The Mourner During Aninut

The earliest phase of mourning, aninut, which occurs between death and burial, applies to immediate family members.

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Reprinted with permission from Teaching Jewish Life Cycle: Insights and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.).

The period from the moment one learns about the death of a loved one until burial is called aninut. One is not yet a mourner, but most of the traditions related to mourning are observed during this period of time. In addition, one is exempt from most mitzvot [commandments] so as to be free to arrange for the funeral and burial.

 

As Rabbi Maurice Lamm has observed: "The onen [mourner during aninut] is a person in deep distress, a person yanked out of normal life and abruptly catapulted into the midst of inexpressible grief. He is disoriented, his attitudes are disarrayed, his emotions [are] out of gear. The shock of death paralyzes his consciousness and blocks out all regular patterns of orderly thinking" (7he Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, p. 21).

Indeed, we are discouraged from trying to comfort the mourner prior to the burial. Pirke Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] teaches, "Do not console a person whose deceased relative lies before him" (4:23). Therefore, the common Western customs of viewing the body and visitation are contrary to traditional Jewish practice.

Who Is a Mourner?

According to Jewish tradition, one is obligated to observe mourning rituals for the following relatives: father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, and spouse. One may choose to observe some or all of the rituals for other relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

Traditionally, one does not observe mourning customs for an infant under 30 days old. "An infant who does not live for 30 days is called a nefel, and is not considered viable in terms of Jewish tradition. The laws of aninut and mourning do not apply to the family at all" (Lamm, p. 247). However, tohora, ritual purification, is performed and the body is buried, but without the usual service and prayers. These practices were developed at a time when infant mortality was very high in order not to place a burden upon the parents.

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Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann is the Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University. She teaches and lectures widely on Jewish feminism, rabbinical ethics, the relationship between religion and education, and social justice.

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