jewish Funeral Guide

Preparation for Jewish Burial

Bereavement Customs

Canceled religious responsibilities. In order to allow an Onen / אונֵן to be completely absorbed in preparations for the burial he is exempt from some of the regular religious responsibilities. An Onen is not required to pray, to make normally required blessings, such as blessings before and after partaking of food. Nevertheless, before eating bread an Onen must wash his or her hands. An Onen may say the Baruch Dayan Emet / ברוך דיין האמת blessing if an additional immediate family member dies.

The general rule is that an Onen is exempt from performing many positive scriptural and rabbinical commandments but must not transgress any scriptural or rabbinical prohibitions. This exemption is mandatory. An Onen should not, on the grounds of personal strictness, perform the commandments he is exempt from, because this would indicate a lack of respect for the deceased.

An Onen is not required to pray, he does not generally put on Tefillin / תפילין — phylacteries, nor does he recite Shema Israel / שמע ישראל. He cannot be included in a Minyan / מניין — a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer, nor is he counted in a quorum of at least three Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for reciting the Zimmun / זימון — a formal invitation for Birkat HaMazon / ברכת המזון — Grace after Meals.

Kaddish / קדיש recitation for the deceased begins at the burial. Before that time an Onen does not recite Kaddish unless he is already reciting it for a member of his immediate family or he has a Yahrzeit / יארצייט — a death anniversary of one of his closest relatives. If he does need to recite Kaddish, but cannot do it for the lack of a Minyan, he may be counted as the tenth member to complete the Minyan.

Bereavement on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. The Sabbath / שבת and Yom Tov / יום טוב — a major Jewish Holiday, suspend all outward manifestations of Aninut / אנינות. An Onen, therefore, is allowed to make Kiddush / קידוש on wine, eat any food and take part in many of the public activities. However he should not lead the prayer service and read from the Torah scroll, unless there is nobody else who can do this. Although outward manifestations of Aninut are suspended, an Onen is required to abstain from private pleasures on the Sabbath and Yom Tov.

An Onen is exempt from performing many positive scriptural and rabbinical commandments even on the Sabbath and Yom Tov. An Onen is exempt, for example, from hearing the Shofar / שופר on Rosh HaShanah / ראש השנה. However, normally he cannot be involved in burial preparations, because no burials are allowed on the Sabbath and, in our time, the custom in most communities is not to bury on Yom Tov. Consequently, his Aninut is usually suspended and he becomes obligated in all the Mitzvot / מצוות. However, one should confirm this with a competent rabbi.

An Onen does not have to search for Chametz / חמץ — leavened bread, before Passover / פסח if somebody else can do it for him, but he must nullify his Chametz. An Onen participates in the Passover Seder / סדר פסח, if the burial is not planned for that night, but does not wear a Kittel / קיטל — a white coat and does not recline while eating and drinking wine. Between Passover and Shavuot / שבועות , an Onen may recite Sefirat HaOmer / ספירת העומר — the counting of days, but without the blessing. Then, after the burial, he is allowed to continue counting with the blessing.

An Onen is exempt from the scriptural commandment of building a Succah / סוכה — a makeshift hut for the Jewish festival of Succoth / סוכות — the Feast of Tabernacles. Should he wish to build it, he may do so, provided that he does not neglect his primary obligation to make funeral arrangements. On the first day of Succoth, if the burial is not planned for that day, an Onen is obligated by the Mitzvah of dwelling in the Succah, as well as all other Mitzvot. Aninut is fully observed, however, on Chol HaMoed / חול המועד — the intermediate days of the Jewish festivals. Consequently, for the rest of Succoth an Onen may eat and sleep in the house, since he is not obligated to stay in the Succah, but if he wants to stay there, he should not recite the blessing for that Mitzvah. An Onen should not join Hakafot / הקפות — the ceremonial processions with the Torah scrolls, but may accept Aliyot / עליות — the Torah honors, except for the Chatan Torah / חתן תורה and Chatan BeReshit / חתן בראשית honors.

When the Sabbath and Yom Tov ends, an Onen does not recite the evening prayers and does not make Havdalah / הבדלה, which instead is recited after the burial if the burial takes place within three days after the Sabbath or one day after Yom Tov.

An Onen must listen to the reading of the Megillah / מגילה — the Book of Esther on Purim / פורים and is permitted to eat meat, drink wine and recite appropriate blessings in fulfillment of his obligation to have a festive meal. If no one else is present to light the Chanukah / חנוכה candles for an Onen, he should do so himself without reciting the corresponding blessings.