CARR 150-151


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

90. Funeral Without Rabbi or


QUESTION: Is is appropriate for a funeral service to be

conducted by a family member or a friend of the family without a rabbi or cantor present? Does

this diminish in any way the authentic Jewishness of the service when family members or friends

conduct the service? (Rabbi D. Polish, Hollywood, CA)ANSWER: There is

absolutely nothing in traditional literature or in modern Reform decisions which demand the

presence of a rabbi or cantor at a funeral, or for that matter, at any other Jewish religious

occasion. State or provincial law may require an “ordained clergyman” to preside over a wedding

ceremony, but Jewish law has no such stipulation. We have been, and remain, a religion without

clergy, and we continue the historic role of the rabbi primarily as a teacher, judge, and religious

leader rather than a functionary at specific occasions. The evolution of the rabbinate

to its present state in which the rabbi leads services and conducts weddings, funerals, etc., is

part of the specialization of modern society as well as the feeling of inadequacy on the part of

many Jews, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, in conducting Jewish ceremonies. The desire to

have matters go smoothly, to remove the burden of preparation and the anxiety for specific life

cycle occasions has led most Jews to rely completely on the rabbi or a cantor for rites of passage

and other ceremonies. This may be useful, but as a long term trend it is not healthy, for our vigor

lies in the ability of the ordinary Jew to execute any Jewish rite and thereby to perpetuate

Judaism wherever he may happen to be. There is nothing in our tradition which would

in any way diminish the authentic Jewishness of a funeral service conducted entirely by family

and friends.June 1986

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.