Contemporary American Reform Responsa

87. A Long Delayed Funeral

QUESTION: The mother of a member of my Temple died in New York. A daughter is traveling with her husband in Australia and New Zealand and will return within a month. The Funeral Director indicated that it would be possible to hold the body for a month. However, the rest of the family felt that the funeral should be held immediately as it was. Would it have been possible, according to Jewish Law, to delay the funeral until the daughter's return? (Rabbi A. Task, Greensboro, NC).

ANSWER: The Talmud and the later Codes insisted that burial take place immediately. Therefore, traditional Jews do their best to bury on the same day. This ruling is based on a specific Biblical injunction which deals with an individual who has been executed for a crime. Tradition has generalized from this single instance for all burials (Deut. 21.23; San. 46b; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 357.1). It has, however, also been traditional to delay burial overnight and possibly longer for the sake of the honor of the dead (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 357.2 ff). Such a delay permitted the acquisition of proper shrouds or a coffin, as well as close relatives to journey to the funeral (M. K. 22a). Most funerals in our time are delayed as families are widely scattered and need a day or two in order to arrive in the city of the deceased.

It would, however, be wrong to delay the funeral for as much as several weeks or a month in order to accommodate the travel schedule of a child. Such a delay would dishonor the deceased. If for some reason it is impossible for that child to return before such a long period has elapsed, it would be appropriate to conduct a memorial service at the time of the sheloshim thirty days after the death. This is customary in many communities in any case.

August 1985

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.