Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Women! Stop Crying! We Can't Hear the Eulogies! (and other burial offenses)

An interesting story appeared in the Jerusalem Post yesterday, penned by a woman using the pseudonym "Oranit." In the article, she describes her experiences at the funeral for her cousin in Yavne last month.

Among the items she describes:

Then the body of the deceased was carried out to the men's section. Many women, myself included, broke down and cried, but Rabbi M., who led the ceremony, raised his microphone and called out, "Women, stop crying! Calm down! No shouting. Control yourselves. We can't hear the eulogies with you going on like this." I was stunned, hurt and humiliated. I am pretty sure that people are still allowed to cry during funerals. Yet I was too confused and shocked to respond.

and when it came time for the actual burial, the women were not allowed to go to the gravesite. Why?

But the woman who worked at the cemetery said something completely different: that due to a high rate of deaths of young people in Yavne, "we have vowed that women will not approach the grave during the burial - and that would be the tikkun [healing] of Yavne." She said that we women are impure "because we menstruate and according to Jewish religion we are prohibited from walking among the graves."

And after the burial (insertion mine):

As they [the men who attended the burial] passed near us, they said we could now approach the grave since the burial had been completed. Yet the cemetery woman still refused and said, "It is not good for the departed. Don't you understand? You are sinning against the dead. You are harming his soul."

I'd like to address these three aspects of the story one at a time. Let's start with the rabbi telling the women to be quiet.

Earlier this month, The Rebbetzin's Husband had a post about being right and yet being wrong at the same time. In it, he describes four cases where rabbis were technically "in the right" and yet, they were very wrong. The same thing applies here.

I suppose, when listening to any public speaker, one has the right to ask the fellow next to him who is making noise to be quiet. After all, he has just as much of a right to hear the speaker as anyone else. And yet, of all times to exercise that right, at a funeral is precisely the wrong time to do so. How can any rabbi (or any human being for that matter) tell a person mourning a loved one at a funeral to stop crying? How can anyone possibly be so heartless and unfeeling? Did the rabbi have absolutely no room in his heart to understand the pain that these women were going through? Or was he simply being selfish in deciding that his need to hear the eulogy was greater than the need of the deceased's mother, wife, sisters and daughters to express their anguish? The mind simply boggles...

As to the second issue -- women not attending during a burial: I am aware that there are many in the Jewish community who do not attend a burial while pregnant. Eeees did not attend the burial of either of my grandfathers because she was pregnant both times. Each time, however, it was *her* choice. No one stopped her from attending -- she chose not to go. The article does not make it clear if any of the women were pregnant, but I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that there were some (the mother?) who were not pregnant. But that's not really the issue here anyway. The issue here is that the community decided that due to a large number of deaths of young people, women aren't going to be allowed to attend a burial at all.

Once again, the mind boggles at how the two are possibly connected. How do they know that the high rate of young deaths has anything to do with women attending a burial? And how does preventing women from attending a burial stop the deaths of young people in Yavne? I firmly believe that before you take actions that are going to hurt other people (and preventing relatives from attending a burial qualifies as hurt in my book), you'd better have a darn good reason. If it could reasonably be shown that women attending burials causes the deaths of young people in Yavne, then that qualifies as a good reason -- a young person's right to life outweighs the rights of a mourner to attend a burial (or even of the dead to have a burial at all). But you'd better have a real solid case to do so.

To add insult to injury, the cemetary lady also decreed that even after the burial women could not visit the grave. Somehow, according to this woman, having a female body at a gravesite is a sin against the deceased. I suppose she would never dare to visit the grave of a loved one herself. (As an aside, one is left to wonder why she works at a cemetary at all. I suppose it's possible that she works in the office and not by the graves, but even so...) To this, I simply have two points to make:

1. Women have been praying at the graves of the deceased for millenia. Women are not barred from going to the Kever Rochel or the Cave of the Patriarchs. When Eeees and I were in Israel, we visited several graves/tombs and no one said a word about her being there.

2. I don't know about them, but I personally don't believe that God harms people in the afterlife for things that are beyond their control. I don't believe that God would boot a soul out of heaven because his wife or mother dares to visit to his grave. I have a very hard time imagining God summoning a person before His Throne a few weeks after death and saying "Sorry, Avrumi, I've got to send you to Hell. Your daughter went to pray to Me by your grave." The very idea is simply repugnant to me and, I suspect, to a large number of Jews worldwide.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Failed Messiah.


Product said...

This is kind of, “The trees block my view of the forest.” Isn’t that the point of eulogies, to make mourners realize their loss and invoke their emotions?
I grow tired of women complaining how frum people mistreat them. We chareidim are a bunch of misogynistic creeps who enjoy marginalizing women whenever possible.
If some rituals such as kadish can benefit death, why can’t others harm them? See my post on Lilui nishmas

SuperRaizy said...

My mind is boggled right along with yours. This is unbelievably insensitive and inappropriate. I am aghast that otherwise intelligent people can still view women as being unclean, or somehow sin-inducing. I think that it is high time that frum women stand up for themselves and fight back. Of course it is not appropriate to argue with the Rabbi during the funeral, but some of these women should have approached the Rabbi afterward and challenged his statement. Men who bully women are cowards- if you stand up to them, they'll usually back down.

Mikeinmidwood said...

