Preventing women from mourning

A personal testimony about a family funeral.

soldier funeral 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
soldier funeral 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
My cousin was killed last month. At the funeral, I joined my family waiting at the open-sided shelter at the Yavne cemetery. The shelter was divided into two sections by a low fence - one for men and the other for women - so I headed toward the women's section. I imagine there were about 100 women there with me. Before the funeral began, a woman employed by the cemetery instructed close relations to enter the purification room to say their final farewells before burial. The mother of the deceased, his wife, his daughters and his sisters entered the room. Then the body of the deceased was carried out to the men's section. Many women, myself included, broke down and cried, but Rabbi M., who led the ceremony, raised his microphone and called out, "Women, stop crying! Calm down! No shouting. Control yourselves. We can't hear the eulogies with you going on like this." I was stunned, hurt and humiliated. I am pretty sure that people are still allowed to cry during funerals. Yet I was too confused and shocked to respond. The men recited the Kaddish and started to carry the body toward the grave. We women followed, but the cemetery woman blocked us with her body. She held the mother of the deceased firmly and did not let her go, saying, "Forbidden. It's forbidden." The female members of the family did not understand what was going on and some of us protested. The men who had proceeded to the grave may have heard the noise we were making, but they did not protest that we were being forced to stay behind. Some religious women of my family repeated what the cemetery woman had said. Some said, "If it's forbidden, it's forbidden. Let us calm down." Others said, "We must not harm the sanctity of the dead. Women should not come near the graves. It will damage our wombs." But the woman who worked at the cemetery said something completely different: that due to a high rate of deaths of young people in Yavne, "we have vowed that women will not approach the grave during the burial - and that would be the tikkun [healing] of Yavne." She said that we women are impure "because we menstruate and according to Jewish religion we are prohibited from walking among the graves." Even if this claim is true (and this must be checked thoroughly), the cemetery woman has no right to prevent all women from participating in funerals on the slightest chance they might be menstruating. The decision whether I approach the grave or not is mine. I FELT SORRY for the mother, wife, sisters and daughters of the deceased, who could not witness the burial. I believe mourners should participate in their loved one's burial as part of the mourning process, so they may grasp their loss and reach closure. We implored the woman from the cemetery. We argued with her and among ourselves. In the meantime, some men were already returning from the burial. As they passed near us, they said we could now approach the grave since the burial had been completed. Yet the cemetery woman still refused and said, "It is not good for the departed. Don't you understand? You are sinning against the dead. You are harming his soul." And with that she silenced us. We were overwhelmed. The father of my departed cousin was religious and some of the women said he might want us to obey these shocking orders. We did not want to endanger him or his son in any way in the world to come. So we stopped trying. When encountering someone's death, some people become aware that life may end at any given moment and choose to weigh their actions carefully. It saddens me that instead of easing the pain of others when times are difficult, there are those who add suffering to suffering. The pain of my loss was aggravated by the cruel restrictions made by the people of Yavne's cemetery. They discriminated against me because I am a woman. They chastised me for expressing my feelings and forbade me from seeing my cousin's burial. Besides feeling stunned and sad, I also felt guilty for not protesting aloud. The emotional Catch-22 was too much for me; I could not bear to make a difficult situation even worse by raising a commotion. Surprisingly, I had been in this same situation before - and again in Yavne. Yet back then, I had assumed it was a one-time occurrence. Three years ago, at the funeral of my grandmother of blessed memory, my mother's mother, we were also forbidden to approach the grave. At that time, I walked out of the open-sided shelter and saw the burial from afar; no one came to shoo me away. However, my mother and her sisters did not witness the burial at all. My mother is religious; she doesn't make a fuss. If someone tells her "that's the way it is," then that is it. This memory remains very painful to her. But she bears no bitterness toward those who forbade her from accompanying her mother on her final journey. This article first appeared in and in the English blog of Kolech. Kolech also published a review of the halachic aspect of this matter: