An Unorthodox Shiva Minyan

The important thing is not how many separate injunctions are obeyed but how and in what spirit we obey them. -Baal Shem Tov

The purpose of the shiva minyan is to comfort the mourner.

Last week I was called upon to facilitate a shiva minyan for a woman whose brother had died in another city. Now that the mourner was back home, she wanted to complete her seven days of mourning with her own local community.



The Hebrew prayer said at shiva minyan.

People poured in during the day, but as the seven o’clock evening hour approached, only a few people remained. So we waited for a minyan, the obligatory quorum of ten to be able to pray. When seven-thirty arrived, so did the tenth person.

I assessed the situation.  Two Jews, two Hindus, two Baptists, two Evangelical Christians, one Catholic — and me, the rabbi.

Shiva is the most therapeutic of Jewish mourning rituals. It honors the journey of the bereaved by providing friends, family, and co-workers a proscribed setting in which to express their sympathies and condolences.

“‘Shiva’ means seven, the holy number of the days of creation and the number of days Jews withdraw from daily life to mourn a beloved,” I explained.

“Has anyone been to Jerusalem?” I asked, not knowing what the response would be.

“Oh, yes!” came the feedback. “Several times,” echoed the African American couple sitting directly across from me.

“As you might remember, there are seven open gates in the Old City. In ancient times, there were eleven gates, and the Temple in the ancient city of Jerusalem had a separate path set aside for the mourners. As the mourners came through this selected gate, they came face-to-face with other members of the community, and the people expressed the recognition of their loss by reciting this Hebrew verse.”

HaMakom y’nachem etkhem b’tokh sh’ar aveilei Tzion v’ Yrushalayim.

The mourner's shiva ribbon.

Posted on February 17, 2012

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