Shiva and Work

Shiva usually means an entire week off work.

In accordance with this custom, mourners observing shiva do not leave the house to go to their workplace or carry out any work-related tasks during the week-long period. Normally they resume their work after the week of mourning has ended.

Some Tips for Mourners

If you recently suffered a loss, alerting co-workers and supervisors of the death of your family member or close friend may seem like a trivial task. However, these notifications are important to keep co-workers and supervisors apprised of your plans to observe shiva and/or other mourning customs. In addition, these notifications allow co-workers to take over key responsibilities during your absence and provide valuable updates upon your return.

This may also be an opportune time to discuss your company’s bereavement policy with a supervisor or human resources representative. Although a bereavement policy serves as a guide for employers, each situation is unique. Depending on your individual mourning customs, exceptions to the stated policy may occasionally be made.

Many companies offer employees paid time off, personal days, or other considerations in the event of a close personal loss. If you have questions about your company’s bereavement policy, it is best to speak with a supervisor or someone in the human resources department.

Some Tips for Colleagues

If a Jewish colleague dies, it is appropriate for a supervisor or senior company representative to attend the funeral service and make a shiva call. Doing so sends a message to the mourning family about the company’s appreciation for the deceased’s work and his or her contribution to the business. Moreover, the company may wish to make a charitable donation in the deceased’s name and/or send a condolence item, such as a fruit basket or meat platter, to the shiva house on behalf of the company.

If you have a Jewish colleague who is in mourning, he or she should be treated with respect and compassion. Oftentimes co-workers show their support by participating in services, making a shiva call, and/or sending condolence items to comfort the mourners. Because the majority of mourners observing shiva will not be able to address any work concerns, questions and work-related correspondence should be kept to a minimum. In addition, workers should not be pressured to complete work-related tasks during the mourning period. Showing sincere compassion will help re-establish the worker’s belief that he or she is truly cared for and valued by the organization.


Some exceptions to the time away from work tradition do exist. Physicians, nurses, emergency room personnel and elected officials (whose duties cannot be taken over by other individuals during their absence) can work during the shiva period. This exception is made because these individuals are performing a vital service that ultimately results in the betterment of society.

In the event that the absence of a mourner observing the shiva will result in extreme economic loss, an exception can also be made to allow the individual to continue his or her work. (In this instance, the individual should attempt to work at night in order to observe shiva during the day. If possible, the individual should strive to postpone work responsibilities until after the third day of mourning.) Finally, an exception exists that allows impoverished mourners to be exempted from observing the full seven days of shiva. Destitute mourners should observe the first three days of shiva; after the first three days, the mourners can return to work.

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.

Looking for a way to say Mourner’s Kaddish in a minyan? My Jewish Learning’s daily online minyan gives mourners and others an opportunity to say Kaddish in community and learn from leading rabbis. 

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