Apr 18, 2007

not a Haredi attempt at control

YNet reported an incident in which:

Rivkah Luvitch filed the appeal following the death of her father, Israel Prize
Laureate Charles Liebman, a renowned sociologist. Luvitch sought to deliver her
father's eulogy but when she started to approach the microphone in the funeral
home a representative from the burial society blocked her path and told her that
"in Petah Tikva women do not eulogize." The guidelines were referred to as 'the
Jerusalem practice.'
The case was brought to the Supreme Court who ruled that such a separation of sexes and not allowing women to eulogize is religious coercion and discrimination and therefore illegal. If a woman wishes to eulogize, the burial society must allow her to do so.

I am not going to discuss the actual ruling of allowing women to eulogize. I, personally, see nothing wrong with it. The gemara discusses the situation of the times then that women were professional wailers and lamenters at funerals (they would get paid to do so when necessary), so the issues of tznius do not bother me in this situation. There are other gemaras that say that a woman in her time of sorrow or distress is not enticing, specifically I remember the gemara regarding sotah that the woman would have her hair uncovered and her shirt torn in the middle of the Beis HaMikdash. the gemara discusses how that could be as it is immodest, and the gemara says that a woman in such a situation would not cause improper thoughts among the people, as she is in distress and sorrow.

It also does not bother me to not allow women to eulogize. That is the custom and has been so for hundreds of years, and in Petach Tikva it has been so since its inception in 1878.

Whichever way they go with this will be fine with me.

I do want to mention that a number of blogs, including FailedMessiah, have taken this as another opportunity to bash the Haredim as trying to change the system and ban women from eulogizing. They, supposedly, have found this as another method of controlling society to act according to their own whims.

I protest such blatant anti-religious/anti-Haredi claims. His criticism is based on false assumptions, and I so commented on Fialed Messiah's post .

There are many unusual customs associated with "Minhagei Yerushalayim" - the customs of Jerusalem. They include nto allowing children of the deceased to the cemetary at a funeral, light shabbos candles 40 minutes prior to sunset on Friday, not saying v'shamru in the Friday night prayers, saying Sim Shalom in the Saturday afternoon prayers instead of Shalom Rav, along with many other customs. Another such custom was to not allow women to eulogize.

I do not know how these customs came about. They are generally, though not always, associated with the Vilna Gaon customs, as his students came to the Holy Land in the mid-1800's and established their customs as primary customs for the land, well before the establishment of the State.

Why these customs took root, I do not know. Specifically regarding the custom of women not eulogizing, I have no idea how it began. Maybe 200 years ago it was a form of suppresion, as women were generally suppresed back then. I do not know. Maybe it has halachic sources aside from social ones. I do not know.

I do want to say though that Petah Tikva was founded in 1878 by expatriates of Jerusalem. When they founded Petah Tikva, they established the town with the customs of Jerusalem, including all the minhagei Yerushalayim.

They light candles 40 minutes before sunset on friday, they skip "v'shamru" and all the rest of the minhagim. Petah Tikva is the city with the closest association to Yerushalayim of any other in the sense of its minhagim.

The Rabbonim leading the burial society who stopped Ms. Luvitch from eulogizing her father were not attempting to wrest control of society into Haredi hands. They were adhering to customs that have been in effect for 150 years or maybe even more. They were keeping the status quo and it was Ms. Luvitch who was, probably without her knowledge, trying to change the system.

Many of these customs are in the process of change, as modern society sees things differently than when the customs were established. I have been to many funerals where the children attended even at the cemetary, for example. The burial societies are more sensitive to the people's needs and do not always enforce the customs.

This specific custom in question is clearly on the chopping block and will be naturally phased out, speeded up with the aid of the current Supreme Court decision.

Again, the specific custom does not bother me. Either it will hold up or it will go the way of other customs that have fallen. I protest the grab of every opportunity to bash the Haredim, especially when it is baseless.


  1. I disagree. Here is a case where the minhag has become din. This particular family suffered a personal tragedy. The daughter wanted to speak at her father's funeral. The family was fine with her speaking. An outsider prevented he from speaking at her father's funeral because his minhag, now his din, is that women should not eulogise.
    This is a clear intrusion on a personal matter based on his projections of what is a "frum" funeral.

  2. You miss the point I was making. I agree - the minhag is maybe not appropriate any longer in our society and needs to be changed. However, teh reason they stopped her from speaking is not because they made up a new chumroh as a way of controlling the situation and environment. They were simply sticking to the current, accepted custom, albeit possibly too strongly and inappropriately.

  3. You do not make it clear if this was a religious funeral or secular. Imposing minhagim on a secular event would be the problem. If this was a religious funeral, then the mourners ought to have respected the accepted and current minhag.

