Legal Agency That Helps Jewish Poor Prevents Christian Burial of Jew
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Legal Agency That Helps Jewish Poor Prevents Christian Burial of Jew

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The Brooklyn branch of Community Action for Legal Services (CALS), in a legal action its director said was unprecedented for the agency, interceded successfully on behalf of a Russian Jewish immigrant to prevent a planned funeral for her under Christian auspices.

Steven Bernstein, the director, said that the daughter of the woman, who died last month in Beth Israel Hospittal in Manhattan, learned, on the afternoon of her mother’s death, that her step-brother planned to bury their mother in a Christian ritual. The step-brother had arranged for funeral services in a Christian funeral home and burial in a non-sectarian cemetery. Names of the family were withheld.

There are two branches of CALS in Brooklyn, both initially funded by Legal Services Corp, a Congressionally-created corporation to fund legal services for the poor throughout the United States. The Brighton Beach CALS is now being funded by the Community Development Agency of the city’s Human Resources Administration, Bernstein said.

The daughter turned to Rabbi Joseph Singer, rabbi of a Lower East Side synagogue, who immediately reached David Peck, a staff attorney at the CALS Brooklyn Branch. Peck contacted the step-brother in an effort to persuade him to drop his plans for a Christian burial. When that effort failed, Peck and Bernstein began work that night, the day after the death, on a lawsuit and an injunction to prevent the Christian burial. The body was then at the Christian burial parlor.


The attorneys telephoned Justice Myriam Altman at her home and later that night, the judge reviewed the papers and signed a temporary restraining order at 10 p.m. The order was served on the funeral director at 8:10 a.m. the next morning and the planned Christian funeral was not implemented.

Bernstein said that, after intensive negotiations involving Singer, Peck, and the dead woman’s daughter and son, an agreement was reached by which the required ritual cleaning and preparation of the body for burial was conducted by a Chevra Kadisha group in a few hours.

The Jewish preparation ritual was conducted in the Christian funeral home. Bernstein said that the funeral director, once the issue of a Christian burial was disposed of on the basis of the court injunction, was very helpful. Burial in a Jewish cemetery was completed by 2 p.m. on that day.

Bernstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that, in the many cases handled by CALS, this was the first time its legal resources had been used to prevent burial of a Jew under Christian rites and to assure that Jewish women’s rights to Jewish ritual preparation and burial in a Jewish cemetery.

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