The letter by Usher Piller published on Matzav.com concerning unholy alliances between many chevra kadishas and some unscrupulous funeral homes certainly cries out for our corrective action. But although Piller means well, he falls woefully short in arming your readers with the practical advice they desperately need on HOW TO RESIST the despicable tactics used by some chevra kadishas. I will attempt to fill that void here.
First, if R”l a family member passes away, do NOT call the chevra kadisha first. Rather, call the funeral home first to transport the niftar to the funeral home. THEN call the chevra kadisha. You have much more leverage when the niftar is already located in the funeral home of your choice.
If the niftar belonged to a “heimishe” kehilah in Boro Park or Williamsburg, chances are the chevra kadisha representative will INSIST that you use their “recommended” funeral home, one that usually costs significantly more than the competition. If you demur, he will threaten to not issue the permit necessary for burial. He may also plead with you to have rachmonos on him, saying the chevra kadisha cannot violate the “contract” it has with the funeral home or there will be terrible consequences. Furthermore, he may claim that annual notices have been sent by the chevra kadisha regarding their “takanah” to use only their preferred funeral home.
If you still resist, he will suggest a “compromise,” namely that you “only do the Tahara” at the “recommended” facility but the services could still be conducted at your facility of choice. If you bite the bait of this “compromise,” here’s what’ll happen next: The “recommended” funeral home will transport the niftar to its own facility and then bill you on the basis of their inflated funeral costs for all the services PLUS the rental of your desired funeral home for conducting the services.
WHAT TO DO: Firmly inform the chevra kadisha representative that the Halacha (Rema Yore De’ah 371:4) strictly forbids moving a niftar even for the purpose of allowing a Kohein to be able to enter his own house! In other words, we force the Kohein to find a hotel or be homeless rather than be mevazeh the niftar by moving him for any purpose other than for his own benefit. Tell him also the law of the land (Dinah D’Malchusa Dinah), in NYS Insurance Law Article 32, Section 3208(d) strictly forbids any contracts whatsoever between burial societies and funeral homes and that the Law also states it is illegal to in any way to deprive a family of the advantage of competition in funeral services.
Often, even with all that, he may still threaten not to issue the burial permit! Remember, it’s a war of nerves here, and you’re at a terrible disadvantage, having just lost your loved one only a few hours ago! But be strong and stand up for your rights, for you also get the mitzvah of finally doing something to break the disgraceful cartel of unscrupulous chevra kadishas and funeral homes that forces the poor people in our community to spend needless thousands for funeral expenses. (See Micha 3:1-4.)
WHAT TO DO: Tell the chevra kadisha guy in no uncertain terms that the funeral home you chose is taking the niftar to the cemetery, no matter what. If he doesn’t issue the permit the entire funeral party will remain with the casket on the cemetery until the niftar is finally buried, even if it’s necessary to spend the entire night there! And of course, tell him you will notify WCBS, WINS and the NY Post. And be ready to do so.
You will most certainly persevere. Because they are craven cowards. They know they violate Halacha. They know they violate civil law. They know they cause much pain to suffering families in the worst time of their lives. But, to be melamed z’chus, the lure of the Dollar makes it too difficult for them to refrain from their reprehensible behavior. So help them do Teshuva!