What is shiva?
Often held at the family’s home, shiva is traditionally a 7-day period of visiting and prayer at which the family receives guests and prays together. During shiva, the family gathers every day in a family home to mourn and pray. During this first week, family members usually don't go to work or participate in the routine of their normal lives. Guests are usually welcome to come to the home during this first week, and spend time with and pray with the family.
Observing shiva is also known as "sitting shiva," and there are certain customs that should be honored.
Entering the shiva house
The front door will usually be left unlocked so that guests may enter and exit quietly on their own. When you arrive at the shiva house, you should enter on your own.
Depending on the family and their preferences, guests may be asked to remove their shoes as they enter. If you're not sure what you should do, look around at other guests who are already there and follow their lead.
A pitcher of water may be placed either outside the house or just within the house for guests to wash their hands. Handwashing is a religious ritual, and if you feel comfortable washing your hands you should, though there is no obligation.
What to wear to a shiva
Though there is no specific shiva attire, when attending a shiva you should dress respectfully. Men should wear long pants and women should dress conservatively. If the shiva is being held in the home of an orthodox Jewish family, women will be expected to wear long skirts (below the knees) and long-sleeved shirts.
If you will be participating in the prayers at the shiva, you should wear a kippah or yarmulke, the traditional Jewish skullcap. The family may provide kippahs for guests to wear. If none are available and you do not have your own, you may still be able to participate in the prayer service. There may be a rabbi present leading the service, and you should feel free to ask the rabbi any questions you have about participating.
How to know if you should attend a shiva
If the family has invited all guests to attend all events, you should feel free to attend all events. If the family has specified that certain events will be private, you should respect their wishes and not attend.