Introduction to Hilchos Avel

They include four mitzvot: one positive commandment and three negative commandments. They are:

1. To mourn for one's close relatives; even a priest must become impure and mourn for his close relatives. A person should not mourn for individuals executed by the court. For this reason, I have included these laws in this book, for they relate to the mitzvah of burying the dead on the day of their passing which is a positive commandment.
2. For a High Priest not to become impure because of his close relatives.
3. For him not to enter under the same shelter as a corpse.
4. For an ordinary priest not to become impure because of a corpse except for that of his close relatives.

These mitzvot are explained in the coming chapters.

רמב"ם הלכות אבל - הקדמה הלכות אבל. יש בכללן ארבע מצות, אחת מצות עשה, ושלש מצות לא תעשה. וזה הוא פרטן: (א) להתאבל על הקרובים ואפילו כהן מתטמא ומתאבל על הקרובים, ואין אדם מתאבל על הרוגי בית דין, ולפי זה כללתי הלכות אלו בספר זה שהן מעין קבורה ביום מיתה שהיא מצות עשה.
(ב) שלא יטמא כהן גדול לקרובים.
(ג) שלא יכנס עם המת באהל.
(ד) שלא יטמא כהן הדיוט לנפש אדם אלא לקרובים בלבד. וביאור מצות אלו בפרקים אלו.

1

It is a positive commandment to mourn for one's close relatives,1 as implied by Leviticus 10:20: "Were I to partake of a sin offering today, would it find favor in God's eyes?" According to Scriptural Law, the obligation to mourn is only on the first day which is the day of the person's death and burial. The remainder of the seven days of mourning are not required by Scriptural Law. Although the Torah states Genesis 50:10: "And he instituted mourning for his father for seven days," when the Torah was given, the laws were renewed.

Moses our teacher ordained for the Jewish people the seven days of mourning and the seven days of wedding celebrations.

א

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לְהִתְאַבֵּל עַל הַקְּרוֹבִים. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא י יט) "וְאָכַלְתִּי חַטָּאת הַיּוֹם הַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי ה'". וְאֵין אֲבֵלוּת מִן הַתּוֹרָה אֶלָּא בְּיוֹם רִאשׁוֹן בִּלְבַד שֶׁהוּא יוֹם הַמִּיתָה וְיוֹם הַקְּבוּרָה. אֲבָל שְׁאָר הַשִּׁבְעָה יָמִים אֵינוֹ דִּין תּוֹרָה. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בַּתּוֹרָה (בראשית נ י) "וַיַּעַשׂ לְאָבִיו אֵבֶל שִׁבְעַת יָמִים" נִתְּנָה תּוֹרָה וְנִתְחַדְּשָׁה הֲלָכָה. וּמשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ תִּקֵּן לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי אֲבֵלוּת וְשִׁבְעַת יְמֵי הַמִּשְׁתֶּה:

2

From when is a person obligated to mourn? When the grave is covered. But until the corpse has been buried, a mourner is not bound by any of the prohibitions incumbent on a mourner. For this reason, King David washed and anointed himself when his son died, before he was buried.

ב

מֵאֵימָתַי יִתְחַיֵּב אָדָם בָּאֵבֶל. מִשֶּׁיִּסָּתֵם הַגּוֹלֵל. אֲבָל כָּל זְמַן שֶׁלֹּא נִקְבַּר הַמֵּת אֵינוֹ אָסוּר בְּדָבָר מִן הַדְּבָרִים שֶׁהָאָבֵל אָסוּר בָּהֶן. וּמִפְּנֵי טַעַם זֶה רָחַץ דָּוִד וְסָךְ כְּשֶׁמֵּת הַיֶּלֶד טֶרֶם שֶׁיִּקָּבֵר:

3

When does the obligation to mourn and count the seven and the thirty days of mourning for people executed by the gentile authorities who they do not allow to be buried? When their relatives despair of asking permission from the king to bury them, even though they did not despair of stealing their corpses to bury them.

ג

הֲרוּגֵי מַלְכוּת שֶׁאֵין מְנִיחִין אוֹתָן לְהִקָּבֵר מֵאֵימָתַי מַתְחִילִין לְהִתְאַבֵּל עֲלֵיהֶן וְלִסְפֹּר שִׁבְעָה וּשְׁלֹשִׁים מִשֶּׁיִּתְיָאֲשׁוּ לִשְׁאל לַמֶּלֶךְ לְקָבְרָן. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא נִתְיָאֲשׁוּ מִלִּגְנֹב אוֹתָן:

4

When a person drowned in a river or was consumed by a wild beast, we begin mourning for him when we despair of finding his corpse. If his corpse was found limb by limb, we do not begin counting the days of mourning until his head and the majority of his body is found or they despair of finding the remainder of his corpse.