I understand women who are pregnant in cemeteries, maybe the zohar says something about that, and truthfully no one should go to a cemetery for no reason. In this case there was a reason, and from my knowledge there shouldnt be a problem at all about going to the cemetery man or woman, both can visit the deceased.

Anonymous said...

The women were prevented from visiting the graves because they "menstruate and according to Jewish religion we are prohibited from walking among the graves." The strange connection of women visiting graves to young deaths aside, this statement is just not true. When were women ever prevented from visiting gravesites? The notion that they shouldn't because they are tammei is ridiculous. Cemetaries are not bastions of kedusha. Quite the contrary, tumas meis is the severest kind/level there is.


mother in israel said...

I don't know about the city of Yavneh, but "minhag Yerushalayim" is for women not to go to the graveside. Petach Tikva follows minhag Yerushalayim, and I have been to several funerals where this was an issue.

Pesky Settler said...

Well, why not revisit Yavneh 6 months after all women stop going to cemeteries to see if the young people of Yavne have stopped dying...

Jeff Eyges said...

Wolf, over the past few years that I've been reading your blog, I've perceived what appears to be a growing incredulity on your part over the escapades of the frum world in general, and of the Hareidim in particular. Lately, in each post that deals with them, your attitude seems to be, "I can't believe it, but look at what they've gone and done now."

I don't understand why all of this comes as a surprise to you. This is who they are. Did you really not know that? You grew up in or on the fringes of that world, and chose to remain in it. I realize that you aren't Hareidi in the more precise usage of the term (although frei Jews such as myself tend to use it more generically), yet you've complained repeatedly about the behavior and beliefs of your neighbors, your sons' teachers, people you encounter online, etc.

Perhaps they were different when you were a child, but that was a while ago. Furthermore, it's only going to get worse. The Hareidi subculture is collapsing from within; I can't imagine that it will last beyond another two generations at most. And, when they go - having subsumed all but the most liberal elements within the frum world - they'll be taking the bulk of Orthodoxy with them.

In the meantime, as their behavior continues to grow increasingly psychotic, it may be that you'll have to make a decision. Is this the world in which you want to spend the rest of your life? Is this what you want for your children?

Anonymous said...

Cipher: I don't think WM should throw up his hands and leave the frum or heredi world. If more people were like WM and able and willing to employ critical reasoning and speak up, that might just help. The problem is that extremists in many religions speak the loudest and get the most attention while the moderates either give in, are afraid to rock the boat, or simply leave, and so the march to extremism continues.

Jeff Eyges said...

I'm not suggesting that Wolf should leave. I don't know him, and wouldn't presume to tell him what to do. I perceive him as becoming increasingly exasperated with the path Orthodoxy is taking - and, as I said, I don't understand why he's so surprised at the antics of the extremists. They've been this way for decades.

As far as people like Wolf being a moderating influence goes - at this point, I don't think that anything will stop their march toward destruction, but it might help if a sizable segment of the frum world, en masse, were to begin standing up to the lunatics who have commandeered Orthodoxy. I don't see it happening, though.

Anonymous said...

My apologies Cipher. I misspoke. You did not say WM should leave.

WM - are you trying to lead the mass Cipher speaks of, or just venting? Does this discussion only happen in the safety of blogs or does it go on in the community?

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Thanks for the link. My mind is boggled by this, too.

Lion of Zion said...

minhag yesrushalayim (which is followed in cemeteries in some areas outside of jerusalem as well) is that women don't go with the men to the grave, so i think that the letter is blowing that grievance out of proportion.

the truth is i do have a tough time with this aspect of minhag yesrushalayim (oh but how i love an "extra" 40 minutes after licht benching), but the fact that you have to cite an anti-semite as your source makes me want to get up and defend what might normally rub me the wrong way.

Anonymous said...


Knitter of shiny things said...

To me, the whole idea of women polluting a grave because they menstruate is absurd. Tameh met is the strongest form of impurity, the most communicable, and the hardest to get rid of. How could women attending a funeral make a grave impure? (This is not unlike the whole women being prohibited from touching a Torah in many communities, even though a Torah cannot contract impurity. Except in this case it makes even less sense...)

I feel like the pregnant women not going to cemeteries thing is less a matter of impurity, and more of a matter of fear for the unborn child. At least, that's how I interpret it.

Jeff Eyges said...

How could women attending a funeral make a grave impure? (This is not unlike the whole women being prohibited from touching a Torah in many communities, even though a Torah cannot contract impurity. Except in this case it makes even less sense...)

A friend, a Modern Orthodox rebbetzen, once took a dip in the Arizal's mikvah when she was a young woman, probably about college age. She had her friends keep watch, barricade the door, something of the sort. The Hareidim came running, shouting, "They're making it tameh!" When she told me this story, I turned to her husband, the rabbi, and asked, "You can't make a mikvah tameh, can you?", to which he replied, "Of course not! It's ridiculous!"

The bottom line is that they make up their own rules as they go along. It's all a game of "my chumra can beat your chumra". Frankly, I think most of them are suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, magnified by generations of inbreeding. I believe the technical term is meshuggeneh.

Product said...

What kind of a chumrah is it for women NOT to go to mikvah?
Torah scrolls don't obtain a tumah, but they impart a tumah to both hands by touch.