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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘mitzvah’

The Last Mitzvah

Friday, September 30th, 2016

“Thus the dust returns to the ground as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Kohelet 12:7).

One would think that after two millennia of persecution, including the Inquisition’s Auto da fes, the burning of homes during hundreds of pogroms and the horrific crematoriums of the Holocaust, Jews would be happy to be laid to rest in the soft, redolent ground under a stone monument, perhaps with a tree nearby and some lovely landscaping.

But in America, the number of Jews seeking to be cremated is about 40%. Whereas in New York and in the Northeast, the numbers drop, in San Jose the number goes up to 70%. Texas has a very high rate, as does the rest of the South. These statistics more or less mirror assimilation rates in the various cities in America.

The halachot of burial are derived from the Torah, and it is an affront to the deceased, and Hashem Himself, if a body is desecrated in any way. A deceased person should be treated with decency and grace, because we are all created in God’s image. This rule is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 362:1), and has been followed by all Jews for thousands of years.

The Community Cost

Chana Luria of San Diego is in hospice care for cancer. She didn’t have money to continue treatments and now she’s worried she won’t have money to be buried. The average cost of a burial is $12-15,000 with the charge for the plot alone running about $5,000. Cremation, on the other hand, can cost as little as $600 and is the default method of disposing of a body when someone passes away with no money.

Rabbi Ralph Dalin of San Diego’s Jewish Federation told Olam Yehudi that “the San Diego Jewish community strongly believes that no Jew should be deprived of a Jewish burial based on financial need.  However, since the community has limited funds dedicated to indigent burials, it has an obligation to verify the need – in regard to both the deceased’s estate and the financial status of primary relatives. The responsible family member must contact Am Israel Mortuary – the only Jewish mortuary in San Diego County – who will explain what is needed to be done for that assessment.”

In the past, Jewish communities have always looked after the burial of people who could not afford burials themselves. There was no application process. But then San Diego is larger than your average shtetl.

The Cremation Crisis

Rabbi Zohn (Left) and Rabbi Lyons at the cemetery site with the signs about the public hearing.

Rabbi Zohn (Left) and Rabbi Lyons at the cemetery site with the signs about the public hearing.

Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, founder and director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha in New York (NASCK), recognizes the serious problem of Jews choosing cremation over burial. He says that the majority of Jews who opt for cremation are either culturally unaware of the seriousness of the halachic prohibition or cite money as the reason. However, Rabbi Zohn thinks that more often than not philosophical issues play a part.

Take, for example, South Florida. Although it has the third largest Jewish population in the United States, it has the largest elderly population and a significant number of Jewish elderly are choosing cremation mainly because they cannot afford the high cost of traditional burial.

The issue is very critical. “We blinked and it happened,” he says, speaking of the meteoric rise in cremation among the Jewish population. NASCK is working full time to address the issue and raise critical awareness of traditional end-of-life options and their importance.

In Israel, the law requires that funeral costs are paid for by Bituach Leumi (National Insurance), although the headstone is not included. There is also only one crematorium in the country. Incredibly, Holocaust survivors who have lost family to the crematoria in the death camps have chosen cremation as well. There is no law in Israel against cremation. “But,” says Rabbi Jay Lyons of NASCK’s Florida branch, “who in a million years would have thought there’d be a need for it?”

Alei Shalechet (Autumn Leaves) is a burial company that offers personalized services according to the wishes of the deceased, and that includes the possibility of cremation. It oversees hundreds of Jewish cremations a year. Owner Alon Nativ quips that the company is “almost Bar Mitzvah” – it has been around for almost 13 years – though mitzvot are the last concern of this enterprise.

At one point the company was, poetically, a victim of religiously-motivated arson but it rose from the ashes and rebuilt. The National Insurance Institute doesn’t recognize cremation as an alternate form of burial and so it won’t cover the cost. One of the dangers of this company is that its advertisements claim what they do does not contravene halacha, taking pesukim out of context to use as proof.

