It is considered a mitzvah of the highest order to bring comfort to the bereaved. In the short Talmudic passage read during the morning blessings each day (Known commonly as Elu D'varim) the list of those deeds for which the reward is eternal in the world to come includes "L'vayat ha meit" which literally means attending to the dead, but is often translated and interpreted as a command to comfort those in mourning.
Therefore the only thing one is required to bring is oneself. This is especially important in smaller Jewish communities when the family of the deceased wishes to conduct a minyan in their home (10 adult Jews are required for a proper minyan). Even in larger communities this is important since there is never a guarantee that 10 others will be there.
That said, it is also the proper role of comforters to bring food to the house of a mourner, so that the mourner can focus on the task of mourning and to make sure that the mourner is not skipping out on his or her basic needs.Generally flowers are not a part of the Jewish funeral ritual. Among many reasons a particular reason is that we do not add death (cut flowers are technically dead) to a period of mourning.
Ultimately it is best to simply bring yourself and a bit of food that is respectful of the way the family observes kashrut.If in doubt go with kosher food.
First of all, who says you need to bring presents to a shiva? There is a mitzvah of nichum availim - comforting the mourners. Your presence there makes the mourner feel better and aids in the healing process. Your time is the best present.
Shiva trays and other food have become traditional gifts. Mourners are not allowed to work. That would include preparing food. People bring food so the mourners have what to eat. Shiva, though is not a food fest.
Jewish law does not legislate what one ought to bring to a shiva home. It is customary to bring food so that the mourners need not worry about providing themselves with food during a time when the focus is their loss. If food is brought, it should be delivered on a very simple tray/platter – nothing fancy so as to avoid the appearance of trying to impress those in the shiva home.Also, strict standards of kashrut should be observed when providing mourners with food so as to avoid the mourners or visitors to be distracted by questions of food permissibility.
In lieu/addition to food, making a contribution to a mourner's favorite tzedakah organization or to the deceased's synagogue is most appropriate.
A thoughtful gift may also be to write a letter of positive memories about the deceased so that the mourner may feel support and comforted and strengthened by the affirmative thoughts of their passed loved one.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.