As the London community mourned the tragic petirah of Moshe Yitzchok Grunfeld, z”l, 19, the pain of his untimely passing was compounded by his delayed burial and threats of an autopsy on the part of the coroner’s office (the equivalent of the medical examiner’s office in U.S. cities).
The niftar had been studying in the Satmar yeshivah in Queens, New York, and had returned home for the Pesach break. Friends remember him as a stellar bachur who excelled in learning and conducted himself with exceptional ehrlichkeit.
The levayah took place Friday afternoon and was attended by an estimated 2,000 people who came to share in the communal sorrow. It began in front of the Grunfeld home with words from Harav Ephraim Padwa, Mara d’Asra of London, and Harav Yosef Leifer, the niftar’s fomer Maggid Shiur and chavrusa. The procession continued to the Satmar beis medrash and then to the Enfield beis hachaim for kevurah.
Grunfeld’s body was recovered from a lake in Hampstead Heath by police on Wednesday night after he drowned while swimming with friends on an unusually hot spring day. Police allowed the body to be moved to a Jewish chapel so that proper shemirah could be arranged, but Coroner Mary Hassel ordered an autopsy to be performed the next morning, delaying the burial and making an obvious imposition on kvod hameis.
Mrs. Hassel has clashed with the London kehillah increasingly in past months after delaying burials and insisting on invasive postmortem procedures of several community members. Askanim won two victories in higher courts, which issued injunctions to stop such autopsies. She is presently under judicial investigation to examine claims of insensitivity to religious objections from Jews and Muslims.
A lawyer working on behalf of the Grunfeld family issued a passionate letter Thursday morning requesting the coroner’s office to allow a non-invasive scan and pleaded for additional sensitivity given the tragic nature of the incident. The letter also stated that, while they hoped it would not be necessary, they were prepared to go ahead with another high court injunction to block the procedure.
The family’s lawyer and the coroner’s office exchanged a number of communications throughout the afternoon. After initially repeating the need for a standard autopsy, citing concerns that a coronary incident was the true cause of death, late in the day Mrs. Hassel agreed to forgo an invasive autopsy and allow for Dr. Ian Roberts, an expert pathologist, to perform a non-invasive scan.
“We can determine the cause of death in 75 percent of sudden adult deaths, without any other invasive procedure required, using this approach,” Dr. Roberts told Hamodia.
“The threat of legal action and the judicial review that is in progress got her to relent rather than go for an autopsy,” said Asher Gratt, the main askan involved in the community’s efforts on behalf of kvod hameis.
After the petirah a few years ago of Moshe Yitzchok’s father, Reb Chaim Yaakov, z”l, a respected member of London’s Satmar kehillah, Moshe Yitzchok took upon himself many of his father’s family responsibilities.
At the beis hachaim, the niftar’s uncle, Reb Boruch Shia Grunfeld, who traveled from America, spoke. Reb Sholom Pinchos Posen, another uncle, whose children were present at the time of the accident, tearfully asked for mechilah and said that “they had tried to do everything possible to save him, but it was not bashert.”