But Nativ wasn’t able to refer me to one rabbi who condones what he’s doing. Even many Reform rabbis are against cremation and other burial alternatives because the deceased and his or her family are trading in eternity for a half hour feel-good ceremony.

Partners For Eternity

Chazal teach that the soul continues to have a relationship with the body after death, one that becomes more distant during the first year of mourning; until, ultimately, the two are united in the End of Days. During one’s life, the body is the soul’s partner in mitzvah observance. Kabbalah likens the relationship between body and soul to that of a bride and groom whose fate continues to be intertwined after death. If the body is destroyed, rather than decomposed, there’s no home for the soul to return to when the time comes for resurrection of the dead. And that’s very painful for the soul for all eternity.

“A cemetery is called a Bais HaChaim,” says Rabbi Zohn, “the home of the living, because we firmly believe in the eternal life of the souls that rest there. When one believes in a Creator Who clearly commanded us to be buried, believes in an eternal world of truth, reward and punishment, and the ultimate resurrection (three of the ikarei emunah as defined by the Rambam), then societal trends and economic considerations do not sway one’s commitment.”

The Torah, which is very terse in places, spends many pesukim detailing the deaths and burials of the Avos and Imahos and the care taken to ensure their speedy and dignified burial. Man is made in the image of God and the honor accorded to him after death is an expression of this. Moreover, burial is part of the purification process that a person undergoes before being admitted to the World to Come. This, of course, doesn’t apply to martyrs who die al Kiddush Hashem and whose bodies were violated against their will. Their very death is purification enough.

Rabbi Lyons considers cremation the antithesis of a Jewish funeral. “While a funeral respects both the body and soul of the deceased and honors that connection, cremation is a violent act with the body burned at 1600°F for several hours. What hasn’t burned away, mostly bone fragments, is pulverized,” he explains. It isn’t ashes that are left over as much as bone dust. “The body is destroyed. It is not the body anymore. A Kohen, though prohibited from coming into contact or in proximity to a dead body, may carry the ashes because they have no significance. That’s part of the tragedy of cremation.”

New Hope

In America many funeral homes and cemeteries are unfortunately controlled by corporations; they’re businesses and promote non-Jewish forms of disposition, including cremation. Rabbi Lyons and Rabbi Zohn are working to create a cemetery uncompromising in Jewish law which will serve the community at a low cost and maintain the highest halachic and professional standards.

NASCK is trying to even out the playing field by creating a financially-friendly burial option in accordance with halacha while educating the public that burial is what God wants and, ultimately, what their bodies and souls need in order to pass smoothly into the Next World. Its goal is to open a 15-acre cemetery in Lake Worth, Palm Beach County, Florida which will allow upright monuments (not found in Florida) for a flat fee of $3600 – the cost of opening and closing the grave is included. It is currently amassing funds to buy the land and are hoping to purchase the property around Rosh Hashanah time, with the cemetery being fully operational by the summer of 2017. It’s to be called the South Florida Jewish Cemetery. However, if a major contributor comes forward, it will gladly honor his or her choice of name. Rabbi Zohn is hopeful that this cemetery will serve as a prototype and that other cities will set up similar ones.

Burial is consistent with the Jewish values of respect, Jewish identity, family unity and continuity. It provides more closure and a place to visit and maintain a connection. It is also best for the environment. But will Floridians go for it?

Shulamit is a 74-year-old retired professor of teacher education living in South Florida. She spent 45 years teaching students from kindergarten to university in various cities in the United States.

“I’ve been single most of my life,” she says. “I don’t have children or grandchildren. I don’t want to be alone with no one to visit me,” she continues, explaining the reason for her choice to be cremated when the time comes. She would like her ashes scattered in Israel – which, of course, presents a logistic and halachic problem.

“I dated an undertaker once,” says Shulamit. “He told her he would flick the ash from his cigarette on the body while he was drawing blood.” I pointed out to her that the purification of the body before Jewish burial does not include drawing blood and certainly not smoking in the presence of the deceased.

Ignorance of Jewish law creates many misconceptions about Jewish burial practices and leads people to make uninformed decisions.

