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What are the obligations and exemptions of an Onan?

by Rabbi Herschel Finman


Library » Life Cycle » Death » Mourning | Subscribe | What is RSS?


An onan is a person who has experienced the loss of a close relative; parent, sibling, spouse or child, whom has not yet been buried.1 Honor for the deceased demands that the immediate relatives be fully focused on the burial of the departed, even if they do not share in the obligation to arrange the burial—e.g. a married sister, whose husband is obligated to arrange the funeral.2

[According to Jewish law, burial is always an expedited affair, preferably taking place on the day of death, or at the latest on the following day. Thus the period of aninut does not last very long. A rabbi should be consulted if for whatever reason the burial is delayed for several days.]

During this period, an onan should not be involved in any side ventures, business deals or idle matters which may remove his mind from the deceased. A rabbi should be consulted in case of a pressing need which needs to be resolved. [In all events, at this trying period the mourners should be in close and constant contact with a rabbi who is trained to assist and advise in these difficult circumstances.]

An onan is prohibited from eating meat, drinking wine, bathing, taking a haircut, wearing freshly laundered outerwear, or engaging in marital relations.

The aninut period is not yet the appropriate time to console the loved ones for their loss. The wound is too fresh. The comforting process should wait until the shivah begins
An onan is not required to remove leather footwear or sit on a low stool.

An onan is exempt from all positive commandments including saying the Shema, praying, donning Tefillin and Torah study. He does, however, continue wearing Tzitzit. Before and after eating, the appropriate blessings are not recited. The onan remains bound by all negative commandments (all the “don’ts”) and therefore must wash hands before eating bread – one is not permitted to eat bread with “unwashed” hands – albeit without reciting the blessing.

The onan may go to the synagogue to recite Kaddish—this within itself is an act of respect and certainly does not constitute a “distraction” from his duties towards his deceased loved one. The onan, however, should not participate in the prayers.

An onan should not be “pious” and “stringent” with regards to the aforementioned exemptions. It is considered disrespectful to the deceased for the onan to be involved in spiritual pursuits at this time. If, however, there’s an established local Jewish burial society which has taken custody of, and responsibility for, the body, then some Halachic authorities permit the onan to pray and/or recite blessings. He should not, however, don tefillin.

The aninut period is not yet the appropriate time to console the loved ones for their loss. The wound is too fresh. The comforting process should wait until the shivah begins—immediately after the burial.

If the passing occurs on, or right before, Shabbat, the relatives are exempt from the laws of aninut until the conclusion of Shabbat.3They pray Minchah on Friday afternoon in the synagogue, wear Shabbat finery and are obligated in all mitzvahs and blessings. The onan participates in the communal Shabbat prayers, but does not act as Chazzan, read the Torah, or receive an Aliyah.

Only public displays of mourning are prohibited on Shabbat; studying Torah, marital relations and participating in joyous celebrations4 remain banned.

The onan does not pray on Saturday night. He does not recite (or hear) Havdalah—but may eat.5 He recites Havdalah after the burial6 —but does not use the havdalah candle or spices.

Basically, these same Shabbat rules apply to an onan on biblical holidays7 as well. However, a rabbi should be consulted because the unique mitzvahs of every holiday offer unique halachic twists for the onan as well.


  • 1. The laws of onan (and shiva too) only apply if the deceased was at least thirty days old.
  • 2. A Rabbi should be consulted if the relative passed away in a distant city.
  • 3. If the person died on Friday and the funeral is scheduled for after Shabbat, a rabbi should be consulted to ascertain whether the laws of aninut begin on Friday (and are suspended for the Shabbat) or they only begin after Shabbat concludes.
  • 4. Such as a Shalom Zachar (see “What is a Shalom Zachar and what is the reason for it?” (,2068564/What-are-the-obligations-and-exemptions-of-an-Onan.html)
  • 5. Ordinarily, one may not eat until after reciting or hearing havdallah.
  • 6. Provided that it occurs before Tuesday night.
  • 7. Technically, a body may be buried by gentiles on the first day of a holiday, and through Jews – although it involves a “desecration” of the holiday – on the second (rabbinic) day of a holiday. In the event that the funeral will indeed happen on the holiday, then aninut laws do take effect on the holiday. Practically, however, in modern times there are very few communities where holiday burials are done.


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(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Literally means to rise up. Has two popular meanings: 1. Being called up to the Torah scroll and recite the blessings when the Torah is being read. 2. To emigrate to the Holy Land.
Literally: the fringes which are attached to four cornered garments, as Biblically mandated. Normally this word refers to a t-shirt sized four cornered garment which contains such fringes, and is usually worn beneath the shirt.
A cantor, or any individual who leads the congregation in prayer.
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Prayer signifying the end of the Sabbath or Jewish holiday. This "separation" prayer is recited after nightfall over a cup of wine.
A prayer sanctifying G-d's name which is sprinkled throughout the daily prayers and is recited by the leader of the services. This prayer is also recited by mourners during the first year of mourning, and on the anniversary of the death.
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.
The halachic status of the next of kin to the deceased from the time of passing until after the burial.