Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cruel customs

Here, for a change, is a conversation with a smart person, followed by some commentary.

The Scene: A cemetery. We're at a burial. As you'll see, its also relevant to note that this was a fine Fall day with lots of sun, and only the slightest chill.

Him: Poor turnout (There were about 300 people at the funeral home; about 10 percent carried on to the cemetery)

Me: Yah

Him: I think its because the women heard they weren't welcome.

Me: Was there an announcement?

Him: No, but somehow a message was passed around.

Me: Why?

Him: It's a thing, based on Kabblah. The idea is that because women brought death into the world, via the sin with the fruit, coming to the cemetery is an act of brazenness.

Me: Do we posken that way?

Him: No, it has no basis in halacha at all. It's a minhag, popular with Hasidim, and their admirers, but by my lights its an act of cruelty to deprive the mourner of comfort and support, on the basis of a custom. Maybe its okay in a Hasidic community when the mourners are Hasidic themselves, and women aren't expected, but that's not the case here.

Commentary: Of course, I agreed with Him, and soon found myself wondering how often this sort of thing happens. With the mingling of the Jewish sects in post-war America, its common for one shul, or one neighborhood, to house adherents of competing customs. Though I support the concept of majority rules (provided its an honest vote, after an honest discussion) how far does it go, when a mourner's peace of mind is at stake? Should a shul or community insist on its legitimate and lawfully established custom when this will deprive a mourner of comfort? For instance:

:: What if a woman wants to say kaddish in a shul where women don't say kaddish?

:: What if someone wants a kel moley said in a shul where the custom isn't kept, or on a day when the shul doesn't say them? [I recall seeing a post about this; couldn't find it]

:: What if an ashkenazi man wants his sfard friends at his sfard shul to comfort him after Kabbalas Shabbos during his shiva week?

Temporarily adopting such practices as a services to a mourner harms no one, and would be an act of chesed, but I know from long experience in many different types of shuls and communities that such accommodations are never offered. Why?

[And of course, if we were to broaden the question/complaint to include non-mourners who might want to observe various customs publicly or communally for various emotional/superstitious reasons the list of questions would be ten times longer.]

:: Per "Product" I see my old buddy the wolf had a post on a close cousin of a topic.
:: Praying to the dead: IIRC, I came out strongly against the practice, and though I still think its kefira, I now wonder if it might be ok to permit people to commit kefirah, if its (a) harmless; and (b) brings them comfort...

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