Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Thank You To Der Ewige Jude

(Picture by Marilyn O.)

On Monday night as I ran on the treadmill, I thought about what Der Ewige Jude wrote in his posting "Who by Fire?" and also about this explanation that he quoted from Rabbi Avi Shafran:

Burning, in Judaism, is a declaration of utter abandon and nullification. Jews burn leaven and bread before Passover, when the Torah insists no vestige of such material may be in their possession. The proper means of disposing of an idol is to pulverize or burn it. Needless to say, God is capable of bringing even ashes to life again. But actually choosing to have one's body incinerated is an act that, so intended or not, expresses denial of the fact that the body is still valuable, that it retains worth, indeed potential life.

My thoughts then turned to my 96 year-old great aunt, who is my last remaining relative from her generation. When her husband passed away five years ago, he was cremated and his ashes were scatted in a Jewish cemetery on the graves of his parents and brother and sister. With this in mind, I knew that unfortunately there will be an extremely high probability that when my great aunt finally does pass away, her final arrangements will be handled in a similar fashion. As I continued to run on the treadmill, I started thinking about ways to raise this issue with her family in a manner that would not be misconstrued as being heavy-handed or perceived in any negative way. I came up with a solution a few minutes later.

Later that night, I called another aunt who had also attended the recent funeral and I began by remarking how poignant and touching I found the eulogy she gave. I then remarked that I was a little taken back by the open casket since this was not something that was traditionally done at a Jewish funeral. My aunt was unaware of this and was extremely interested when I described how a traditional Jewish funeral was handled.

I then broached the issue of cremation. I related Rabbi Shafran's explanation almost verbatim and expressed my concern that my great aunt's family will unknowingly consider cremation as a valid alternative when she passes away since they are unaware that this is forbidden in Judaism. My aunt, also unaware of this fact, immediately understood my point and said that she would pass this information along to my great-aunt's daughter the next time that she spoke with her on the phone.

It appears that my back-channel communication may accomplish exactly what I am trying to accomplish. Thank you Der Ewige Jude for your thoughts that prompted my action. G-d willing, they will also be well received by my great-aunt's family.


At February 7, 2007 at 12:01:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I hope it works!

I remember a great Mark Twain short-story about how to sell someone on your idea (the story was about a guy trying - unsuccessfully – to get the secretary of the army to buy his great new light-weight boots). Basically in the story he shows that by sending your ideas through back channel people, you have the best chance of reaching the person-in-question in the most accommodating mood, and that it's usually the most successful approach (as opposed to the direct letter or attempt at direct communication).

But more to the point, I have often wondered about the concept of Kvuras Yisroel. This has always been a big deal in jewsih history, and ideally every Jew should have a proper complete Jewish burial, but what – technically – is kvras yisroel? The Tahara? The plot of land? The casket? All the above?

Many Jews – including relatives of mine - have sadly not been given a fully proper Jewish burial, but what can we do? I know of someone who went to jail for stealing bodies buried elsewhere, and then reburying them al-pi halacha. He felt that this was real chesed shel emes (and he may be completely right for all I know), but is that the proper thing to do?
What about clear violation of the stated desire of the deceased?

For example, I have a relative that was not at all religious. He ended up buried in a secular (non-denominational) cemetery and I doubt he had any kind of tahara. I remember his funeral well, and I was extremely unsure what to do... could I / should I asist in shoveling dirt onto his aron under those circumstance?
And Other than tefila (incl kaddish on the yohrzeit) & tzedoka in his zchus, I don’t know what I can possibly do for him…

At February 7, 2007 at 12:13:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

> The casket?

Traditional kvuro requires avoiding kaskets. Just cloth cover over tachrichin. The problem is, that in many places authorities forbid it.

> What about clear violation of the
> stated desire of the deceased?

The desire to do wrong has no need to be followed. (Remember comparison of kibud ov voem and shmiras Shabes).

Also, while when the person was alive he could want to do something wrong, after the passing, the neshomo is horrified and terribly tortured by that incorrect setting (either goishe cemetary, absence of tahara and etc.). Obviously the neshomo is only happy, if everything will be done proper, alas it has no means to communicate this will anymore.

At February 7, 2007 at 12:16:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha:
Thank you for your comment. Over the years I have observed that things handled back-channel often are the most effective. I onced worked with an older gentleman who was a master at it. We would attend meetings together where a person from management would set a direction that was the polar opposite of what this older gentleman thought was proper. Throughout the meeting, he would sit quietly and not speak a word. After the meeting when everyone had left, he would go over to the manager and lay out his case, point by point in a calm but lucid manner….and lo and behold the manager would reverse everything he said in the meeting and follow the advice of the older gentleman. I witnessed this on countless occasions and have since adopted it myself.
On your other point, your feelings about your relative's funeral are also what caused me to ask Akiva this question back in December.

At February 7, 2007 at 12:42:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

ASJ: You might advice for the relatives to look throught the "Maseches chibut hakeyver". However it depends on their nature, if they'll be scared - better not. But at least make the point, that the neshomo suffers, if the kvuro isn't done properly, and if they care about the one who passed away - they can arrange a proper kvuro. Otherwise it will show that they care about themselves, and not about the niftar.

At February 7, 2007 at 12:47:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid: I think this might be way over their head and also might be problematic since they do not know Hebrew.

At February 7, 2007 at 8:20:00 PM EST, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear ASJ,

I enjoyed your story and the discussion that followed.

It reminded me of my Aunt Hynda's funeral. After a few words by a reform rabbi in the employ of the funeral home, I was appalled to see what I had anticipated. Beyond a few tiny bits of earth very perfunctorily sprinkled on the aron, it appeared that a nearby tractor shovel would finish the job. I approached my first cousin, Aunt Hynda's son, and told him that it would be an abomination to do so and explained how much of a mitzvah it is to bury the dead b'chesed. Happily he agreed whereupon my Uncle Hirsch and I closed the grave in the proper fashion.

I remain,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch


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