Not wanting to be alone, not being surrounded or visited by family and afraid her body is going to be dealt with disrespectfully are understandable reasons for Shulamit not wanting a traditional burial. But are they based on fact?

Jewish law insures that the utmost respect is given to the deceased with the members of the chevra kadisha begging forgiveness if they have acted insensitively towards him or her. And according to Jewish law, the deceased is never to be left alone from the moment the soul departs from the body until the body has been covered with earth, with prayers being continually recited for it.

The soul is aware of everything that happens to it from the time it leaves the body. While decomposing in the ground may not be fun, cremation is certainly a horrible way to sever the connection of the body from the soul forever. And even if someone is uncertain of the existence of life after death, why take the chance?

“We bury treasure, we burn the trash,” said Doron Kornbluth, author of Burial and Cremation – a Jewish View.

Robin Meyerson, who helped publish Kornbluth’s book and wrote the foreword and ending, has a website, www.peacefulreturn.com, that promotes burial over cremation.

Arnold Myerson

Arnold Myerson

Her story, which appeared in Small Miracles from Beyond by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, is as true as it is unbelievable. Meyerson was a volunteer with the chevra kadisha in Scottsdale, Arizona. One Shushan Purim she called her aunt in Las Vegas who informed her that her uncle had just died and they were going to cremate him. Robin tried to convince her aunt not to and then called his children. For two weeks, while the body lay in the crematorium and, baruch Hashem, wasn’t prepared or cremated, Meyerson campaigned relentlessly to get the family to change their minds. On a Tuesday morning, she called Rabbi Haikins of Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah in Lakewood and asked that he arrange for mishnayot to be said on behalf of her uncle. That night, the deceased’s daughter, Valerie, had a dream in which her father came to her and asked that he not be cremated. Two days later, the siblings were having a family meeting at a restaurant in Las Vegas, still trying to decide what to do. The restaurant had a fireplace. Suddenly, Valerie looked into the fireplace in the restaurant and ran out extremely distraught. The next day, she signed the papers allowing her father to be buried. Robin arranged for Rabbi Fromowitz in Las Vegas to conduct the burial on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Before going to the cemetery, Robin and her cousins stopped at a kosher restaurant. She mentioned to the waiter why she was in Vegas and her concern that they would not have a minyan. The waiter volunteered to gather friends to help make a minyan at the funeral!

At the funeral, her aunt hugged and thanked her. “This is your calling,” she said. “God is going to repay you for this.” Her blessing came true. A couple of months later, Robin was feeling queasy. She and her family were getting ready to set out on a trip to Colarado to visit cousin Valerie and her family. Robin was 43 and her youngest was five; she had had a number of miscarriages and believed that her childbearing years were over. But apparently her uncle had been a melitz yosher for her. The following Shushan Purim, on her uncle’s first yahrzeit, Robin gave birth to a boy, two weeks after her due date. Rabbi Haikins flew in from Lakewood to be the sandek. She named him in honor of her uncle, Azriel Mordechai.

Azriel Mordechai Meyerson today

Azriel Mordechai Meyerson today

Robin fulfilled the second part of her aunt’s bracha by creating a website to increase awareness of the importance of Jewish burial.

May we all find peace in this world and the next. May Mashiach come soon so that we all reconnect, body, soul and with each other.

* * * * *

NASCK emphasizes the need to have a living will or a card (similar to an organ donor card) which states a person’s wishes in the event that he or she dies suddenly. NASCK also works to prevent autopsies and other post-mortem violations of the body. The EMES Card is available at nasck.org and Rabbi Zohn can be reached at 718-847-6280, 718-734-8436 or via email at rabbizions@nasck.org. Rabbi Lyons can be reached at 561-376-9972 or through www.fljewishcemetery.org.

