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.
Hat tip: Failed Messiah.