When a death occurs, there is a heightened sensitivity and awareness about the ways each religion, faith and culture may observe different traditions, rituals and customs relating to burial, visitations and mourning practices. When considering how to express condolences to family, friends and co-workers of the Jewish faith, one of the most commonly asked questions is: What is appropriate to bring or send to those in mourning during a shiva? We recommend visiting our partner, shiva.com the resource for Jewish mourning for comprehensive information and guidance on what to bring or send.

The Basics of a Shiva

Shiva (translated literally to “seven”) is the week-long mourning period for first-degree relatives of the deceased, and it is the first part of structured mourning in the Jewish faith. The primary purpose of the shiva tradition, or “sitting shiva,” is to create an environment of comfort and community for mourners. Throughout the observance of a shiva, mourners come together in one family’s home to offer their condolence and support. Specific observances may vary depending on the Jewish community, but it is a time for first-degree relatives of the deceased to focus on mourning, honoring and remembering.

Why Is Food Customary during a Jewish Shiva?

In Judaism, family, friends, and the greater community take on the responsibility of comforting and providing for those that are mourning by tending to their basic needs while a family is sitting shiva. During the shiva, mourners are required to abstain from participating in some of the most basic functions of everyday life, including cooking and preparing meals. Emotional and physical support, most importantly nourishment is provided by the community.

The first meal occurs upon return from the cemetery, and is called the seudat havara’ah. The seudat havara’ah is considered a private meal to be shared among immediate family members, not a public event where condolences are offered.

For the balance of the shiva, it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that mourners receive sufficient food and proper nourishment.

What Is a Shiva Basket?

In Judaism, a shiva basket is a customary condolence gift containing a variety of food items that is sent to the home of those sitting shiva following the loss of a loved one. These food items are generally intended to provide nourishment for those in mourning throughout the week long duration of the shiva, as mourners traditionally do not leave the shiva house during this time (except for extreme circumstances, such as traveling to a different shiva or when a human life is otherwise at risk).

Shiva Baskets, Trays, Platters and Meals

In Judaism, following a death, it is customary and traditional to express sympathy and offer condolences by bringing or sending food and condolence baskets (referred to as ‘shiva baskets’) to the family members of the deceased who are sitting shiva. There are several different types of food arrangements, baskets and sympathy gifts that may be sent to a shiva following a burial in Judaism. Appropriate food items found within a shiva basket include baked goods and desserts, fruit, dried fruitnuts, and assorted chocolates. An alternative term for a ‘shiva basket’ commonly referred to in connection with sending a food item is a ‘shiva tray’ or ‘platter’. A shiva tray or platter generally contains meats, fish, specialty salads, fruit and sweets that are delivered or shipped to the shiva home as a meal. In addition or as opposed to sending a basket, family, friends and colleagues may elect to send a shiva platter or even consider catering a meal for the family.

When to Send a Shiva Basket

Shiva begins immediately after burial, with the day of the funeral counted as the first day of a shiva. Families are grateful to receive food and condolence items at any point during the seven-day mourning period. Additionally, it is tradition for friends, neighbors and the broader community to supply and prepare the seudat havra’ah – or “first meal” – upon return to the shiva home, which is generally consumed following the funeral.


Unlike many other cultures, in which flowers are generally considered symbols of respect and condolence and may adorn the casket of the deceased, flowers are typically not a part of the Jewish mourning tradition. Sending flowers to a burial or funeral service, or the home of family members, is not widely practiced in Jewish communities. There are some Jewish communities that believe the life cycle of flowers should not be interrupted or cut short in order to create floral arrangements for a funeral.


It is a Jewish custom and part of the foundation of Judaism to perform an act of tzedakah, or charity, to honor the memory of the deceased. This generally takes the form of a donation to a synagogue or other institution the deceased was associated with or supported.

Excerpted with permission from shiva.com. Get more information about Jewish mourning and sympathy here.

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