For those who suffer the loss of a close relative, Jewish tradition provides a distinctive mourning ritual, the most prominent aspect of which is shiva, the seven days of mourning. Mourners, however, only begin sitting shiva after their deceased family member has been buried. And while it is considered best if burial takes place as close to the time of death as possible, there are reasons for which burial might be delayed. In this interim time period between death and burial, mourners enter an in-between state known as aninut (the mourner is known as an onen).
According to Jewish law, the obligated mourners are: the deceased’s spouse, father, mother, sister, brother, son and daughter. One becomes an onen immediately upon hearing of the death of the relative. At this point, an onen who is, or could possibly be, involved in planning the burial of the deceased is exempt from almost all active mitzvot, such as donning tefillin and reciting the daily prayer services (but this does not permit one to do anything that is prohibited). In fact, because an onen is not obligated to recite the daily prayers, an onen may not be counted as part of a minyan. The state of aninut is an “isolating” one, hence, an onen is required to eat alone and to abstain from meat and wine (which are considered festive fare). However, the rules of aninut do not apply on Shabbat and Festival Days.
Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states: “Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar used to say: Do not… comfort him [a person who has suffered the death of a close relative] while his dead lies before him” (Pirkei Avot 4:23). The status of aninut recognizes the deep distress of the mourner when they discover that their loved one has passed on, as well as the emotional trauma of having to plan the burial.
NOTE: There are many considerations of special circumstances, so it is best to consult one’s rabbi.
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