  4. There are rules to burial and there are customs. Israel, despite attempts by some to be a theocracy, is still a democracy.
    I am willing to bet that there is no mentionof women not speaking at funerals anywhere in the laws of Israel or specifically petach tikvah. So what you have is an "orthodox" man imposing his personal minhag on a family's private function. Again,a private function.This is not like driving on shabat through meah shearim which we can debate as an issue of public rights vs respecting an area's minhag that driving on shabat is being mochel shabat.
    Why do you think it went to the supreme court and not a bet din? Because this is an issue of law. If a sephardi family moved into an ashkenazi area would you accept it if the chametz police took away his matzah because,"in this neighborhood our minhag is to eat this type of matzah."?
    Of course it is too late now, her father is long since buried.

  5. Was this a public cemetery or private? Was the member of the Chevra Kadisha in question from the official P.T. Chevra Kadisha?

  6. mike - no idea....

    Dan - again, I am not arguing with anything you said. Clearly they enforced a custom when it might have been better for them to let it slide. Maybe there is a blurring of customs and rules, since it has been in effect forever (as far as they are concerned).

    In Israel, by law, all funerals are religious ceremonies. As they say, there are four events ina lifetime that everyone (in Israel)has to meet the Rabbi - birth (circumcision), marriage, divorce (if it happens) and death.

    As I said, this custom is clearly on the way out because of this case. They should have let it slide. It would have been better for everyone. However it is something that has been in effect since the founding of Petach Tikva - it is not anything new. Ergo, it was nto an attempt at changing the rules and adding chumrohs to control society. It was enforcing a current rule based on a custom that should have been let slide. It was bad politics, but not more than that.

  7. 1) i think i asked you about this once, but i can't remember: is minhag yerushalayim observed in rbs? my grandfather is buried in bet shemesh, and from what i remember the burial was minhag yerushalayim

    2) i love the 40 minutes thing. i want to make aliyah and live in jerusalem for this alone. (i almost always need every minute of the 18 minutes.)

  8. i sent you an email to israeli.jew@gmail.com

  9. ari - formally Bet Shemesh does nto have minhagei Yerushalayim, however in RBS many of them are kept, as many of its residents came from Jerusalem. Most people in RBS light 40 minutes, though minhag BS is 20 minutes.
    Regarding the burial, I am not sure. Your grandfather is probably buried in Eretz HaChayim which is a private cemetary and not the official Bet Shemesh cemetary. Not sure if ti makes a difference regarding this, but it might.

    2. no matter how much time you have, it always goes to the last minute...

  10. "Your grandfather is probably buried in Eretz HaChayim"


    some of the "strange" things that i think were attributed to minhag yerushalayim: no women at the grave side and no tallis (my father wanted him buried him in his tallis; in the end they compromised and let me father put it on the side). the nicest thing (not sure is this actually unusual as i usually don't pay attention at burials) is that after my gradnfather was lowered in to the grave the head of the hevra kadisha begged him for forgiveness in case the hevra did not care for him

    2. "no matter how much time you have, it always goes to the last minute..."

    my wife hates this about me. (she actually did not know about the 18 minutes before she met me.) we went to alasks a few years ago and i promised her that i would not need the 18 minutes (shabbat started at 11 pm). sure enough i needed them.

  11. Ari - I have seen them ask mechila at every funeral I have been to here... they do not do so in the US?

  12. i've never paid attention, so i'm not sure.

  13. rafi, the words "as far as they are concerned." is exactly the point. Israel is a pluralistic society. A custom is not law. din is not law either. Law is law, din is din, and customs are neither. But, "as far as they are concerned" din is law and minhag is law as well.

  14. i don't remember them ever asking mechila by the graveside in america, but usually the chevra kedisha isn't there. They prepare the body, but grave diggers usually finish burying the body in many cases-ed

  15. Ari - I just wanted to clear something up.
    You said "i love the 40 minutes thing. i want to make aliyah and live in jerusalem for this alone. (i almost always need every minute of the 18 minutes.)"

    The 40 minute minhag does not give you extra time. Sunset is the same time no matter what time you light candles. The 40 minute minhag just means you should stop doing work 20 (or 22) minutes earlier than the 18 minute minhag. So you don't gain anything on the other end if you are going to the last minute...

  16. I guess it's not always possible to "shop for" a Chevra Kaddisha, but it may be a good idea when one is "making plans."
    They are the ones who run the funerals, and each cemetery works with different ones.
    Yes, it's big business.
    One of the wonderful things about Shiloh is the Chevra Kaddisha. It is "ours" and suits the psak, type of religious life we follow. It gives the families the freedom of choice within halacha.


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