ד

מִי שֶׁטָּבַע בַּנָּהָר אוֹ מִי שֶׁאֲכָלַתּוּ חַיָּה רָעָה. מִשֶּׁנִּתְיָאֲשׁוּ לְבַקֵּשׁ. מְצָאוּהוּ אֵיבָרִים אֵיבָרִים אֵין מוֹנִין לוֹ עַד שֶׁיִּמָּצֵא רֹאשׁוֹ וְרֻבּוֹ אוֹ יִתְיָאֲשׁוּ מִלְּבַקֵּשׁ:

5

When it is customary for people to send a corpse to another city to be buried and they do not know when the burial will take place, from the time they turn back from accompanying the corpse, they are obligated to count the seven and thirty days of mourning and begin mourning rites.

ה

מִי שֶׁדַּרְכָּן לִשְׁלֹחַ הַמֵּת לִמְדִינָה אַחֶרֶת לְקָבְרוֹ וְאֵינָם יוֹדְעִים מָתַי יִקָּבֵר מֵעֵת שֶׁיַּחְזְרוּ פְּנֵיהֶן מִלְּלַוּוֹתוֹ מַתְחִילִין לִמְנוֹת שִׁבְעָה וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמַתְחִילִין לְהִתְאַבֵּל:

6

We do not mourn for stillborn infants. Whenever a human offspring does not live for 30 days, he is considered as stillborn. Even if he died on the thirtieth day, we do not mourn for him.

ו

הַנְּפָלִים אֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עֲלֵיהֶן. וְכָל שֶׁלֹּא שָׁהָה שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם בָּאָדָם הֲרֵי זֶה נֵפֶל. אֲפִלּוּ מֵת בְּיוֹם שְׁלֹשִׁים אֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עָלָיו:

7

If we know for certain that he was born after a full nine months of pregnancy, we mourn for him even if he died on the day of his birth.

ז

וְאִם נוֹדַע בְּוַדַּאי שֶׁנּוֹלַד לְתִשְׁעָה חֳדָשִׁים גְּמוּרִים אֲפִלּוּ מֵת בַּיּוֹם שֶׁנּוֹלַד מִתְאַבְּלִים עָלָיו:

8

A fetus from a full term pregnancy that was stillborn, a child born in the eighth month of pregnancy who died even after living 30 days, or a fetus that emerged cut or crushed even though it endured a full term pregnancy is considered stillborn. We do not observe mourning rites for them and we do not engage in activity on their behalf.

ח

בֶּן תִּשְׁעָה חֳדָשִׁים שֶׁנּוֹלַד מֵת וּבֶן שְׁמוֹנָה שֶׁמֵּת אֲפִלּוּ לְאַחַר שְׁלֹשִׁים. וּמִי שֶׁיָּצָא מְחֻתָּךְ אוֹ מְרֻסָּס אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁכָּלוּ לוֹ חֳדָשָׁיו. הֲרֵי זֶה נֵפֶל וְאֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עֲלֵיהֶן וְלֹא מִתְעַסְּקִין עִמָּהֶם:

9

We observe mourning rites for all of those executed by the government, even when they were executed by the government's laws and the Torah granted it license to execute them. We don't withhold anything from them. Their estate is given to the government, but they are buried in their ancestral plots.

We do not, by contrast, observe mourning rites for those executed by the court. We do, however, observe the rites of bitter regret (aninut), for aninut is an expression of the feelings in one's heart. They are not buried with their ancestors until their corpses have decomposed. Their estate, however, is granted to their heirs.

ט

כָּל הֲרוּגֵי מַלְכוּת אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנֶּהֶרְגוּ בְּדִין הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַתּוֹרָה נָתְנָה לוֹ רְשׁוּת לְהָרְגָן. הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ מִתְאַבְּלִין עֲלֵיהֶן וְאֵין מוֹנְעִין מֵהֶן כָּל דָּבָר. וּמָמוֹנָם לַמֶּלֶךְ. וְנִקְבָּרִין בְּקִבְרֵי אֲבוֹתֵיהֶן. אֲבָל כָּל הֲרוּגֵי בֵּית דִּין אֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עֲלֵיהֶן אֲבָל אוֹנְנִין. שֶׁאֵין אֲנִינוּת אֶלָּא בַּלֵּב. וְאֵין נִקְבָּרִין עִם אֲבוֹתֵיהֶן עַד שֶׁיִּתְאַכֵּל הַבָּשָׂר. וּמָמוֹנָם לְיוֹרְשֵׁיהֶם:

