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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
MOURNING.—An expression of grief for death or disaster. See also artt. Lamentation and Rending of Garments. Mourning is associated in the Gospels (1) with ‘the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man,’ Matthew 24:30; (2) with the removal of the visible presence of the Saviour, Matthew 9:15; (3) with the death of friends. It is also one of the conditions mentioned in the Beatitudes as bearing a special blessing (Matthew 5:4, but cf. Luke 6:21). The laws of mourning were very minute. The general time of mourning was seven days, during which the mourner was forbidden to work, wash, anoint himself, or wear his shoes. This last provision might, however, be evaded by putting earth or ashes into his boots. For seven days the mourner might not read in the Law, the Prophets, or the Talmud, because it was a ‘joy’ to do so; but a teacher could teach others through an interpreter. The mourner was allowed during this period to read only the books of Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and the הלבות אבילות (Laws of Mourning). He had to sit away from his dead, with his head tied up, and on the first day he might not wear his phylacteries. He was forbidden to shave his head or his neck, or do anything which might be considered to be for his comfort. He could take no part in rejoicings, and the rent in his garments was to be seen for thirty days. Even a poor man, or one who lived on charity, was forbidden to work for three days; but after that time, he might do work secretly, for his maintenance, or his wife might spin in his house. Travelling with goods was forbidden, and no business even at the risk of loss could be transacted by himself or his family or his servants. It was allowable, however, to have a business carried on, if he assigned it to another before the departure of the soul. The mourner was allowed to eat only in his own house; he might eat no flesh and drink no wine; nor could he ask blessing before or after food. Extra-Talmudical regulations enjoined that the mourner should sit on the floor and take his food from a chair instead of a table, and, as is still the custom, that he should eat eggs dipped in ashes with salt. He might not leave town for thirty days; and in the case of mourning for a parent he might not go out of town for the first year, till his friends told him to do so. After the death of a wife, a widower might not marry for a year (i.e. till after three feasts had passed); but if his wife had died childless, or if she had left young children, he might marry after seven days. A mourner being ‘free’ must attend the synagogue; when he appeared, the congregation faced him as he entered, and said: ברוד מינחם אבל ‘Blessed is He that comforteth the mourner.’ Immediately on a death, all water in the house and in three houses on either side was emptied out, because of the belief that the Angel of Death procured death by means of a knife which be washed in water close at hand. Between death and burial the mourner was free from all the Law, because he was supposed to be beside himself with grief. The following is the prescribed prayer before meat to be used in the house of the mourner after burial:—
‘Blessed art thou, O God our Lord, King of the universe, God of our Fathers, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, the Holy One of Jacob, the King of Life, who art good and doest good; the God of truth, the righteous Judge who judgest in righteousness, who takest the soul in judgment, and rulest alone in the universe, who doest in it according to His will, and all His ways are in Judgment, and we are His people and His servants, and in everything we are bound to praise Him and to bless Him, who shields all the calamities of Israel and will shield us in this calamity, and from this mourning will bring us to life and peace. Comfort, O God our Lord, all the mourners of Jerusalem, and all the mourners that mourn in our sorrow. Comfort them in their mourning, and make them rejoice in their agony as a man is comforted by his mother. Blessed art Thou, O God, the Comforter of Zion, and that buildest again Jerusalem’ (Jewish prayer-books from יודה רעה).
The practice of hiring mourners was common with such as could afford it, and, as in the story of Jairus’ daughter, these hired mourners used flutes to increase the sounds of woe. The apostasy of a member of the family was the occasion of mourning as for the dead, and a blasphemy spoken in the presence of the high priest was also a reason for a demonstration of mourning. See also Flute-Players, Rending of Garments.
Literature.—See under Rending of Garments.
W. H. Rankine.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mourning (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/m/mourning-2.html. 1906-1918.