MRR 274-276




a) Is it permissible to have the funeral services in the synagogue without the body being brought in and then to have the family meet the remains at the cemetery for Kaddish?

b) Is it permissible for the funeral director to take the body to the cemetery without members of the family there and without Kaddish there? (From Louis J. Freehof, San Francisco.) ANSWER:

a) Primarily the question should be asked in reverse: Is it permissible by Jewish law to bring the body into the synagogue for services? When this question is answered, then the question as it is actually asked by the enquirer will answer itself.

The Midrash in Ecclesiastes, Raba, VII: 11, says that when Rabbi Judah the Prince died, so deep was the sorrow and so widespread the mourning that they carried his body into eighteen separate synagogues. On the basis of this precedent, Maimonides (Hil. Tefilah, 11:7) says that the body of a great scholar may be taken into the synagogue and there mourned. Maimonides goes into closer detail on the question in his responsa, Pe’er Hador, #77, and says that the custom in Alexandria was that the funeral services were held in the courtyard of the synagogue itself. So, also, the Shulchan Aruch, in Yoreh Deah 344:20, said that the body of a scholar may be brought into the bet hamidrash and put in the place where he taught and there eulogized. So they did, for example, with the body of the Vilna Gaon (see Chochmat Adam #155:18). However, Abraham Danzig, the author of the Chochmat Adam deplores this, not because the Vilna Gaon was unworthy of this special honor but because people took that event as a precedent and soon all sorts of scholars, not those of the highest rank, were brought into the synagogue for their funeral services. The great Hungarian authority, Moses Schick (see his responsum to Yoreh Deah 345) denies that nowadays there is anybody, really of such rank as to deserve the title “Talmid Chacham” and so he would not want anybody brought into the synagogue for funeral services. He refers to the statement quoted above from the Chochmat Adam, who said that people now defile the sanctuary by bringing in the dead. See, too, the indignant responsum of Yudelevich in his Bet Ov, Vol. V, near the end. Therefore Greenwald in his funeral code, Kol Bo, p. 100, section 12, says it would be better nowadays never to bring a dead body into the synagogue.

This being the clear intent of the law, the question asked does really answer itself. In fact, Greenwald says there is no objection to having a funeral service in the synagogue without the body. Therefore the answer to the question is this: Not only is it permissible to have the service in the synagogue without the body, but it is, in fact, far preferable.

b) Is it permissible to bury the body without members of the family present at the cemetery and without Kaddish? It is certainly permissible for a burial to take place without the members of the family present but certain prayer rituals are required by Jewish law, either at the home or at the funeral parlor or at the cemetery. For example, the prayer Tsiduk Hadin must be said. Of course, the Kaddish, according to one authority at least, can be omitted if the dying man specifically requested that no Kaddish be recited for him. This, at least, is the opinion of Eliakim Goetz, Rabbi of Hilde sheim in the seventeenth century, in his responsa, Even Hashoham, #42. He concludes that since Kaddish is for the atonement of the dead, the dead have the right to decide whether they want it or not. See Recent Reform Responsa, Solomon B. Freehof, p. 112.

I, myself, have followed the custom that if there is to be a cremation, the Kaddish is said at the funeral parlor or the home and the family is discouraged from going to the crematorium.

But if it is not a cremation, and if the dying man had not specifically requested that Kaddish be not said for him, then it is certainly contrary to law and custom to have, as the question implies, no funeral service at all. If it is an irreligious man who is being buried and whose family would want no service at all, they surely cannot object too much if some member of the Chevrah Kadisha would say Kaddish at the grave. At all events, they would not be coming to the cemetery, and therefore could hardly protest.