‘Women’s right to give eulogies can’t be enforced’

"We are living in a state of law and not of halacha," Minister Livnat says of discriminatory practices against women.

Limor Livnat 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Limor Livnat 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat told the Ministry of Religious Services on Wednesday that it has two weeks to finalize amendments to the guidelines for burial procedures, to prevent the exclusion of women from giving eulogies at funerals.
Livnat is the chairwoman of the recently established interministerial Working Group for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In recent years, numerous incidents have occurred in which women attending the funerals of relatives have been prevented from speaking and giving eulogies at the burial ceremony, by members of the hevra kadisha, or burial society, who run funeral services.
Those with a stricter interpretation of Jewish law argue that women should not deliver speeches in a public gathering in which men are in attendance. There is no explicit source for this custom however.
At the committee hearing on Wednesday, a letter signed by the director-general of the Ministry of Religious Services, Avigdor Ohana, was presented in which he said clearly that burial societies were obligated to allow women who wished to give eulogies to do so.
This follows the decision by the Minister of Religious Services Ya’acov Margi last week to adopt a ruling of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, that there is no clear basis in Jewish law to forbid women giving eulogies.
However, in a legal review presented by the ministry’s legal adviser at Wednesday’s hearing, the Ministry stated that it has “no real authority or ability” to enforce Ohana’s directive that burial societies are obligated to allow women to give eulogies if they so wish.
In comments made to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Livnat highlighted her demand that the ministry complete the amendments to the burial guidelines within two weeks, and reiterated the high priority she is giving the eulogies issue.
“Burial societies need to understand in the clearest of terms that their only authority is with regards to the cleansing and burial, and nothing else,” the minister said.
“I do not intend to let this important social issue be ignored. We are living in a state of law and not of halacha. It is our duty to ensure that every man and every woman to act according to their own wishes at funeral services.”
Rabbi Shaul Farber, director of the ITIM religious rights advocacy group, also criticized the ministry for failing to follow through with its commitments.
“It is a minor victory that the director-general of the ministry has acknowledged that women can deliver eulogies,” he told the Post. “However, at present the Ministry of Religious Services seems to be disavowing responsibility for implementing its own directive. We see this as a substantive issue that cannot be dismissed by lipservice alone.”
A response from the ministry was not available by press time.
During the first meeting of the working group in the middle of December, Livnat stated that one of the highest priorities was to end the phenomenon in which women were prevented from participating as they wished in funeral services.
As such, she requested that the Ministry of Religious Services, in conjunction with the Justice Ministry, amend the licensing terms for burial societies so that they would be obligated to allow women to give eulogies and walk in the funeral procession.
Despite delays by the Ministry of Religious Services, which said it was waiting on a halachic ruling from Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar as to the permissibility of women giving eulogies, and in light of pressure from Livnat and the working group, Margi announced last week the ministry’s adoption of Metzger’s ruling from a number of years ago.