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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Weird Lawsuit

Strange piece in today's NY Times about a woman suing a cemetary for breach of contract over their decision to allow burials of people who were non-members of an organization - contrary to an agreement signed between the organization and the cemetary in 1930. Curiously, the woman also takes issue with what she seems to feel is the flouting of Jewish custom that has been taking place in the cemetery:
The graves, Ms. Grezinsky says, are “eyesores,” and they offend her religious sensibilities. Though the Star of David appears on the headstones, in Ms. Grezinsky’s view they are not proper Jewish graves.

“According to traditional Jewish custom, headstones are to be plain, with only English or Hebrew writing on them,” said Ms. Grezinsky, a slight woman with shoulder-length brown hair who lives in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where she was raised. No pictures are allowed either, she said, nor should there be any writing on the back.

...By filing the current lawsuit, Ms. Grezinsky hopes to stop lodge officials from selling the last six plots in the designated area to nonmembers, and to have the offending headstones corrected to be more in keeping with “traditional Jewish customs.” Barring all that, Ms. Grezinsky said she would consider urging that nonlodge members be exhumed and buried elsewhere.

“Our position is that the lodge has exceeded its boundaries and has threatened not only the religious sensibilities of my client, but also the future ability for her to have grave sites next to her parents,” said Ms. Grezinsky’s lawyer, Marshall B. Bellovin, of the Manhattan firm Ballon Stoll Bader & Nadler. “This is more than just a cultural war.”

Her case, however, seems has been disputed by an Orthodox Rabbi who is quoted in the article as an attorney for the organization in question:
Rabbi Jay Shoulson, the lodge’s burial chairman and the lawyer for the lodge in Ms. Grezinsky’s first lawsuit, seemed unmoved by the latest litigation.

“She has her two graves, and she got what she’s entitled to,” he said, referring to the plots for herself and her brother. “She has the option of disinterring her parents’ remains and moving them elsewhere if she doesn’t like it. She can even fence it all in if she likes.”

As for whether selling the plots to nonmembers violates the 1930 contract, the rabbi said that the lodge was allowed to conduct charitable burials and funerals for those in need, and that those in question fitted that mold.

He also disagreed with Ms. Grezinsky’s interpretation of Jewish burial customs. “I’m an Orthodox rabbi, and I can tell you there’s no violation of Jewish custom here,” he said. “Different people have different customs. Some like pictures on their graves. Some like to have a l’chaim — they drink to life — to honor their loved ones. Some leave flowers. What’s so wrong with that?
“It’s ridiculous for her to tell people how they should mourn,” he continued.

That sounds reasonable to me.

19 Comments:

Blogger Somewhat Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Somewhat Anonymous said...

For some reason I'm more interested in the contract issue here than the religious one, but that's probably because the Bar exam is only a week away.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

That woman's idea that the writing on Jewish graves must be in Hebrew OR ENGLISH is so odd. If she said "Hebrew only," I could hear why she'd think that, even if it happens to be incorrect. But what's so special about English? What language does she think they use in Jewish cemetaries in Hungary, or Spain, or Argentina? It sounds like the designs don't offend her RELIGIOUS sensibilities, just her aesthetic ones.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

The issue that I thought was going on is that the lodge might be selling the graves to non-Jews. But I assume that would have been made explicit.

I know of one unafiliated shul that voted to accept members who were Jewish via patrilineal descent who made a specific exception to that rule for the cemetary, on the grounds that the members who were buried there would not have been likely to accept such people without a conversion.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is that there were a number of poor Russian immigrants buried by the free burial socity in the 80s. Their children are making it rich now and are putting up huge gravestones for their parents and relatives. Thus the gravestones are in Russian not english

3:28 PM  
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Anonymous Headstones said...

Writing on the headstones, only with families permission, otherwise sacrilege.

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Anonymous Ocher Yisrael Belsky said...

Wow, I just bumped into your blog, and would have been convinced the information was true, that is, until I read the actual NY Times article, the apparent source of your post.

You have taken the article out of context completely. you must be a very dumb woman, as I see no other reason to distort the article. It just goes to show how you cannot trust for accuracy even a simple post like yours.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Ocher Yisrael Belsky said...

Wow, I just bumped into your blog, and would have been convinced the information was true, that is, until I read the actual NY Times article, the apparent source of your post.

You have taken the article out of context completely. You must be a very dumb woman, as I see no other reason to distort the article. It just goes to show how one cannot trust for accuracy even a simple post like yours.

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