QUESTION: The children of a woman who has just died are divided over the desire of one of them to bury her mother's antique silver shabbat candelabra with her. She made no such request. Another child understood that she was to receive the candelabra. Is this appropriate to bury a Jewish ritual item? (Selma Horotwitz, Boston MA)
ANSWER: The main emphasis with our funerals has been simplicity and helping the mourners overcome their sorrow. Rabban Gamliel already stressed simplicity by having himself buried in a plain shroud although he was wealthy (Ket 8b; M K 27b). Normally nothing was buried with the deceased with the exception of sacred writings which could no longer be used (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa 108). Such books were buried not to honor the deceased, but to guard the name of God from improper use.
Here we are dealing with a ritual item of considerable emotional and monetary value. The struggle over this issue undoubtedly covers some deeper hostility and older rivalry. The will may specify the disposal of the candelabra and they should be given in accordance with that document or any understanding reached. As they seem to have been promised to one child, they should not be buried.
Often some items normally associated with the deceased such as a ring or glasses have been buried with the individual, but this has usually been limited to items of daily, personal use and would not include candelabra.