Orthodox cemetery bans Reform rabbis

By Simon Rocker, August 22, 2008

Glasgow's Orthodox-run burial society has ended a long-standing arrangement which permitted local Reform rabbis to conduct funerals at its cemetery for members of their synagogue.

Barry Cooper, chair of the Hebrew Burial Society, remained tight-lipped over the reason for the change of

He would say only: "We are an Orthodox burial society which is bound by the halachic regulations as relating to all aspects of Jewish burial and Jewish services.

"We have had meetings with representatives of the Reform shul. It is an ongoing issue."

Although Glasgow Reform Synagogue has its own burial grounds, some members belong to the Hebrew Burial Society and have plots at the Orthodox Glenduffhill cemetery.

In the past, rabbis of Glasgow Reform Synagogue have been able to officiate at funerals and stone-settings in the cemetery for members of their congregation - although there was one restriction: they were allowed to speak only from the floor, not the pulpit, in the prayer hall.

Giles Woolfson, co-chairman of the city's Reform community, said; "There has been a long-standing practice and agreement which they [the Hebrew Burial Society] appear to have changed very recently. But we sincerely hope that they will revert back to the practice as it has been for many years."

Rabbi Pete Tobias, who served as the congregation's rabbi for seven years until 2003, recalled services in the city: "If the deceased was a member of the Glasgow Reform Synagogue, I was allowed to conduct the ceremony and was treated with due respect. No questions were asked. Everything went smoothly."

He added that he had not minded about being unable to speak from the pulpit, as "I preferred to be as close to the mourners as possible."

He was succeeded at the synagogue by Rabbi Nancy Morris.

But some within the burial society are opposed to the Reform bar. Aharon Soudry, minister of Garnethill, one of the city's five Orthodox congregations, said that he had spoken out against it at the society's recent annual meeting.

"I recommended that we keep the status quo," he said.

"We are a small community here. The members of the Reform synagogue pay their dues to the Representative Council and support all the charitable organisations in Glasgow.

"We should not create a deeper ravine than we already have with the Reform."


A battle of denominations

In June 2000, the uncle of a barmitzvah boy was refused a call-up at Newton Mearns Synagogue, Glasgow, because his wife was a Reform convert. The minister, Rev Philip Copperman, said it was the policy of the synagogue not to call up anyone who had married out.

In 1994, the Chief Rabbi intervened in a dispute after the grandfather of a barmitzvah boy at Cardiff's Orthodox synagogue was denied an aliyah because he belonged to the city's Reform congregation. The Chief Rabbi said that being a member of a Reform synagogue did not, in itself, disqualify someone from being called up in an Orthodox shul.

Last updated: 1:18pm, August 26 2008



Wed, 09/03/2008 - 22:43

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If the US now agrees that family and friends can also speak at US funerals, why don't they accept that a Reform rabbi might just be a friend or a member of your family? If this doesn't help, follow the Adass minhag where the hesped is said at the house before the men escort the coffin to the cemetery for burial. Who speaks at the house is a personal matter. Another option is to have a hesped at the conclusion of the shiva.