Reform leaders have written to the movement’s members to explain this week’s unprecedented decision, taken jointly with Liberal Judaism, to restrict funeral services to officiating clergy with no family present.
The rabbis acknowledged that the move would be “terribly painful” for many but emphasised that it was done to save lives.
“These are exceptional times for our world and it is important that we uphold the value of pikuach nefesh (saving a life),” said Reform Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky and convenor of the Reform Beit Din Rabbi Jackie Tabick.
In a letter to Reform members, they wrote: “In taking this action we are seeking to ensure that the health and the lives of you, your families, your clergy, your service leaders, the cemetery staff and the funeral directors are all protected to the best of our abilities.”
Recognising that Reform synagogues are individually constituted bodies, they said, “As such we issue guidance and not directives. We hope that you agree that this guidance is to support you and keep your service leaders safe, guarding them from being put in a position in which they feel they cannot say no to endangering themselves.”
Reform had the resources to support live-streaming of funeral services. “We also have Zoom accounts for you to create a virtual shivah and we are already running weekday shacharit and ma’ariv for anyone who would like to say a communal Kaddish. Our funeral and shivah books are online to support you. This applies to all funerals, not only those from Covid-19.”
They went on, “This crisis is putting a strain on all of our essential services and we must ensure that we all recognise that we are individually responsible for doing everything we can to reduce the strain and protect our vital services.
“We know that this will be terribly painful for you and we can only express our profound gratitude for your support in upholding this decision, a decision which we hope will contribute to saving lives, minimising strain on the NHS and other essential services, whilst ensuring that the greatest mitzvah of all, burying the dead, is done in a way that honours the lives of loved ones.”