Ban on non-Jewish names on graves

Relatives of a Leeds man who died from cancer have expressed outrage after their synagogue refused to allow his sons’ names to be engraved on the headstone.

Stephen Hipps died last year at the age of 61, survived by his sons aged 20 and 17. The family asked for the names of the boys, whose mother is not Jewish, to be engraved on his stone at Gelderd Road cemetery. But when it came to the stone-setting at the end of last year, the family was told by Rabbi Daniel Levy of Shadwell Lane United Hebrew Congregation that the boys’ names could not be included.

Mr Hipps’s cousin, Gary Barak, said this came as a surprise, since in 1999 a rabbi permitted the boys’ names to be included in the inscription on the grave of their paternal grandmother. Mr Hipps and his mother are buried next to each other.

Mr Barak said that his cousin, whose second wife was Jewish, had wanted to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

“We had no reason initially to think that the boys’ names wouldn’t be on Stephen’s stone,” said Mr Barak. “After all, they are his only children. Our reaction was initially of shock and then anger and disgust when we found out.

“Stephen expected a Jewish burial but not at the cost of not having his sons’ names on his stone,” he added. “If he knew this would have ever been an issue, he wouldn’t have wanted to have been buried there, despite it being next to his mother.”

Mr Barak said the decision “added to the stress and emotions over the tragic loss of their father” and called for more sensitivity from rabbis dealing with intermarried couples.

“A death of a father is the same for all children of all religions,” he said.

But, according to a United Synagogue booklet issued in 1991, “the names of non-Jewish relatives must not be included on an inscription.”

Paul Berwin, UHC president, said that the decision was not personal but was in line with the positions of the United Synagogue and the chief rabbi. “The policy is that the non-Jewish children and spouses shouldn’t be shown [on a grave-stone],” he said. “The status — sons, wife — can be shown.”

Mr Berwin said that it was his understanding that this was because including names would be giving recognition to marriages that were not halachically recognised.

“I can only assume that the rabbi in 1999 did not know that the boys were not Jewish,” he said. “Unfortunately, these are the rules when you sign up to be buried Orthodox Jewish.”

Last updated: 12:19pm, January 10 2013