TL,DR: The Shivah has a lot of potential in regard to its unique themes and characters, but the end result feels weak and rushed. It's not a bad game and it's worth playing if only for the fact that it has a lot of plot elements you don't see in other games. However, the previously mentioned issue combined with unengaging gameplay make it hard to recommend.
I like Wadjet Eye games. I"ve played through the entire Blackwell series. I enjoy adventure games, story heavy games, all that kind of stuff. So, I was excited for The Shivah. It's gotten a lot of acclaim and it was the first Wadjet Eye game I had heard of.
Unfortunately, it falls very flat, not working as a game or a narrative.
Let's start with the game aspect: there is not much here. The clue combining mechanic, which was used later in the Blackwell games, is used once in The Shivah. It makes you wonder why it was even in there. The puzzles are extremely repetitive. Almost all of them involve figuring out computer passwords. From a logic/story perspective, that makes sense. In the real world, that makes sense. You're doing detective work, you need information, checking someone's e-mail is a good idea. From a gameplay perspective, it works once and after that it gets tedious. It's not particularly challenging, either. There are two dialogue puzzles that use the exact same mechanic. The mechanic of these puzzles is something that is under-scored through the entire game, but I did not catch on to the gimmick. It's not a big deal in the first instance, but can be kind of frustrating in the second. It's not cheap, like I said, the key to these puzzles is all through out, but it's always used as a joke. That makes it hard to connect it to a more serious situation. It can also be figured out through trial and error, but, as with all adventure games, if you start getting frustrated or annoyed your logic and your observation can start to break down.
The Shivah is more about the story and character though, both of which have a lot of potential, but not much is done with either. The concept of a murder mystery involving the Jewish community is interesting and gave me flashes of the movie "Homicide." The plot is fairly boiler plate which wouldn't be a problem if everything else around it were stronger. In particular, the main antagonist is much too broad. His motivations don't seem to be much more than money and because he's evil. The biggest problem is with the main character, Rabbi Stone. Stone could have been an amazing character if Gilbert had done more with him, fleshed him out. Most of what we see of Stone shows him as little more than angry and down-on-his-luck. Then, at the end, when one of the big plot mysteries gets revealed a new layer of depth is shown that was barely alluded to. This reveal should have at least made me go, "Ah, I see, that makes sense." Instead, it felt ham-handed and almost a side-note for the character. Stone has the potential to be one of the most complex characters in video games and it's disappointing how little is done with him.
Also, for such a short game, there are a lot of logic problems/plot holes. Some of them are relatively small, kind of nitpicky things, but others really mess things up. The most central is why would Jack Lauder will money to Rabbi Stone? This can be theoried away and a little ambiguity isn't a bad thing. Much harder to hand wave away is the fact that nobody calls the police, ever.
The original form of the game was created in a month (at least that's what I understand from the commentary). It was later given a revamp for its graphics, music and voice acting. I wish Gilbert would have taken advantage of the fact that he was no longer under such tight time constraints and gone deeper with everything.
The Shivah is worth playing and $5 isn't an outrage for a game that has such a good foundation. Honestly, I'm happy to have paid it just to support Dave Gilbert and Wadjet Eye Games. However, I have enough issues with it that I can't recommend it.