Role of the Shiva Minyan

The daily prayer services in the mourner's home offer community and connection to those facing devastating loss.

Print this page Print this page

Into a family assaulted by chaos, battered by unjustifiable loss, the shiva minyan asserts continuing purpose, affirms a world view that stands in the face of death and proclaims the imperative of life, acting on the biblical charge for "one generation to laud God's works to another." Precisely by reciting prayers that acclaim God's goodness, we assert our determination to endure, to comfort, and to blossom. The shiva minyan restores a lost vision of how to live, how to retain order, goal, and direction in a shattered world.

Finally, a significant component of a mourner's devastation is the severed sense of belonging. Having lost one of the closest ties to the outside world, one of the most intimate of relationships, the mourner flounders in lonely isolation. Abandonment sets the somber tone of the mourner's mood.

It's impossible to be a Jew alone. While sociologists confirm that human identity is formed in community, and object-relations psychology teaches that even an infant's sense of self derives from its interactions with others, nowhere is that need more pressing than in the isolation of a mourner. And nowhere is the assumption of community more pervasive than in the world of traditional Judaism.

The mourner, then, reels from the universal and human loss of context and belonging--a loss made more acute by the particular way Jews generally can presume the support of their community. The shiva minyan--because it occurs in the home, because it is composed of friends and fellow congregants--does more than remind the mourner of membership in a larger community. It creates that community--precisely where it is most needed. By physically entering the isolation of the mourner, the shiva minyan dispels it.

For all these reasons, the shiva minyan is needed most where is desired least. In a place of anger, the practice of shiva offers acceptance and love. To a heart adrift, the shiva minyan restores direction. And to the agony of individual pain, the shiva minyan creates a portable and persistent community.

The Kabbalists [Jewish mystics] spoke well when they pointed out that the only way to gather the shattered sparks of divine light--now held by the forces of chaos and despair--was to enter the sitra ahra, the side of darkness. The only place to provide healing, comfort, and an abiding sense of God's love and communal support is in the home of the mourner.

"Out of the depths, I called to You, Lord." And it is out of the depths that healing, community, and solace can hope to emerge.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.