One of the most difficult and trying periods in one’s life occurs when experiencing the death of an immediate family member R”l. Compounding the inevitable shock and sadness is the compelling obligation to arrange for a prompt funeral and burial according to Halacha. Often the first organization contacted by the family during this traumatic time is the local Chevra Kadisha (burial society).
Unfortunately, some local Chevra Kadisha members act outside the bounds of Halacha, general decency, and the laws of New York State. It is imperative that our community be aware of this pervasive phenomenon and thus arm itself with the ability to resist falling victim to it.
Specifically, during the emotionally vulnerable period before burial of the niftar, some Chevra Kadisha representatives apply inordinate pressure upon the grieving families by insisting that they utilize the services of a particular favored funeral home. They sometimes claim to have a “contract” with that funeral home and may even threaten to not bury the deceased — although the burial plot is legally owned by the family (and often was purchased from that same Chevra Kadisha) — unless the family agrees to patronize their “recommended” funeral home. (In one case I’m familiar with, a member of a certain Chevra Kadisha is simultaneously employed at one of the local funeral homes.) Moreover, some “volunteers” of a certain Bikur Cholim engage in steering unsuspecting grieving family members to a particular funeral home. It has also occurred in Boro Park that a certain Chevra Kadisha insisted that a niftar be physically transported from one funeral home to another, an especially appalling violation of Halacha and Bizayon HaMes.
The deplorable behavior and unholy alliances I describe not only stifle competition; they also add potentially millions of dollars in funeral costs to members of the Boro Park, Williamsburg and Flatbush communities, many of whom can ill afford the inflated expenses. And besides denying grieving families their rightful free choice, the practice is transparently illegal.
Article 32, Section 3208 (d) of the New York State Insurance Law states: “No person, firm, association, society, or corporation engaged in this state in the business of providing for the payment of funeral, burial or other expenses of deceased members, whether or not it be subject to other provisions of this chapter, and no insurer shall: (1) deliver or issue for delivery in this state any contract or policy whereby the benefit or any part thereof accruing under such contract or policy, upon the death of such member or of the person insured, shall be payable to a designated or restricted funeral director or funeral directing concern or other person engaged in such trade or business, or to any official or designated group of them; or (2) pay any such benefit or any part thereof to any funeral director or funeral directing concern or other person engaged in such trade or business or to any official or designated group of them, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to such benefits; or (3) in any way deprive the personal representative or family of the deceased of the advantage of competition in procuring and purchasing supplies and services in connection with the burial of such deceased.”
Without doubt, it is a mitzvah to publicize the aforementioned.