Judaism Needs An Upgrade

The High Holidays signals time for our personal renewal. We commit to improving ourselves. But what about improving Judaism? Judaism needs an upgrade. Here’s an example.

A family friend passed away in Florida. I spoke with the surviving spouse. She was in distress over the funeral. The rabbi familiar with the family had just backed out of the funeral. Why? Because the decedent was being buried in a mausoleum.

There is NO explicit prohibition against burial in a mausoleum in the Torah. Yes, the Torah says that from dust we came, and dust shall we return. But this is not an explicit requirement of burial in the ground. Throughout Jewish history, we have buried our dead in crypts, caves, grottos, and graves. Mausoleums have been used and approved. Even Maimonides acknowledges the use of mausoleums.

We can honor the tradition by placing dirt in the mausoleum. But more important than keeping the tradition is honoring the living. A widow grieving the loss of her husband should not be further hurt by a rabbi upholding a mere tradition.

Some freely call this a measure of halakhah, often translated as the Jewish law. However, in my training as a rabbi, halakhah is a way, not the way.  Judaism must be mutable to honor God truly. I would never disgrace a family in mourning by critiquing their burial practice against a historically deaf standard.

Mausoleums may be necessary where the water table rises and shorelines flood.  Mausoleums can be a “greener” alternative, often using less land than traditional graves.

At this season of repentance, let’s encourage atonement for the Judaism that fails to honor God. We need a groundswell of interest in a renewed Judaism as a religion. We can hold fast to tradition or create a kinder, gentler Judaism that better reflects God’s love for us.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame