Aninut: The period between death and burial


Aninut: The period between death and burial

Jewish law requires that burial take place as soon after death as possible. During the period between death and burial, the bereaved (called an onen) is absolved of time-bound mitzvot (Jewish obligations, like wearing tallit or attending services) because all of the spiritual and mental energy is consumed by caring for and preparing the deceased for burial.

It’s traditional that the deceased is not left alone during this period. Most Jewish burial places will offer sh’mirah, people who guard the body before burial, and at IKAR we have a team of volunteers (known as a hevra kadisha) who are able to help fulfill this mitzvah through multi-hour shifts. Traditionally, a hevra kadisha (burial society) also prepares the body of the deceased for burial through a process of taharah (ritual washing). This is very holy and important work.

Aninut can be a somewhat chaotic time, even when burial arrangements have been made prior to the death. There are meetings with the funeral home, phone calls and texts with family members, coordinating travel, talking with the rabbi. It can be helpful to take cues from our tradition to name this liminal time as distinct from the mourning process, accept that there will be lots of logistics, put other obligations on hold without guilt, and do your best to attend to your basic needs. Remember to take moments to breathe, drink water, eat, and sleep.