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The psychological brilliance of Judaism is nowhere more apparent than in its carefully ritualized structure for dealing with grief. The open expression of sorrow is permitted, even encouraged. Yet, beginning with the family’s arrival at the shiva home after the funeral, a process is set into motion that leads the bereaved gently, but firmly, back to life and the world of the living. The first stage in this gradual process of healing is called shiva.
Shiva is a Hebrew word meaning "seven" and refers to a seven-day period of formalized mourning by the immediate family of the deceased. Shiva begins immediately after the burial and concludes a short time after the morning service (Shacharit) on the seventh day.
It is customary to observe shiva in the home of the deceased. Where this is not possible or feasible, shiva may be observed in the home of an immediate family member or even a friend. Most importantly, however, the family should be together during this time.
Jewish law prescribes observance of shiva for one’s parent, sibling, child, or spouse.
Technically, shiva begins immediately after the burial, while still at the cemetery. In fact, many people change into their non-leather shoes worn during shivah while still at the cemetery, to indicate that they are now aveilim. The majority of the rituals of shiva begin, however, when the mourners return to the shiva home (or to the place of shiva). At that time, prior to entering the house, the hands are washed from a pre-placed container of water, and dried on disposable towels. Then a family member lights the shiva candle which is provided by the funeral home and which burns for seven days (no blessing is recited). The shiva candle serves as a mark of respect for the deceased, as in Jewish tradition the flame is symbolic of the soul.