jewish Funeral Guide

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Preparation for Jewish Burial

Responsibilities of the Bereaved

Between the time of death and the burial, everyone who is obligated to mourn for the deceased (as enumerated above) and who is or could be involved in the funeral and burial arrangements is called an Onen / אונֵן (plural: Onenim / אונֵנים) — a bereaved, the grieving. Aninut / אנינות is the state of being an Onen — the pre-burial stage of the mourning.

Refraining from pleasure and work. Jewish tradition requires an Onen to show grief by refraining from any pleasurable activities such as touring, sports, entertainment, playing or listening to music, bathing for pleasure, using cosmetics, lotions, oils or perfumes, shaving, haircuts and marital intimacy. An Onen should not eat meat, drink wine or liquor, attend any festive meals or parties, exchange greetings and even eat at a table. Learning Torah is likewise forbidden, since learning Torah is considered a pleasure, as it is written (Psalms 19:9): “The precepts of the Lord are upright, gladdening the heart / פקודי ה' ישרים, משמחי לב”. Learning the Torah laws related to the funeral, burial and mourning is permitted, however.

An Onen should also refrain from engaging in business and going to work, but he may make arrangements necessary for future Shivah / שבעה observances. For example, he is allowed to arrange for a leave of absence at his place of work, transfer his share in a business partnership to his companions until the end of Shivah, etc.

Duration of Aninut. Many of the laws of Aninut do not apply to the bereaved when he cannot be personally involved in burial preparations, e.g., when the government has not released the body to the family, or if the deceased drowned or died at war and the body has not been returned, or when the bereaved is confined to a hospital or prison, or lives in a distant place and there are other close relatives who are taking care of the funeral arrangements. The bereaved becomes an Onen as soon as he is able to participate in burial preparations, even if in reality his help is not required, since others are taking care of all preparations.

Aninut normally ends when the grave is filled with earth. Aninut may end before the actual interment, however, if the bereaved is not able to be involved in the burial, e.g., when the interment is scheduled in another city and the bereaved is not going there. In cases like this, there are different opinions of when the bereaved moves into the next stage of the mourning process, and, therefore, a competent rabbi should be consulted.

Comforting an Onen. The Talmudic sages in Tractate Avot 4:23 wisely noted that one cannot and should not “comfort a mourner while his dead lies before him”. Therefore, before the burial, the mourners’ friends and neighbors should not make condolence calls or address the mourners with the traditional formula of consolation. One may say to the mourner, however, that he is sorry to hear about the mourner’s loss.