I come to bury, not to raise

By Geoffrey Alderman, September 4, 2012

In common, I'm sure, with many other JC readers I initially thought that reports of the sale in parts of Jerusalem of special glasses that blurred salacious visions were nothing more than mischievous rumours. But they weren't.

The manufacture of "blinkers" - or "vision impeding hoods" - to blot out forbidden images I initially took to be a gimmick. I was wrong.

Likewise, I regarded news that relatives of a deceased rabbi had gone to the trouble of applying for - and obtaining - permission to lever him out of his Jerusalem grave and rebury him elsewhere because those interred in close proximity to him were felt to be inappropriate neighbours as a bit of a giggle. It wasn't. And, all this being so, we do have to inquire into the mind-set that will pay good money for snooty exhumations, encourage the wearing of vision impeding hoods and demand the manufacture of intentionally out-of-focus spectacles.

Towards the end of last year, I aroused a certain amount of controversy by suggesting, in this column, that it was well known that Charedi men were "notorious harassers of the opposite sex". I received a modicum of hate email and a few irate phone messages.

But one co-religionist decided to teach me a lesson by placing the matter in the hands of the Press Complaints Commission, the body that monitors the British media. He alleged that my suggestion was inaccurate and could not be substantiated. So as part of my defence I was asked to provide instances of the harassment to which I had referred. My submission ran to several pages. The complaint was ultimately dismissed.

Sexual repression and a manifest inability to manage issues of sexuality are - alas - characteristics of the Charedi world. Why else would it demand out-of-focus spectacles and hoods that block the outside world? Most normal men are aroused by the sight of a comely, curvaceous woman. This is part of the divine that dwells in all of us. But most normal men are able to control and master their urges. This also is part of the divine that dwells - or should dwell - in all of us.

But in the Charedi world it seems this divine spark has been extinguished, or at least substantially dimmed. That is the only conclusion that I can draw from the reports that I initially assumed were just gimmicks and mischievous rumours. But I am forced to draw one other conclusion, which is that, far from bringing its adherents closer to God, the Charedi lifestyle (it seems to me) actually distances its adherents from the realm of the Almighty.

Which brings me to the matter of burial.

There are indeed minhagim (customs) attached to burial, and specifically to the proximity of one deceased to others with whom she or he quarrelled in this life. And some burial societies do indeed have the custom of burying those known to be Shabbat-observant separately from those whom it is suspected were not.

I want you to know that in attending to my own funeral arrangements I have not only written my own hesped (funeral oration - in Yiddish, naturally) but have compiled a list of people I don't want to be buried next to. As you may imagine, the list is long - and getting longer.

At my funeral, we shall resurrect (if I may use that word) the custom by which those gathered to celebrate or (who knows?) mourn my passing will be asked to file past my coffin and crave my forgiveness. But my daughter will have been provided with a list (also very long) of those whom I just cannot bring myself to forgive; they will be asked - politely - to move to one side. I have also been given to understand that, unsurprisingly, sundry individual have instructed that they don't want to be buried near me. Well, as my paternal grandfather was wont to say, zolst helfen vi a toyten bankes. Much good may it do them.

But all this is a far cry from actually going to the trouble and expense of digging up a body in one part of Jerusalem and reburying it in an allegedly more agreeable location within the same holy city. That this will have eased the soul of the departed I very much doubt. That there are far better uses to which the money could have been put, I have no doubt whatsoever.

In the sight of God, all Jews are equal. Charedim please take note.

Last updated: 9:45am, September 4 2012