Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Mourning: The role of the community

This is what can happen if one has no connection to any Jewish community.

I have been very fortunate--even in this Yid-forsaken neighborhood, where there are so few synagogue-going Jews left that neither the Conservative synagogue nor either of the remaining Orthodox synagogues can get a minyan on a weekday, I still got a minyan at my home for Maariv (Evening Service) on Monday night and for both Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Maariv yesterday. I was also quite surprised and touched when one of the minyanim with which I frequent pray at my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan had a platter of deli, several containers of cold salads, and enough pre-cooked fleishigs/b'sari/meat dishes to last us through Shabbat (Sabbath) delivered from a glatt kosher catering establishment that normally doesn't deliver to this neighborhood. I was also pleased that my sister was well enough to join me yesterday in sitting shiva for our father .

Rounding up a Meal of Consolation got a bit challenging, however--here's the reason why I sent my husband to the synagogue to raid its kitchen for my breakfast on my first day of shiva (see page 116 in Volume 4, Chapter 205 of the Code of Jewish Law/Kitzur Shulchan Aruch by Rabbi Solomon Ganzfried, translated by Hyman E. Goldin, copyright 1961, 1963):

"1. On the first day of mourning, the mourner is forbidden to eat his own food at his first meal. It is, therefore, the duty of his neighbors to send him food for the first meal, which is known as the meal of condolence. The meal should begin with eggs or lentils, which are round and have no mouth (dent), just as the mourner presumably has no mouth. But these may be followed by all manner of food, even meat. . . .

3. A married woman is not allowed to take the first meal of her husband's food, inasmuch as it is his duty to support her, it is considered her own food."

I had a most interesting conversation on this subject with an old friend who came to sit shiva with me on Sunday afternoon.

"Sure, the community is supposed to provide the meal of consolation, but you'd better believe that the mourner is expected to pay for it."

No amount of suggesting that perhaps the rabbis were trying to alleviate not only the stress of funeral planning, the actual funeral, the burial, and/or mourning, but possibly, also, some of the financial burden, could convince her otherwise.

And I realized that, in some non-Orthodox communities, if you ask your own synagogue to order food for your meal of consolation, you can, indeed, expect to be billed for it.

Does this approach--that the community should do the work, but the mourner can foot the bill--miss the point?

And/or is the problem that the Shulchan Aruch was being literal when it said that the neighbors should provide the food, and expecting a neighborhood synagogue to do so, instead, is a tircha d'tzibbur (burden on the community) and also misses the point? Does the responsibility for nichum aveilim (comforting the mourners), like the responsibility for finding a sukkah in which to eat during Sukkot, devolve upon individuals, rather than on institutions?


Blogger Miami Al said...

Whenever a Shiva or Simcha takes place in our community, many people will whip up a tray of something and bring it over. The neighbors absolutely bring it.

Whenever there is one in my parents non-Orthodox synagogue, people order in from various venues.

If you order out take out from the Shul caterer, I'm not sure why you wouldn't expect the bill.

Tue Jun 07, 06:32:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I suppose it's reasonable for the synagogue to bill someone who places a food order. I just think that, in the case of mourners, it's unfortunate when this becomes necessary. I find it sad that the tradition of providing for the mourners doesn't seem to be as consistently observed among the non-Orthodox.

Thu Jun 09, 10:39:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Well, amongst my wife's family's non-Orthodox community, people do bring things to the Shiva house, providing food for mourners, etc. It's usually ordered, but people will bring a tray of deli meats, etc.

It is sad that that tradition is not kept so well outside of Orthodox circles. If you could think of a way to get people to bring it back, I think that would be wonderful. However, I don't think that replacing it with an entitlement for a catered meal is a good substitute.

Part of the problem, what percentage of your congregation keeps Kosher and/or a Kosher Kitchen? I've noticed that PART of the problem in the Conservative Circles is that for the masses that don't keep Kosher, they aren't keeping the strictures of mourning, so bringing in take out to the Shiva house is perfectly fine. In the traditional part, they keep Kosher, and the other congregants and friends that either don't keep Kosher or don't keep their kitchen as stringent wouldn't be comfortable cooking and bringing something to the mourners.

That means that bringing food means take-out. Expecting someone that doesn't keep Kosher to bring take-out from an over priced Kosher restaurant is unreasonable.

So I don't think it's possible to do it.

When dealing with a Reform's friend's Shiva, they asked for donations to a cause the deceased was involved in, and that worked fine for us to avoid the issue.

Fri Jun 10, 07:45:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Sorry, the reason take-out is fine for the non-traditional wing is because they aren't keeping Kosher, 7 days of Shiva, or traditional meals with bensching etc.

So when everyone shows up for the 1-3 days of Shiva being observed, it's only for a few hours, and people are happy to order in pizza/subs, etc., and the costs aren't really an issue.

Amongst the traditional wing, you don't have a good way for the community to bring food.

Fri Jun 10, 07:47:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

We ran into the kashrut problem at both my mother's shiva and my father's. If memory serves me correctly, someone brought a cheese without a hechsher when I was sitting shiva for my mother. Given that the Rabbinical Assembly has ruled that all U.S.-produced cheeses are kosher, that was understandable. I just foisted off the cheese on our friendly local Shabbos Goy. This time around, the kashrut issue was trickier--some old friends showed up with an allegedly-kosher-parve cake that had no markings on either the box or the bag. With no hechsher on which to rely, I was put in the rather dubious position of having to decide whether I trusted their kashrut enough to take their word for it. To be honest, I still haven't made up my mind. It is, indeed, true that, "Amongst the traditional wing, you don't have a good way for the community to bring food."

Fri Jun 10, 08:36:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

Same here, my wife's family is traditional Conservative. So plenty of dairy dishes were brought over without supervision. Also, there were a few things with supervision that our local Rav said isn't any good. So there was Kosher for Miami Al's family, and Kosher for everyone else, and non-Kosher for the non-observant and non-Jewish family and friends. All good.

But certainly eliminates the communal food options, so things are catered. If someone has a baby or loses a loved one, and we bring a meal and/or a dish over, I wouldn't expect to get paid. If I was a caterer, I would. :) While one COULD suggest that the synagogue provide meals instead, that kind of loses the point of the mitzvah and just runs up costs on the Shul, which is already renting out its Sanctuary on Yom Tov, not sure they need to be catering meals for people.

Fri Jun 10, 03:02:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"While one COULD suggest that the synagogue provide meals instead, that kind of loses the point of the mitzvah . . . "

Indeed, that was one of my original points: that feeding the mourners, like finding a sukkah in which to eat, is a responsibility that devolves on *individuals.*

"and just runs up costs on the Shul, which is already renting out its Sanctuary on Yom Tov,"

Oy. I take it that you've read my "Shavuot stories" post. :(

Fri Jun 10, 03:53:00 PM 2011  

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