When the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Your people will be totally righteous” he hit it out of the ballpark. Implied, is that at present, HaShem’s people are anything but righteous. What happens then, when a Jew, a scoundrel, a low life, a “shandeh” to his fellowman as well as to his maker, dies of either natural or unnatural causes? Should that person be accorded or denied a proper Jewish burial?
I couch my question carefully, in that one must not confuse Jewish burial with a Jewish funeral.
The two, while inextricably connected, are so totally different from one another. Jewish burial – perhaps burial in all religions and ethnicities – revolves around tending to the corpse and ensuring that it is properly laid to rest in accordance with law and practice; a Jewish funeral revolves around tending to and reflecting upon the life of the one who has been taken from the world. Jewish burial requires following a checklist, mandated by halacha; a Jewish funeral calls upon clergy and other eulogizers to dig into their resourcefulness, so that the positive attributes of the deceased are brought to light, while the negative attributes of the deceased are either downplayed or overlooked. A Jewish funeral is for the living; a Jewish burial is for the dead.
When the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish law presents the halachot or laws concerning a bringing a deceased to his or her final resting place, the only reference to the character of the deceased concerns murder. A murderer – whether when someone else is the victim or when oneself is the victim (viz. suicide, assuming mental or psychological abnormalities were not at play) is not to be buried together with all others. Rather, a separate section is to be made available in the Jewish cemetery for the grave. A murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, a sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” (Yiddish for someone who is to be ejected from society) is to be accorded a Jewish burial. No if’s, and’s or but’s. As far as according a murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” a Jewish funeral (viz. that which occurs between preparing the body and burying the body), both the community as well as the individual have (in the words of Samuel Goldwyn) the right to say “include me out.”
I cringe when a hear someone invoke “who are we to judge.” Little does that person realize that he is restating “judge not, lest you be judged” from the Book of Matthew. Source aside, would that same individual invoke “who are we to judge” when it comes to proclaiming another person as innocent, a jewel of a person, a real sweetheart, a beautiful human being? Is that not also judging? More importantly, when it comes to burial, a far more adept, capable and equitable judgement is taking place, by a force far greater than any mere mortal. It is at that judgement, that final judgement, where we believe fitting punishment is dispensed and just rewards are given out.
Permit me to introduce a new word to your vocabulary: moirologist. A moirologist is a professional or paid mourner, present at the cemetery when a burial takes place. At one time moirologists were common in Egyptian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures; at one time, moirologists could be found in the shtetl, bewailing a loss. I, for one, would very much like to see the reinstatement of moirologists. There are certain burials, where their presence would be most welcome, necessary and hopefully most effective. Among those burials would be that of a miscreant, a scoundrel, an oisvorff, a “shandeh” to his fellow man, as well as to his maker. I would like to hear crying and wailing, not for the deceased, but for the living. Let the moirologists evoke tears from good and decent people in society, realizing that a life was snuffed out long before the last breath was breathed. Let good and decent people mourn for the innocent lives of victims damaged and scarred. Let good and decent people cry, letting HaShem know that He is not alone in His disconsolation, that such an individual unfortunately walked the face of this earth and is now being tossed back into that earth.