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Shiva or shiv'ah (Hebrew word meaning "seven") is the name for Judaism's week-long period of grief and mourning for the seven first-degree relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse; grandparents and grandchildren are not included. As most regular activity is interrupted, the process of following the Shiva ritual is referred to as sitting shiva.

Immediately upon the burial of the departed (which traditionally occurs within one day of death), any first-degree relatives assume the halakhic status of avel ("mourner"). This state lasts for seven days, during which family members traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors.

It is considered a great mitzvah (good deed commanded by God) of kindness and compassion to pay a home visit to the mourners. Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate conversation. Often, visitors will recite the traditional words of consolation, Ha-Makom y'nachem et'khem b'tokh sh'ar avelei Tziyon viyrushalayim, which translates as "May the Omnipresent comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem".

"Once engaged in conversation by the mourners, it is appropriate for visitors to talk about the deceased, sharing stories of his or her life. Shiva is not meant to distract the mourners from their loss, but rather to let them experience their grief together with friends and family.

It is customary for the mourners to sit on low stools, or even the floor, symbolic of the emotional reality of being "brought low" by the grief. Typically, mourners do not return to work until the end of the week of mourning.

After the completion of the shiva, activity gradually returns to normal, although the mourners continue to recite the mourner's kaddish as part of synagogue services for a month (11 months for a parent), and there are restrictions on attending festive occasions and large gatherings, especially where live music is played.

"Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him; but Mary sat still in the house" (John 11:20).

It is so clear from this context that Mary was mourning her brother and she was "sitting shiva" (the Greek here says only "sitting").