What color do you wear to a shiva?

What is a shiva?

A shiva is a 7-day mourning period in Judaism during which family members gather in one home to receive visitors and well-wishers. The word “shiva” means seven, referring to the seven days of mourning. Sitting shiva is a ritual that allows the mourners to publicly express their grief while being comforted by the community. Traditionally, mirrors are covered, mourners sit on low stools or chairs, and candles are lit to honor the deceased.

What are the customs and traditions of sitting shiva?

There are several customs and traditions associated with sitting shiva:

– Wearing a torn black ribbon – This ribbon is called a keriah and is meant to symbolize the tearing or rending of a person’s world upon the death of a loved one. It is worn on the outer garment, usually on the left side.

– Covering mirrors – Mirrors are covered to avoid vanity and force mourners to focus on their inner feelings rather than outward appearance.

– Sitting on low stools – Mourners sit low to the ground to symbolize being “brought low” by grief.

– Lighting a 7-day candle – A special memorial candle is lit and burns for the 7 days of shiva.

– Removing leather shoes – Leather shoes are considered lavish and are removed when sitting shiva.

– Gathering for prayer services – Prayer services are often held in the shiva home, sometimes three times a day.

– Covering the deceased’s headstone – The unveiling of the headstone is not until after shiva, so it remains covered with a cloth during the mourning period.

– Providing consolation – Visitors come to comfort and support the mourners.

– Bringing food – Friends and community members will bring meals and food so mourners don’t have to cook.

What are the customs for mourners during shiva?

The customs for mourners during the shiva period include:

– Remaining at home – Mourners are expected to remain at home to receive visitors during the 7 days, except for Shabbat.

– Refraining from work – Mourners do not go into work or school or do any business during shiva. Their focus is meant to be grieving with family.

– Sitting on low stools or chairs – As mentioned, sitting low symbolizes being brought low by grief.

– Wearing simple, comfortable clothing – Lavish clothing and adornments are avoided during shiva.

– Keeping the door unlocked – The shiva home has an “open door” policy so visitors can enter easily to provide comfort.

– Observing personal hygiene – Bathing, hair brushing, nail cutting, and washing are typically avoided. However, mourners should wash hands and observe hygiene when required.

– Removing leather shoes – As mentioned, leather shoes are removed as part of keeping things simple.

– Keeping lighting dim – Candles are often the main light source. Overhead lights remain off or dimmed.

– Studying religious texts – The study of sacred texts is encouraged as a positive way to reflect during mourning.

– Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish – The Mourner’s Kaddish is recited daily with a minyan (quorum) present.

– Accepting the comfort of visitors – Receiving visitors is an important part of shiva, so mourners welcome this rather than isolate.

What are the origins and history of shiva?

The origins and history of shiva include:

– Biblical basis – Shiva is based on biblical traditions like the mourning periods kept by Jacob and Joseph.

– Talmudic elaboration – The Talmud expanded on biblical texts to codify Jewish mourning rituals and customs.

– Ancient roots – Shiva has origins dating back to ancient Israelite and Jewish mourning rites.

– Evolution over time – While the structure has remained the same, minor customs have evolved over Jewish history based on rabbi commentaries.

– Tracing to 2nd Temple Period – The earliest shiva practices likely trace back to the 2nd Temple Period around 516 BCE to 70 CE.

– Part of broader mourning – Shiva fits in the sequence of Jewish mourning stages: Aninut, Shiva, Sheloshim, and the Year of Mourning.

– Break from burial preparations – Shiva initially provided a break between the intense burial preparations and returning to normal life.

– Comfort from community – The gathering of community during shiva provides comfort and consolation to the bereaved.

– Keeping structure after loss – Shiva gives structure, ritual, and support during the emotionally devastating time after a loss.

– Spiritual reflection – Shiva allows mourners to reflect spiritually on the meaning of life and the ways to honor the deceased.

What colors are traditionally worn to a shiva?

The traditional color worn to a shiva is black. This signifies the darkness and grief that has come upon the mourners. As an outward sign of inner grief, wearing black is highly customary during the shiva period.

In particular:

– Men wear a black suit and tie or at minimum a black ribbon pinned to their clothes.

– Women wear a solid black dress or clothing ensemble.

– Mourners also wear torn black ribbons (keriah) on the outer garment.

– Shoes, stockings, and other garments are also black.

– The color black dominates and any bright colors or lavish clothing is avoided.

– Some may choose to wear more casual solid black clothing like sweaters or pants.

– All black clothing is worn throughout the 7 days with no exceptions for Shabbat.

– Accessories, nail polish, makeup, and jewelry are ideally removed or kept minimal.

So in summary, traditional shiva attire is completely black, stripped of embellishments and flair to convey bereavement and honor the deceased. The black clothing worn by mourners and visitors alike sets the solemn tone for receiving guests.

Are there any exceptions to wearing black during shiva?

The main exception to wearing solid black during the shiva period is for the Sabbath on Saturday. During Shabbat, mourners may change into white or lighter colored clothing to properly observe this sacred day of rest and renewal amidst their grief and loss.

Some other minor exceptions include:

– Children below bar/bat mitzvah age need not adhere strictly to black attire.

– Pregnant women or new mothers may opt for slightly lighter colors that are comfortable.

– In very hot climates, lighter shades like gray may be permitted.

– If a spouse needs to briefly leave shiva for a work obligation, dark colors besides black can be worn.

– When shiva concludes on the 7th day, mourners may begin transitioning from black back to regular clothing.

However, most rabbinical authorities emphasize maintaining black garments for the full 7 days for continuity of mourning customs. Any deviations should be minimal out of respect for tradition.

Are there differences in wearing black for a male or female in mourning?

The customs for wearing black during shiva are essentially the same for both men and women:

– The color black dominates the mourning clothing.

– Lavish clothing, brighter colors, and embellishments should be avoided.

– Torn black ribbons are worn on the outer garment.

– Comfortable, simple clothing is recommended for sitting shiva.

However, there are a few minor differences in black shiva attire for males and females:

– Men wear a solid black suit, or at minimum a black shirt and pants.

– Women have more options like dresses, skirts, blouses, sweaters, or pants.

– Women may wear nylons or tights in black rather than bare legs.

– Men often just wear a keriah ribbon, while women can wear ribbons in multiple locations.

– Pregnant or nursing mothers may opt for slightly more loose or flowing garments in black.

– Women sometimes utilize head coverings like scarves or hats in black.

So overall, black mourning garb is universal for both genders, with some minor styling differences in items like dresses, head coverings, ribbons, and pregnancy attire. But the adherence to black is constant.

Are there any other color options besides black that can be worn?

Wearing all black clothing during the shiva mourning period is considered vitally important to convey bereavement and respect the gravity of the loss. However, in some exceptional cases, darker colors besides pure black may be permitted:

– As mentioned, white or lighter colors only for Shabbat observance on Saturday.

– If the mourner’s profession requires it, dark blue or gray suits temporarily.

– Dark brown shoes may substitute black in some instances.

– For those sitting shiva in very warm climates, lighter shades of gray are sometimes allowed.

– Pregnant women may wear deep navy maternity clothing for comfort if needed.

– Children below bar/bat mitzvah age can wear dark colors like deep purple, brown, or blue.

But it is worth emphasizing that these are exceptions, and most traditional rabbis still stress the importance of remaining in black garb through the shiva period if possible. The black clothing has significant meaning and purpose and minor exceptions are only for rare situations of necessity.

What color should you avoid wearing to a shiva?

In general, you should avoid wearing any bright, showy colors to a shiva. Sticking to black, dark gray, brown, or neutral tones is respectful. Colors to avoid when going to pay a shiva visit include:

– Red – Too lively and attention-grabbing for a house of mourning.

– Yellow – Also too bright and contrary to the solemn mood.

– Orange – Too vivid and energetic for a shiva call.

– Pink – Too festive for mourning, save for pale pink.

– Purple – Though darker tones may be acceptable, avoid bright purple.

– Blue – Sky blue or bright shades are unsuitable, though navy is likely fine.

– Green – Vibrant greens disrupt the somberness, stick to dark olive tones.

– White – Again, white is reserved for Shabbat observance on Saturday.

– Metallic colors – Shiny golds, silvers, etc. violate the modest, understated atmosphere.

So in summary, steer clear of all intensely saturated, lively colors. Stick to muted, dark neutral tones that respectfully convey condolences. When in doubt, wear black if possible.

Are there any recommended colors besides black that are appropriate to wear?

Sticking to black clothing is always the safest recommendation when attending a shiva. However, if black is unavailable, these darker color options are generally deemed appropriate:

– Dark gray – A conservative, somber tone suitable for a house of mourning.

– Brown – Darker earth tones like chocolate brown are understated.

– Navy – A very dark blue that still conveys solemnity.

– Dark green – Deep greens like hunter green are more subdued.

– Burgundy – A very dark red that skews more neutral.

– Eggplant – A darker purple shade that isn’t too bright.

– Charcoal – A dark neutral that has a black-ish hue.

So in essence, the most suitable colors are highly saturated versions of more muted, earthy tones that align with mourning sensibilities. Black still reigns supreme, but these alternatives can also demonstrate respectfulness if black clothing poses a difficulty.

What significance does the color black hold in Jewish mourning rituals?

The color black holds deep spiritual and emotional significance in Jewish mourning rituals:

– It represents the darkness and void left by the loss of a loved one.

– Black visually conveys the inner grief, pain, and devastation felt by mourners.

– Dressing in black is a visible, outward sign of mourning and bereavement.

– It shows empathy and shared grief with the immediate family members of the deceased.

– The color creates a solemn atmosphere for receiving visitors who come to pay respects.

– Black absorbs light and is devoid of decoration, reflecting the emptied lives of the mourners.

– Not wearing color is an act of humility and simplicity in a time of difficulty.

– Black garments unite the Jewish community in mourning and remembrance rituals.

So in essence, black has become the customary color of bereavement across Jewish culture, with deep emotional, spiritual, and communal significance during mourning periods like shiva.

What are some tips for dressing appropriately as a shiva visitor?

Here are some tips for dressing appropriately when paying a shiva visit:

– If possible, wear black formal attire like a suit, dress, or overcoat. This shows respect.

– If you don’t own black clothing, opt for the darkest neutrals possible like dark gray or brown.

– Avoid wearing elaborate jewelry, accessories, or conspicuous makeup and perfumes.

– Don’t wear any clothing with loud patterns, images, or text that could be distracting.

– Cover your shoulders, arms, legs, and chest appropriately to the solemn setting.

– Leather shoes are not permitted, so wear more simple, understated footwear.

– A small black ribbon pinned somewhere can demonstrate shared mourning.

– Dress modestly and conservatively to honor the dignity of the occasion.

– Ask if head coverings are required when entering the shiva home as a sign of reverence.

– Keep your visit brief so mourners aren’t overwhelmed by a constant flow of guests.


In summary, wearing the color black during the shiva mourning period of Judaism is a deeply meaningful tradition. The black clothing conveys bereavement, grief, and solemn remembrance of the deceased. Close adherence to all black garb is customary, with minor exceptions made only when absolutely necessary. Visitors to a shiva home should also dress appropriately in black, dark colors, and modest attire that honors the dignity of the occasion. With some advance preparation and understanding of traditional customs, dressing for a shiva visit shows reverence for the mourners and respect for the sacred rituals of Jewish life and death.

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