Religion & Beliefs

Jewish Women and the Dead

Over at Jewess, Rebecca Honig Friedman has posted something you should read: It’s official. Praising dead people should be an equal opportunity activity, as Israeli Supreme Court judges ruled Monday in response to a case brought against the local burial … Read More

By / April 23, 2007

Over at Jewess, Rebecca Honig Friedman has posted something you should read:

It’s official. Praising dead people should be an equal opportunity activity, as Israeli Supreme Court judges ruled Monday in response to a case brought against the local burial society in Petah Tikva: “The burial society will not forcibly separate between the sexes in the cemetery, and women too will be able to eulogize.”

Two sisters filed the lawsuit, as reported by Ynet, after they were barred by funeral staff from delivering a eulogy over their sociologist professor father’s grave, told that “in Petah Tikva women do not eulogize,” as dictated by the city’s chief rabbi…

I’m posting this here now NOT because I want to rant about it, but because it’s not an issue I’ve ever considered, and maybe the same is true for you.  Maybe you'll be as surprised and confused as me. Maybe you'll help me think about it.

 I guess I just never considered, in any part of my little brain, that women might be restricted in this manner.  I cannot begin to fathom what this would feel like, to be barred from expressing thoughts and feelings to my community, at a time when I would desperately need such an outlet.    I  assume, of course, that observant women don’t count in a funeral minyan, and I have heard that they can’t recite the Kaddish.  But I’d have thought that even in the orthodox community, some way would be found to skirt the issue.  A second service for women or something…  Also, I'd have thought the eulogy was more minhag than  mitzvah.  Hence it seems not only cruel but also  unnecessary to exclude women from this tradition…  Of course, the shocker here is that this is an issue of one religious group effectively monopolizing death in a city.  These women were not orthodox, but were held to a strict standard because their father happened to die in Petah Tikva.  I can't imagine the frustration of having to face this struggle at a time of… struggle and sadness. For some other (related) reading:  Here’s a moving commentary here that dips into how a woman might find strength in the simpler aspects of mourning—weeping, cooking, grieving with other women.     And here’s an incredible story of how Yeshiva University waived the gender restrictions on sitting shmira (sitting with the body of the deceased) so that female students could spell Orthodox men on Shabbat, after 9-11. 

And here’s a good short description of basic Jewish burial practices.

And here’s what looks to be a good book on the subject of Jewish women and death rituals.