The Matzav Shmoooze: Resisting the Unholy Chevra Kadishas


kevurah-chevrah-kadishahDear Editor,

The letter by Usher Piller published on 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!


Zev Adelson
Upper Manhattan

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  1. Why must we come to this? If a problem does exist we’re not a mafiosi kehilla ( watch every other follow up poster lambast me!!!) and let’s fix the problem. We are the tzibur and we have the power of the checkbook at our disposal PLUS the roshay kehillos and rabbonim. Let’s thank Piller for alerting us and let’s be proactive. It’s a simle fix!

  2. you just ended by saying “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”

    I regards to the entire letter I must thank you for the experience & help you are giving the community, May Hashem reward you.

    in regards to how you ended with “teshuva” I must agree, for there is way too much horrific tzaros being hit on klal yisroel non-stop due to what the rambam says:
    If anyone should ask why are all these Tzaros Happening to Klal Yisroel he only needs to look at what the Rambam says. Saying that as long as we remain ignorant of the present troubles that we have & what the reasons are that they are happening. The situation can only get worse until Mashiach comes. With the society we are living in today we (sadly) CONSTANTLY need reminders (wake-up calls) from HASHEM for us to do T’shuva & return to HASHEM so all this Tzaros can end & Mashiach comes i.e. we have a major problem in todays society. its called facing reality, I.E. when tragedy strikes %99 of us live in denial & block it from our faces & just move on in life, cause we can’t face reality & admit that we get Hashems wake-up call & we will improve… May hashem help all of us wake up & face reality
    may we ALL do teshuva ASAP & remove dishonesty & corruption from our lives (yes we are living in the country of Sodom)

  3. the stuff I’ve seen in the past 10 years in the serving the tzibur ( by manipulative community workers with agendas of all sorts ) would make your blood boil ,so to the writer well done !! unfortunately its something you can only appreciate by experience so to all those goodie goodies who love to live in la la land ( “LETS FIX THE PROBLEM ” posts )or pretend it does not exist , because that’s the most comfortable to believe , when chas vishalom it happens to them they are the ones to act in much harsher measures

  4. until someone is faced with what is going on they would not believe it is true. Unfortunately we learned the hard way and ended up caving in because we did not know what else to do.

  5. #7 I wish it was not true , and you are mistaking pain with venom ,
    but most people want to keep their head in the ground, as the saying goes OILEM GOYLEM so because that wont happen
    we will keep on getting taken advantage of by seemingly well meaning people, and NO ONE will speak up for the fear of being victimized

  6. I must say that I am appalled.

    I am appalled because I live in Johannesburg and am privileged to live in a community with ONE Chevra Kadisha which is under the auspices of our ONE Beis Din, both of which exist to serve the community and not for parochial or commercial reasons!

    In Johannesburg, the Chevra Kadisha is not just a burial service, but encompasses practically all our community’s welfare services which range from care for the underprivileged to mentally handicapped.

    I am not sure whether our Chevra Kadisha makes a “profit” on its burial services, but if they do, it would automatically be ploughed back into the community. Also, in our community every Jew is given a halachically correct and dignified burial, whether they can pay for it or not.

    The question I would like to pose is: What are your Rabbonim doing to alleviate the situation? This is no doubt a terrible injustice and it seems to me that Rabbonim have an absolute obligation to use their position to do what they can to protect the vulnerable of their communities.

    It seems to me that there needs to be an element of accountability for Rabbonim too. Obviously this must be within the context of Kovod Ha Torah. It need never be a contradiction to Kovod Ha Torah. Is a rabbi who turns a blind eye to injustice or worse (in some cases) actually facilitates or profits from that injustice, fit for Kovod Ha Torah in the first place?

  7. kdas vdin says:
    To all those concerned about the relationship between chapels and chevros Please be advised of the following facts:

    1.As per New York State LAW, cemeteries are the only entities permitted to sell graves.
    2.Those organizations that purchase graves may, at their own discretion, sell rights of burial to their members ONLY.
    3.Organizations are permitted to set rules for burials in their respective cemetery parcels and the members are bound by these rules. 4.Organizations may arrange for special considerations, financial or otherwise, to be given to their members from chapels and other chapels are not bound by these arrangements. 5. Organizations are not permitted to force families to engage or contract for a funeral with a participating chapel.
    6.Organizations have a moral, if not legal, responsibility to inform members of any financial benefit gained by engaging a participating chapel for the funeral. 7.Organizations must, as per LAW, pay any chapel the same amount of money being paid by the organization to a participating chapel for the purchase of burial benefits provided to members.This to include, but not limited to, a coffin, a shroud, funeral vehicles, tahara, use of chapel for hespaidim, tahara room, mikveh, sh’mira, etc.
    8. Member’s families are responsible to pay their selected chapel any difference, if any, in the prices charged to the organization. 9.Organizations can not withhold rights of burial if a family chooses to contract with a non participating chapel
    10.Families have every right in the world to institute an action against a chapel, organization or their respective representatives if they think they were mistreated or misled.
    11.Many families have been unfortunately misled by seemingly fine people costing untold thousands of dollars.

