Rabbi Says Orthodox Jews Overwhelmed by New York Gravediggers Strike

The Rabbinical Council of America today sent letters of protest to striking gravediggers, cemeteries. Mayor John V. Lindsay and Governor Nelson Rockefeller, in an effort to make known the “sense of discomfiture” Orthodox Jews have about the strike here.

Rabbi Abraham Besdin, Associate Director of Rabbis for the Rabbinical Council, said that the impact of the strike on Orthodox Jews was “overwhelming.” The crucial problems for the Orthodox he said, include the delay in burial, which under Orthodox law is supposed to take place within 24 hours after death; the fact that the bodies are being put in vaults and embalmed, which also runs counter to Orthodox tenets; and the delay in Shiva, the period of mourning for the bereaved family. The rabbi called this latter delay painful beyond words. He said that there was no way of reliably estimating the number of bodies awaiting burial.

Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that his group would support the right of families to bury their own dead. “Nobody on strike can deny people their basic rights,” he said. He added that he took this stand despite his general position against crossing a picket line. He said that his group took no stand on the strike except insofar as it affected religious principles.

Rabbi Besdin compared the strike to the strike of transit workers here in 1966. “That was humanly unbearable,” he said. “This is religiously unbearable.”

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