Anti-segregation victory as women allowed to eulogise

By Nathan Jeffay, January 12, 2012
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Women will be allowed to eulogise at all Jewish funerals in Israel, the country's Religious Services Ministry has announced.

Burial in Israel is paid for by the state but provided by religious burial societies, many of which operate according to very strict Orthodox standards. This is often leads to conflict between mourners, who have their own ideas about how the funeral will run, and the burial society. Among the most common complaint is that in some regions of Israel, women are prevented from eulogising.

Sometimes female mourners are unaware that the burial society running their loved one's funeral has a men-only policy, and are stopped from speaking at the last minute, causing a great deal of embarrassment and upset.

The new decision guaranteeing women a platform is the most tangible result of the backlash against segregation that is currently under way.

Rabbinate guarantee women a platform at funerals

The importance of the decision lies not only in its empowering of 50 per cent of mourners, but also in the simplicity, procedurally speaking, of what was done.

The principles for the decision were all in place - the High Court had ruled four years ago that women should be allowed to eulogise, and Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger had given a green light from a halachic point of view. All that needed to happen was for the ministry to gather the confidence to take on the religious conservatives who run some burial societies, take a position and find a way of enforcing it.

The current anti-segregation feeling in Israel provided the impetus and, responding to this, the ministry has come up with a creative method for enforcement: it has preconditioned the annual renewal of their operating licences on an assurance that they will comply.

This development highlights the fact that to get results, the anti-segregation activists sometimes need to work more smartly, not harder.

In some cases, the documents that they need to progress their cause are sitting on a government or rabbinate desk. Pressure in the right places sometimes proves more effective than protests.

Last updated: 12:16pm, January 12 2012