Customs Observed in the Shiva House
Note: This section discusses just a few of the mourning practices observed in a shiva house. It is not a substitute for a thorough study of these laws. Please consult your rabbi with questions of practical application.
It is customary to light a candle in deceased’s home, based upon the request of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi to light a candle in his place after his passing (Kesubos 103a). Olive oil is optimum but candles (or, in a pinch, even electric lights) may also be used. This light should be kept burning continuously throughout the week of shiva.
The practice is to cover the mirrors in the house of a mourner. A number of explanations are given for this practice. One explanation is that the mirrors are covered because the mourners are not supposed to be concerned with their appearance at this time. Others say that it is because minyanim meet regularly in shiva houses and it is prohibited to daven facing a mirror. Mirrors need not be covered in a room that the mourner will not use. For example, if a parent is in mourning, mirrors need not be covered in the children’s bedrooms.
There is a prevalent custom not to remove anything from a shiva house; this includes even retrieving items that had previously been borrowed by the mourner. There are many variations of this practice. For example, some are lenient when it comes to food, while others rule stringently. Some prohibit only things taken directly from the mourner’s hand. Some limit the prohibition to items in the room where the deceased passed away. There are many such differences, including those who consider the entire practice baseless and impose no restrictions whatsoever.
Tachanun is not recited in a house of mourning even if the mourners are not present (Shaarei Teshuva OC 131:10). The custom is to recite Psalm 49, Lamnatzeiach Livnei Korah, following the morning and evening services in a shiva house. (There are those who also recite it following the afternoon service.) On days on which Tachanun is not recited (i.e., not recited anywhere), Psalm 16, Michtam l’David, is substituted.
Next: The Shiva Visit