sudden death of his wife ר,"ל, . I visited him at work on occasion, he tried to maintain a regular life but often crashed emotionally into tears. He told me that as a rabbi,) he visited mourners sitting shiva, and knows the protocol of what to say. However when he was in mourning, the same words where hollow to him. The only person who reaely gave him nechama was the vishnitzer rebbe (he is in no way Chasidic). I told him that I must know what the rebbe said, for the benefit of others. After a moment of reflection my friend said “he didn’t say anything! He just gave a heartfelt sigh, and I knew he was bearing my pain”. A lesson for all of us.

(13) Grace Fishenfeld, August 12, 2008 5:44 PM

Later Too

Everything the Rabbbi said is important. I just visited a shiva home and felt upset about the loss of the young son who died. He was the son of my husband's colleague. Upon entering the shiva home I saw the parents talking easily about their son. Quietly, I noted that it was important to remain silent and to listen. The stories of their pleasant memories gave comfort to all who came. We realized that it would be a good deed to be in touch with the mourners after a few weeks and to help them, through the intrest of loving friends, back to the present.

(12) abe, August 12, 2008 5:33 PM


i believe if the mourner is speaking to people near u, then u are allowed to pick up on what their saying & u dont have to wait for the mourner to speak to u specifically. Ask ur Rabbi.

(11) aron, August 12, 2008 3:27 PM

Rabbi, you are dead wrong (no pun intended).

When sitting shiva, I was actually GRATIFIED when a visitor took the initiative & approached me & said "my condolences." Firstly because it was a kind correct gesture, & secondly because it took the burden off the mourner to know how to greet the visitor (one doesn't really fell like saying "hello" or some such thing). Par contraire, when the visitor carries in a great wall of silence, this injects a weird sense of unnaturalness in the shiva house. Rabbi S., I expected better from you!

(10) Larry McHargue, August 12, 2008 1:55 PM

Excellent Advice

This advice is valuable for either Jews or Christians. I have winced at times when I have heard comments such as those that the rabbi warns against spoken to those who have just lost family or friends.

(9) Anonymous, August 12, 2008 10:50 AM

very important article

Yes, I tend to think that people can say the most assanine things when others are grieving. Sometimes just sitting there is best. I tend to think and sometimes say, if it's appropriate, that "I do not know what to say, yet I am here for you. My door and my ears are always open for you. If you need me for anything- to listen, to sit and not say anything at all or anything at all, you are please call on me." I know when my mother and father lost my brother tragically, there was a woman at my mother's work place,(nursing of all places and jobs), who said the most lousy thing that I have heard of to this date. She knew my mother had witnessed my brother's(her son), and says, "Geee so and so(my mom's name), it's been three weeks and yet you STILL seem so sad." UNBELIEVABLE!

(8) Sallie, August 12, 2008 9:47 AM

Thinking of good times.

When my brother died in Sept 99, my father said life goes on and during the shiva we told jokes, especially because my brother had young grandchildren and it was hard to keep them quiet. When my father died in Dec 2000, we did the same thing. Some of his neighbors thought that we were being disrespectful, but we followed my father's wishes. The memories of my parents and brother, grandmother were enforced by remembering the good and even the bad times. That to me is the real meaning of life and helped us to heal the loss.

(7) Anonymous, August 12, 2008 7:58 AM

speaking first

When I sat shiva I was very conscious of the fact that I had to speak first without a greeting. I tried to say something to everyone that came in, about the weather, put your coat down, etc., so I will have spoken to them first.

(6) Rosen, August 12, 2008 6:47 AM

some positive feedback for Rabbi Soloman

I forgot to mention earlier that when the Rabbi said that one shouldn't tell a mourner, "I know how you feel" is an important rule of thumb, since understandably, one cannot fully empathize with another due to their different stories and views of the deceased. Thanks for pointing out that you cannot always assume one can always know the feelings of another, especially during a shiva.

(5) chavi, August 11, 2008 8:20 PM

easing the mourner's discomfort

How does one ease an uncomfortable situation when it is clear that the mourner(s) does not recognize you and you cannot speak until spoken to? I recently had a very uncomfortable experience where I went to pay a shiva call to a coworker with whom I really don't have much interaction. There were several family members sitting, when I entered, and one of them strongly resembled my coworker, but not exactly. But then, women do look different in a snood than in a sheitel. So I wasn't really sure if she was the person I had come to comfort. No one said a single word to me, and so I could not say anything, either. We spent a very uncomfortable ten or fifteen minutes, until I finally got up, said the posuk to all of them, and left. A couple of weeks later, I met my coworker at work, and she confirmed that her sister looks very much like her, and she was not in the room at the time. Still, had I been able to speak, the discomfort everyone was in would have been broken and there would have been a point to my shiva call, even without my coworker being present. I think people in mourning need to be provided with some neutral openers, and may even admit to not recognizing the caller, so that a dialog can be opened, and the visitor has the opportunity to speak.

(4) israel halpern, August 11, 2008 4:56 PM

what not to say

there was a young mother who lost a husband and all where sitting quietly around her, when one lady said " what did you give him for supper the last night " fish " she replied "well it mst have been the fish " terrible but a true story

(3) Anonymous, August 11, 2008 9:29 AM

sitting silent

many times I will pay a shiva call and like is recommended sit silently and listen but I've herd numerous mourners say they feel like an exhibit with people just coming to stare at them.

(2) American Sabrah, August 11, 2008 7:26 AM

Although I wasn't at that particular shiva call but I was told what took place there. A man recently lost his wife leaving him behind several young children. One of his friends tried to comfort him, not intending any insensitivity, by telling him he no longer has to mourn for his deceased wife because hse is now in a better place.

(1) Rosen, August 11, 2008 5:21 AM


I find funerals bittersweet, and I remain mostly silent to respect the deceased. Hope the feeling of bittersweetness isn't in any way disrespect to the deceased and mourners, though.


Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment

Receive Weekly Current Issues Emails

Sign up to our Current Issues Jewsletter.

Our privacy policy