US reinstates eulogy ban

By Simon Rocker, September 4, 2008

The United Synagogue has put on hold plans by its rabbis to allow relatives to give eulogies at funerals.
Only last month the head of the organisation's Rabbinical Council (RCUS) wrote to colleagues to say that they could relax the previous practice, objected to by many congregants, which permitted only members of the clergy to speak at the cemetery.

But their decision has prompted the intervention of Stuart Taylor, the interim chief executive of the US, who has since written to rabbis to say that the current policy remains in force until new guidelines have been agreed.

In his letter affirming the status quo, Mr Taylor declared: "At a time of emotional trauma, our members require and deserve a degree of certainty and consistency of approach.

"While I fully accept that the current policy is in need of review, the current recommendation removes all boundaries and has the potential of creating confusion, not only in the minds of our members but also for younger and more inexperienced rabbis, who look for guidance n these difficult areas."

Following a vote at a meeting last month of the RCUS committee, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, its recently elected chairman, informed colleagues that although ideally a rabbi should give the eulogy, he could use his discretion to allow a lay person to speak.

In his letter, Rabbi Schochet said that policy about eulogies had long been "a bone of contention".

He explained that the change reflected the council's wish to "nurture a rabbinate which is empowered and encouraged to make its own decisions in a greater range of areas than may have been the case hitherto".
Rabbi Schochet stressed this week: "We remain committed to reinforcing the standing of the RCUS within the United Synagogue family, and to continue promoting autonomy of individual rabbis."

A spokesman for the US commented: "A recommendation has been tabled by the RCUS, and the Chief Rabbi is now working actively on the detail together with the RCUS and the US burial society, taking into account the consensus of opinions of the RCUS."

In the meantime, Mr Taylor advised rabbis "that the status quo remains, until details have been agreed".
One senior US minister, Rabbi Meir Salasnik, of Bushey Synagogue, expressed understanding of the head office position. "I welcome the president of the United Synagogue's encouragement for rabbis to have more autonomy in their synagogues and communities,."

"At the same time, I realise that for each rabbi to operate according to his view within the cemeteries can lead to confusion, and therefore the decision of the Rabbinical Council, which was taken after a fair and good discussion, requires to be discussed with the US prior to implementation."

Last updated: 11:28am, September 4 2008