10

We do not conduct mourning rites for all those who deviate from the path of the community, i.e., people who throw off the yoke of the mitzvot from their necks and do not join together with the Jewish people in the observance of the mitzvot, the honoring of the festivals, or the attendance of synagogues and houses of study. Instead, they are like free and independent people like the other nations. Similarly, we do not mourn for heretics, apostates, and people who inform on Jews to the gentiles. Instead, their brothers and their other relatives wear white clothes, robe themselves in white, eat, drink, and celebrate for the enemies of the Holy One, blessed be He, have perished. Concerning them, Psalms139:21 states: "Those who hate You, O God, will I hate."

י

כָּל הַפּוֹרְשִׁין מִדַּרְכֵי צִבּוּר וְהֵם הָאֲנָשִׁים שֶׁפָּרְקוּ עֹל הַמִּצְוֹת מֵעַל צַוָּארָן וְאֵין נִכְלָלִין בִּכְלַל יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּעֲשִׂיַּת הַמִּצְוֹת וּבִכְבוֹד הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת וִישִׁיבַת בָּתֵּי כְּנֵסִיּוֹת וּבָתֵּי מִדְרָשׁוֹת אֶלָּא הֲרֵי הֵן כִּבְנֵי חוֹרִין לְעַצְמָן [כִּשְׁאָר הָאֻמּוֹת] וְכֵן הָאֶפִּיקוֹרוֹסִין [וְהַמּוּמָרִים] וְהַמּוֹסְרִין כָּל אֵלּוּ אֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עֲלֵיהֶן. אֶלָּא אֲחֵיהֶם וּשְׁאָר קְרוֹבֵיהֶם לוֹבְשִׁין לְבָנִים וּמִתְעַטְּפִים לְבָנִים וְאוֹכְלִים וְשׁוֹתִים וּשְׂמֵחִים שֶׁהֲרֵי אָבְדוּ שׂוֹנְאָיו שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא. וַעֲלֵיהֶם הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר (תהילים קלט כא) "הֲלוֹא מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ ה' אֶשְׂנָא":

11

When a person commits suicide, we do not engage in activity on their behalf at all. We do not mourn for him or eulogize him. We do, however, stand in a line to comfort the relatives, recite the blessing for the mourners and perform any act that shows respect for the living.

What is meant by a person who commits suicide? Not necessarily one who climbs up on a roof, falls, and dies, but rather, one who says: "I am going up to the top of the roof." If we see him climb up immediately in anger or know that he was distressed and see him fall and die, we presume such a person is one who committed suicide. If, however, we see him strangled and hanging from a tree or slain and lying on the back of his sword, we presume that he is like all other corpses. We engage in activity on his behalf and do not withhold anything from him.

יא

הַמְאַבֵּד עַצְמוֹ לָדַעַת אֵין מִתְעַסְּקִין עִמּוֹ לְכָל דָּבָר וְאֵין מִתְאַבְּלִין עָלָיו וְאֵין מַסְפִּידִין אוֹתוֹ. אֲבָל עוֹמְדִין עָלָיו בְּשׁוּרָה וְאוֹמְרִין עָלָיו בִּרְכַּת אֲבֵלִים וְכָל דָּבָר שֶׁהוּא כָּבוֹד לַחַיִּים. וְאֵי זֶהוּ הַמְאַבֵּד עַצְמוֹ לָדַעַת. לֹא שֶׁעָלָה לַגַּג וְנָפַל וּמֵת אֶלָּא הָאוֹמֵר הֲרֵינִי עוֹלֶה לְרֹאשׁ הַגַּג. רָאוּהוּ שֶׁעָלָה מִיָּד דֶּרֶךְ כַּעַס אוֹ שֶׁהָיָה מֵצֵר וְנָפַל וּמֵת. הֲרֵי זֶה בְּחֶזְקַת שֶׁאִבֵּד עַצְמוֹ לָדַעַת. אֲבָל אִם רָאוּהוּ חָנוּק וְתָלוּי בָּאִילָן אוֹ הָרוּג וּמֻשְׁלָךְ עַל גַּב סֵיפוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה בְּחֶזְקַת כָּל הַמֵּתִים וּמִתְעַסְּקִין עִמּוֹ וְאֵין מוֹנְעִין מִמֶּנּוּ דָּבָר: