A bill proposed by State Senator Simcha Felder would help right an ongoing wrong. It may seem inconceivable, but currently, when an individual is niftar after 11 a.m., many New York cemeteries refuse to allow the burial to take place the same day. Some of New York’s largest cemeteries have routinely denied burial when notification came after 9 or 10 a.m., claiming that they were too busy. According to halachah and custom, burial should take place as soon as possible, and the thought that because of archaic, bureaucratic cemetery rules, a body should have to wait overnight for burial is outrageous.
The official reason for the delay is that preparing the plot and completing the burial on the same day would require unionized cemetery workers to work beyond their normal quitting time of 4:00 p.m. In reality, this excuse doesn’t hold water. For one thing, it doesn’t take more than five hours to bury a niftar. Secondly, there is no reason why cemetery workers shouldn’t work overtime — when properly compensated — to fill a real and pressing need.
Felder’s legislation would force cemeteries to bury even after 5:00 p.m., if it’s still daylight. Compelling cemeteries to have extended burial hours would not cause undue hardship as both the workers and the cemetery will be compensated accordingly. Under Felder’s proposal, cemeteries that refuse to do an after-hours burial would have to provide a document justifying the reason for the delay.
Unnecessarily postponing a burial is distressful to the neshamah of a niftar, and adds immeasurably to the pain of the family members. Felder’s bill is long overdue, and we commend the newly elected state senator for responding to the request of the community and making this important issue a priority.
We hope the full senate, as well as the members of the assembly, will see the wisdom and humanitarian benefits of this legislation and give it their full support.