    Please be advised of the following suggestions:
    1.Representatives of chapels and any organizations should not be waiting at, nor even near, the bedside of a possible niftar unless specifically sought out and requested by the family.
    2.Contrary to the advise of some others, the first call should logically be made to the organization to inquire about their available benefits and the cost of using their participating chapel(s). They should know all the prices.
    3.The second call should be to the chapel(s) of your choice, if any, to compare prices with the prices of the participating chapel including any extra cost for the organizational burial benefits that are given by the participating chapel. This is the ONLY method of obtaining the lowest prices.
    4.The chapel, selected by the family, should, at the family’s request or will, as a matter of course, contact the organization to get instructions for the arrangement of the tahara that the organization requires as well as obtaining the burial permit to open the grave at the cemetery.
    5.Bikur Cholim organizations and Hatzolah that attend to families at home, hospitals or nursing facilities should prepare and distribute the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all chapels, specifically those that are owned and operated by frum families, ie: (in alphabetical order; Kehila Chapels -718-332-3311 owned by Jacobson Family-Brooklyn: Shomrei Hadas Chapel – 718-436-8700- owned by Seidenfeld Family-Brooklyn: Shomrei Hachomos Chapel 718-435-8100 owned by Friedman Family-Chicago: Yereim Chapel 718-384-6784 owned by Brach Family-Brooklyn).
    6.Families should insist that they make their own telephone calls to the chapel and not permit anyone else to “help”. 7.Members or representatives of a chevra kadisha should not be permitted in hospitals unless called by a family nor should they also be a member of Haztolah. This is distasteful and inappropriate.
    8.The general public should contact hospitals to convey their concerns regarding any “chevra kadisha groups they permit or tolerate to roam in their buildings awaiting an opportunity to direct or steer business to their favorite chapel. It is clear that their “chesed” is only self serving since all else is really equal.

  8. A few more facts. These regarding chapels, since comments should be researched, well thought out and not based on lack of information. Common sense dictates that a chapel, like any business has an overhead to maintain its operations and facilities. In all likelihood they are more than most businesses considering the risks, the amount of pedestrian traffic, its major internal machinery and round the clock operations. They must be: 1. Rent or Mortgage of a large facility 2. Maintenance 3. Building repairs and renovations 4. Building insurance 5. Building taxes 6. Utilities to include water, telephone, gas and electric 7. Computer purchases, maintenance and upgrades 8. Office supplies and printing 9. Licensing 10.Professional fees, ie: accounting and legal 11.Multiple vehicle purchases and payments 12.Vehicle insurance 13.Vehicle repairs and storage 14.Sanitation paper supplies 15.Professional Insurance 16.Operational Inventory losses 17.Salaries for: Licensed Funeral Directors Office staff Drivers Maintenance Overnight staff 18.Social Security, Disability and Workmen Compensation 19.Subcontractors (removals, cemetery sign-ins) 20.24 hour runners to the Department of Health 21.Furniture repair and replacement 22.Refrigeration, back up and maintenance 23.Heating Fuel Oil 24.Vehicle oil & gasoline 25.Employee medical, as mandated 26.Advertising 17.Donations Critics should consider these enormous overhead expenses which somehow is divided amongst all the customers in any given year before they criticize. Without my supporting any chapel’s price list there must be more to this than just their being crooks. I am sure I’ve missed many items and this before the cost of Coffins, Shrouds and tahara supplies. On top of all of this, families are also paying for the cost of grave opening, permits, tolls, tips, shomerim, and possibly a Rabbi which are expenses other than that charged by the chapel which adds to the bill. Lastly, the owner(s), you may or may not agree, should also be entitled to a salary and profit on their investment. Lastly, we should all approch this difficult situation and our comments with a little derech eretz. Otherwise this problem will never be repaired.

  9. who said any of this is true?
    it is possible it has happened in a few cases, but there is no reason to say that it is normally a problem. Because of isoloated negative experiences, all chevra kaddishas need to be spoken about with such a negative light?

    you are making it sound as if most members of chevra kadisha – are in it for the money. – As this is most probably not true, it is terrible to say it. Don’t make it sound as if they are doing something bad that they are not!!!!

    Members of the chevra kadisha are doing chessed shel emes – and they don’t get paid very much. We should have hakoras hatov for what they do.