Rabbis in Bergen County say they have yet to vote on an agreement that would partially settle longstanding disputes over burying the dead on Sundays and holidays.
Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Beth El of Pascack Valley, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, suggested that an announcement of such an agreement last week was premature.
“Basically, we haven’t gotten around to discussing this. We have not signed off on this,” Shull, who became president of the board in July, told NJ Jewish News Oct. 26. “We plan to speak about it at our meeting on Nov 13. We have not discussed it formally.”
An agreement was announced Oct. 19 by the offices of State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) and Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36) and reported in several newspapers, including this one.
The lawmakers had facilitated discussions with cemeteries, the Board of Rabbis, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey, over a common cemetery practice of charging considerable fees when burials are held on Sundays and holidays.
According to the announcement, Beth Israel Cemetery, Cedar Park Cemetery, and Riverside Cemetery agreed to use their “best efforts” to open graves on Sundays and holidays so that observant Jews can bury relatives within 24 hours after death. But there was no agreement on the amount of fees owners can charge.
“It doesn't matter frankly whether the Board of Rabbis has signed off on this or not,” Schaer said this week. “This is simply the cemeteries agreeing to do something. Period. The Board of Rabbis doesn’t have to do anything here. The cemeteries voluntarily agreed to do something. There is no quid pro quo.”
According to Schaer, “There are two issues” that were discussed with the cemetery owners. “One is accessibility and the second is cost. We got the cemeteries to agree on the first one. They agreed to make available Sunday and secular holiday burials. I put ‘Christmas’ in quotes as a secular holiday, but on all the others, there will now be burials,” he said.
Schaer added that Board of Rabbis’ chief negotiator, Neal Borovitz of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, agreed to its terms and to the press release.
Borovitz did not return calls.
Said Schull: “I wasn’t personally involved in the negotiations so I don't know a lot of the details.” He told NJJN other board members “were representing our congregants, saying they have are some issues with the way people were charged overtime and the price structure. We have gotten complaints from many of our congregants saying they were not being treated fairly or appropriately by many of the local cemeteries.”
Schaer said he expects that negotiators will meet again in six months to consider the issue of burial costs on Sundays and holidays.
“I don't know what kind of agreement one is looking for from the Board of Rabbis, except to say, ‘It is a good thing we are offering burials on secular holidays,’” said the assemblyman. “If they are saying, ‘It is not a good thing,’ you know what? Have a nice day.”