Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is the funeral mechitza necessary?

A Guest Post By Rafi G

I am not sure what to think of this story - a woman is suing the chevra kadisha of Netanya, for 32,000 NIS, for "forcing" her and other women to stand separate from the men at the funeral of a friend.

Ynetnews has the story:
A resident of Netanya recently filed a suit for NIS 32,000 (roughly $9,000) against Chevra Kadisha after she was asked to stand separate from men in a funeral she attended. "This is discriminatory and is against our world view," she claimed.

Susan Ayad said that last January she attended the funeral of a close friend in a Netanya cemetery. As they gathered in the eulogy square the mourners were shocked discover that large planters dividing the floor into two parts.

"The rabbi holding the service on behalf of Chevra Kadisha asked the men to stand on one side of the partition and the women to stand on the other side," the claim stated.

"Despite the objection of many of the mourners we avoided causing a stir in light of the sensitivity of the event and reluctantly adhered the rabbi's instruction. I was also forced to move to the women's side and was separated from my acquaintances."

Insult and rage
Ayad claims the forced separation sparked feelings of humiliation, rage and insult. "I don't understand how in a public place such as a cemetery someone can order me where to stand just because I'm a woman."

She consequently filed a suit with the Netanya Small Claims Curt against Chevra Kadisha with the help of the Progressive Judaism Movement's legal aid services.

The claim states that the segregation does not only hurt women but all those present at cemeteries seeking to spend time with loved ones.

Ayad referred the court to Israel's anti-discrimination law which was the basis for a claim against bus segregation. She motioned the court to order Chevra Kadisha to pay NIS 31,900 in compensation.

Elements at the Progressive Judaism's pluralism center called on anyone who experienced a similar act of discrimination to approach them, suggesting there may be a more extensive campaign on the issue.
While a funeral is not really a prayer service, though kaddish is said, it is common to at least stand separately during the eulogies, though often that is without barriers placed demarcating the separation. It is also fairly common that there is no formal separation. It seems to generally be up to the discretion of the chevra kadisha and/or the family.

The article also does not say the family was or was not religious, nor does it say if the family wanted it or not. the only comment seems to be of a friend. I wonder if the family had wanted the separation, would she sue the family for forcing segregation upon her?

So, I don't know what to think. Is it right or wrong to have such a separation at a funeral? It is common, but must it be so? Is it cause for a lawsuit?

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