* * * * *

Andrew J. Parver, Director of Operations at Hebrew Free Burial Association and a Shomer Shabbos Funeral Director, says, “It is vital today to educate the Jewish community that cremation is against Jewish law.  This used to not be an issue.  All branches of Judaism were opposed to cremation.  Sadly that’s not the case anymore.  And due to lack of education, we’re starting to see Orthodox Jews asking about cremation, simply unaware that it is forbidden.  The National Association of Chevra Kadishas is doing a wonderful job raising awareness about this important issue.  The Hebrew Free Burial Association often receives calls from people who want to arrange a cremation.  We spend a lot of time with the caller educating and explaining why burial is so important. Fortunately, in many cases, we’re able to provide a dignified halachic funeral and burial in our Mount Richmond Cemetery on Staten Island.

Rosally Saltsman

President Rivlin Visits Sheba Hospital for Update on Peres’ Fight for Life

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

President Reuven Rivlin visited Chaim Sheba Medical Center Saturday night to receive an on-site update on the medical status of his predecessor, former President Shimon Peres. The president expressed his appreciation to the administration and staff for all their hard work and effort to keep Israel’s ninth president alive.

“I wish to express my appreciation to Sheba Medical Center, to the staff in general and to the staff of the ninth president, Mr. Peres,” Rivlin said. “There is no greater fighter [for life] than he, and I hope that he is victorious.”

Professor Yitzhak Kreiss, director of the medical center, told the reporters at the briefing that Peres is still in “very serious, but stable,” condition.

On Sunday during the day, he said, “We will carry out a CT scan and an additional neurological examination to determine his condition and make some decisions regarding future treatment.”

He thanked President Rivlin for the visit, “first of all for coming to strengthen the Peres family, and then also, for coming to give strengthen to our medical staff that is taking care of Mr. Peres as well.”

Hana Levi Julian

Yisrael Kristal to Celebrate Bar Mitzvah at 113

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

The world’s oldest Jewish man is about to celebrate his bar mitzvah, albeit a century late.

Yisrael Kristal has just turned 113 years old on the secular calendar on Thursday; but in two weeks he will also have his birthday on the Hebrew calendar. On THAT date, he will finally celebrate his bar mitzvah as well.

The supercentenarian was born to religious Jewish parents on September 15, 1903, in Maleniec, Końskie County near Żarnów, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire on September 15, 1903. His father was a Torah scholar who ensured he had a religious education, and as a result, he has remained religiously observant all his life. He attended a cheder at age three, where he studied Judaism and Hebrew. He learned Chumash (Five Books of Moses) at four and the Mishnah at six. In a 2012 interview, he recalled his father waking him at five in the morning to begin his religious instruction.

Documents from Polish archives showing him to have been a resident of Lodz in 1918 at age 15 proved his age to the Guinness World Records organization.

But tragedy struck early: His mother died when he was 10 years old, shortly after his father had been captured for the draft by the Imperial Russian Army, dying within months. By the time he turn 13, Mr. Kristal was living in a world gone mad, under the care of an uncle dealing with World War I.

He moved to Lodz after the war to work in the family confectionary business, according to his daughter, Shulamit Kuperstoch. But the Nazis invaded the city during World War II, turning the Jewish quarter into a ghetto. Mr. Kristal’s two children died in the Lodz Ghetto, and he and his wife Chaja Feige were sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where she died too.

But Mr. Kristal survived, weighing only 37 kilos (81 lb) when the camp was liberated. After regaining his strength, he made aliyah to Israel with his second wife Batsheva — also a Holocaust survivor — and their infant son, moving to Haifa, where he opened a candy store.

In two more weeks, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and cousins and friends will all bless him as he celebrates Jewish manhood in the Jewish ritual that circumstances denied him a century ago. Mazel tov!

Hana Levi Julian

It’s My Opinion: Flying High At Bar Mitzvah Time

Monday, August 29th, 2016

My amazing grandson Jacob Abraham Benveniste has turned 13. His bar mitzvah was held recently and I am filled with gratitude to Hashem to be the grandmother of this incredible young man. Jacob’s affect is sweet, charming, and without drama. However, Jacob is so much more than the lighthearted veneer he can project. He is very smart. He is very determined. He is willing to work hard to accomplish his goals.

Jacob is a talented baseball player. Despite his grueling schedule of a dual-curriculum Jewish day school, he has remained on the local youth baseball team where he is the catcher. Every ball that comes his way is treated with the same effort and focus. Jacob gives each play his best.

Jacob is interested in aviation. His knowledge of aerodynamics is vast. He wants to be a pilot and I have no doubt he will succeed at his goal. He joined the Civil Air Patrol when he was 12 and has worked tirelessly through its daunting ranks. He earned the co-pilot seat on two flights and has actually steered and helped fly the plane.

The C.A.P. is a secular group and yet on several occasions its planned events have been changed because Jacob is shomer Shabbat and cannot attend on Saturdays. He has won the respect of his peers and officers. His presence is a Kiddush Hashem.

I offer my blessings to this wonderful bar mitzvah boy. Jacob, I wish you health and happiness and success in life. I hope and pray that no matter where life takes you, you will always go in the ways of Hashem and follow the path of Torah. I am proud to be your “baba.” Congratulations and fly high!

Mazel tov to the entire Rosenbluth and Benveniste families. May we be privileged to share many celebrations together.

Shelley Benveniste

Mitzvah Brings Mitzvah

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Several years ago, my husband and I went to Israel for a close friend’s wedding – another Emunah contributor – Debbie Garfinkel Diament. It was her “last” child’s wedding and I changed my previously purchased ticket that I was using to travel to my father’s yahrzeit a week later, to travel to the wedding instead (a week earlier). I went to my father’s kever a few days earlier than his yahrzeit.

I was thrilled to go to a wedding in Israel and especially such an important one, as Debbie and I have been close friends for over 50 years. At the age of 18, Debbie and I decided to embark on a summer trip to Israel for eight weeks. This was our first Israel experience. We rented an apartment in Tel Aviv and saw the whole country while traveling around on buses and trains. This was the beginning of a beautiful and special friendship.

At the airport, upon our return, she proclaimed, “I plan to live in Israel one day im yirtzeh Hashem.” Somehow, though I loved being in Israel, I didn’t feel that way at all. Her desire was fulfilled many years ago. What a bracha!

After discussing wedding arrangements, I had asked Debbie to please arrange a ride for me to the wedding, as it was distant. She said to me, “The driver will be Carol and there will be a passenger in the car named Max, by himself, and please don’t ask him if he needs a shidduch (as I’m known to do), as he is married.”

The ride came, as promised, and I was on my way. I was in the back seat while Max and Carol were in the front. Never having seen Max’s face, I asked him, “Do you have any single friends?” This was for a close friend’s daughter. We talked a little and he called his friend Jonathan. After speaking to him by phone, he said he would be interested in meeting my friend’s daughter. I had never met Max or Jonathan at that point.

Well, to make a long story short, they now have two children, b”H, and are very happy living in Jerusalem.

For this shidduch, my friend had given me some money. Whatever a person gives me for a shidduch is sufficient. When I do get money, I like buying myself a piece of jewelry, so I remember not to use it for a bill, or other expenses. I purchased a colored stone bracelet, which I treasure. Every now and then a stone falls out or it needs some repair, and the jewelry shop is very accommodating.

My husband has been at one job for 44 years and was recently forced to retire. He was looking for a part time local job to keep occupied. One day, my bracelet needed some repair, so I visited this local jewelry store. I was conversing with the store owner, and he mentioned the company my husband was employed at, since we had discussed my husband’s place of employment in the past. I told the owner that my husband was now retired. Not even mentioning that he was seeking a part-time job, the owner responded, “I would like to meet your husband.”

A short time later, my husband was employed there in the capacity that he was looking for. He is now working there for over six months, and very happy with the arrangements. To me, this is nothing short of a miracle. My husband had been at other business ventures that didn’t work out. Lo and behold, who would have thought that through my shidduch a job would emerge.

Hashem is always placing us in the right place at the right time.

Esther Lehman Gross

Rebuke: The Malpractice Of A Mitzvah

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

When the Torah mentions the obligation to rebuke a fellow Jew, it ends with the words, “and do not bear a sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17).

The Targum translates this as “and do not receive a punishment for his sin.”

According to the Targum, it appears that if Reuven ate a ham sandwich and I didn’t rebuke him, I would be punished for his sin. This seems difficult to understand. Why should I be punished for his sin? At most, you might argue that if I was capable of rebuking him and didn’t, I would be responsible for the sin of not rebuking him. But how do I become responsible for the sin he perpetrated? He transgressed it; I didn’t.

The answer to this question is based on understanding the connection one Jew has to another.

The Kli Yakar brings a mashol. Imagine a man who is on an ocean voyage. One morning, he hears a strange rattling sound coming from the cabin next to his. As the noise continues, he becomes more and more curious, until finally, he knocks on his neighbor’s door. When the door opens, he sees that his neighbor is drilling a hole in the side of the boat.

“What are you doing?” the man cries.

“Oh, I’m just drilling,” the neighbor answers simply.


“Yes. I’m drilling a hole in my side of the boat.”

“Stop that!” the man says.

“But why?” asks the neighbor. “This is my cabin. I paid for it, and I can do what I want here.”

“No, you can’t! If you cut a hole in your side, the entire boat will go down.”

The nimshol is that the Jewish people is one entity. For a Jew to say, “What I do is my business and doesn’t affect anyone else,” is categorically false. My actions affect you, and your actions affect me – we are one unit. It is as if I have co-signed on your loan. If you default on your payments, the bank will come after me. I didn’t borrow the money but I am responsible. So too when we accepted the Torah together on Har Sinai, we became one unit, functioning as one people. If you default on your obligations, they come to me and demand payment. We are teammates, and I am responsible for your performance.

The Targum is teaching us the extent of that connection. What Reuven does directly affects me – not because I am nosy or a busybody, but because we are one entity, so much so that I am liable for what he does. If he sins and I could have prevented it, that comes back to me. A member of my team transgressed, and I could have stopped it from happening. If I did all that I could have to help him grow and shield him from falling, I have met my obligation and will not be punished. If, however, I could have been more concerned for his betterment and more involved in helping to protect him from harm and didn’t, I am held accountable for his sin.

This perspective is central to understanding why rebuke doesn’t work.

When Reuven goes over to Shimon and “gives it to him good,” really shows just what did wrong, the only thing accomplished is that now Shimon hates Reuven.

To properly fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah, there are two absolute requirements. The first relates to attitude, the second to method.

What’s My Intention?

When I go over to my friend to chastise him, the first question I must ask myself is, “What is my intention?”

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Pope Says Catholics should not ‘Breed like Rabbits’

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Catholics should be “responsible” parents and not “breed like rabbits,” Pope Francis commented to reporters while traveling from the Philippines Monday.

He still is against contraception and noted that the church has approved other ways to make sure there are not too many Bugs Bunny Catholics running around

“God gives you methods to be responsible,” he said, adding that natural birth control should be practiced by avoiding relations when a woman is able to conceive.

So much for the first mitzvah in the Bible, unless the Old Testament no longer exists for Catholics.

Jewish law takes a direct opposite approach and prohibits a man from even touching a woman when he is ritually impure and cannot conceive.

The pope is consistent his disregarding ancient texts. Not only did does he dismiss the first mitzvah, he also chose to use rabbits as his analogy instead of citing a Talmudic text in Berachot 22a, where rabbis teach that couples should take it easy on intimate relations and practice a bit of self-restraint and not act like “roosters.”

Maybe the pope prefers rabbits because they are not kosher.

The pope also lambasted “ideological colonization,” meaning countries conditioning aid to the promotion on birth control and permissiveness, if not encouragement, of homosexuality.

“Every people deserves to conserve its identity without being ideologically colonized,” Pope Francis said.

So it seems that the pope wants to encourage the holiness of family by restricting sexual relations, especially if it means having more children who can build more families.

But too much birth control has backfired in the past.

Isn’t the virgin Mary the mother of Catholicism?

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/pope-says-catholics-should-not-breed-like-rabbits/2015/01/20/

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