Meal of Consolation (Seudat Havra’ah)

The ritual meal after a Jewish funeral.

Upon returning from the funeral to the home where shiva will be observed, it is traditional to ritually wash one’s hands with water from a pitcher placed outside the door. This custom is based on the biblical concept that contact with a corpse is a major cause of ritual impurity (Num. 19:11). It also stresses that Judaism is concerned with the value and dignity of life, rather than excessive attention to or worship of the dead.

The washing is performed with a cup of water poured alternatively on both hands; as with the shovel at the filling of the grave, the cup is not passed directly from hand to hand.

It is the obligation of the community to provide a meal of condolence (seudat havra’ah) for the mourners on their return from the cemetery. Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud criticized neighbors who left the bereaved to prepare their own meal, cursing them for being so callous to the plight of the mourners.

What types of food are traditionally eaten?

Upon returning from the funeral to the home where shiva will be observed, it is traditional to ritually wash one’s hands with water from a pitcher placed outside the door. This custom is based on the biblical concept that contact with a corpse is a major cause of ritual impurity (Num. 19:11). It also stresses that Judaism is concerned with the value and dignity of life, rather than excessive attention to or worship of the dead.

It is customary to serve foods that are round to symbolize the cyclical and continuous nature of life. Among the most common are hard-boiled eggs (a symbol of the close connection between life and death), lentils, garbanzo beans, and even bagels.

According to some, the egg is the only food that hardens the longer it is cooked, stressing that human beings must learn to steel themselves when death occurs. Similarly, the egg is completely sealed inside its shell, reminding the mourners to remain silent and refrain from casual talk.

Lentils are especially significant because, unlike most beans, they have no eye–symbolic of the deceased no longer being seen. Also, just as lentils have no mouth, so are mourners forbidden to open their mouths to greet people (Gen. Rabbah 63:14).

The critical importance of the meal of consolation to the mourners is that it is served by friends and other family members who care deeply for them. In modern times, guests now share in this meal, but it was once limited to those in mourning.

Sign up for a Journey Through Grief & Mourning: Whether you have lost a loved one recently or just want to learn the basics of Jewish mourning rituals, this 8-part email series will guide you through everything you need to know and help you feel supported and comforted at a difficult time.

Discover More

Timeline of Jewish Mourning

Key Jewish milestones after the loss of a loved one

Comforting Jewish Mourners: Nihum Avelim

Respect for the deceased, kindness and concern for those who mourn.

The Jewish Funeral, or Levaya

A Jewish funeral is held as quickly as possible after death and usually includes readings, a eulogy, and a special memorial prayer.

Sheloshim: The Bridge to a New Normal

The ritual of shiva is well known. Why do we mark 30 days of mourning, too?

The Mourner’s Kaddish Is Misunderstood

The prayer does not praise (or even name) God. Here’s why.

When It’s OK To Say Nothing

At shiva, the mourner gets to decide whether or not to initiate conversation.

Readings Every Jewish Mourner Should Know

These are among Judaism’s most comforting words.

How to Organize a Shiva

A checklist and advice for preparing a Jewish house of mourning.