The North Jersey Board of Rabbis has weighed in on an agreement signed by operators of three Jewish cemeteries that was hailed as a breakthrough only weeks ago. The supposed agreement actually is a memorandum signed by three cemetery operators summing up what has been agreed to so far in nearly two years of talks between them and the rabbis. The talks were facilitated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and two state legislators.
The agreement had been hailed by one of the legislators, Passaic Assemblyman Gary Schaer, as “a tremendous accomplishment.”
The board of rabbis disagrees.
The agreement signed by the cemetery operators promised to smooth the way to burials on Sundays and legal holidays, which the NJBR acknowledges represented some progress. However, “The matters most paramount to the rabbinic committee are still very much without resolution,” according to a press release sent by Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner on behalf of both the NJBR and the New York Board of Rabbis. Kirshner is the NJBR’s secretary.
One of these matters is “fairness and social consciousness” in “cemetery pricing and practices,” the release said.
“Too many families in the New Jersey and New York Jewish communities have been unfairly price-gouged during a vulnerable and painful time in their lives,” it continued.
The rabbis also are concerned about the composition of the New Jersey state cemetery board, which is legally mandated to have a majority of members from the cemetery industry.
“It is imperative for a mechanism to exist that would allow for both bereaved families and cemetery operators of any faith or no faith to better communicate needs and issues as they arise,” the statement said.
According to the release, the rabbis plan to support State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s legislation on these matters.
While Schaer has said he prefers that the community’s concerns about the cemeteries not be tackled in Trenton, last month Weinberg told the Jewish Standard that she intends to move long-stalled bills to committee for initial discussion and vote before the end of the year.
Schaer, from Passaic, represents a largely Orthodox constituency. Weinberg represents largely non-Orthodox Bergen County. The Orthodox Rabbinic Council of Bergen County, which was a formal participant in the original meetings in 2008, has yet to weigh in.
One local rabbi, however, is not happy with the rabbis’ statement.
Rabbi Neal Borovitz, who chairs the JCRC, said in a statement that he “must disassociate myself and the JCRC” from the position taken by the NJBR and the NYBR.
He said he agreed with Schaer that all the points agreed to by the cemetery owners “had been agreed upon by all sides in our two-year-long discussion,” which no one disputes.
The question of opening cemeteries for holiday and Sunday burials, “which are of importance to some in our community, in particular the Orthodox, were agreed upon and for me represented the basis upon which we could build a better discussion on other issues,” he wrote. “I hope that discussions can be restarted and would again offer the services of the JCRC to be a convener of such meetings.”
For its part, the two boards of rabbis said they were “eager to reconvene with the state’s cemetery operators in order to continue the process of finding common ground on the issues that brought them to the negotiating table in the first place.”
Legislation, however, for now is their preferred course.