"The burial society will not forcibly separate between the sexes in the cemetery, and women too will be able to eulogize," wrote a panel of Supreme Court judges on Monday in response to an appeal filed against the conduct of the local Jewish burial society.
The plaintiffs, Liat and Rivkah Luvitch, claimed that Petah Tikva Chief Rabbi Shimon Solomon banned women from actively participating in funerals held at the city's Segula cemetery.
According to Soloman's ruling women were forbidden from accompanying the deceased to his final resting place and forbidden from delivering a eulogy for them. A strict separation was to be maintained between the sexes throughout the course of the funeral procession.
The Supreme Court ruled that the rabbi's order violated the basic rights of women and discriminated between the residents of Petah Tikva and other towns.
Rivkah Luvitch filed the appeal following the death of her father, Israel Prize Laureate Charles Liebman, a renowned sociologist. Luvitch sought to deliver her father's eulogy but when she started to approach the microphone in the funeral home a representative from the burial society blocked her path and told her that "in Petah Tikva women do not eulogize." The guidelines were referred to as 'the Jerusalem practice.'
"This was an unspeakably cruel act," said Luvitch of the incident.
Luvitch discovered that the order was issued by the city's chief rabbi and her lawyers took the matter to Israel's rabbinical court, where Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger ruled that women are allowed to eulogize and participate in funerals, further saying that this is the practice in many cities. However, Metzger refrained from intervening as every local rabbi is allowed to apply his own rules to the area under his jurisdiction.
'An offense to civil liberty'
Luvtich refused to give up however and appealed to the Supreme Court under the claim that the practice violated human liberty, freedom of speech and religious freedom. Luvitch said that this was an attempt to impose strict religious practices on a public that does not observe them.
The plaintiff further noted that the Segula cemetery and those running it have a monopoly on burial in the city and anyone seeking burial elsewhere is forced to pay thousands of dollars in expenses.
In addition to the appeal, Luvitch attached the affidavits from dozens of women who testified that they had delivered eulogies for their loved ones in Jerusalem itself, from where Solomon allegedly copied the practice.
The burial society responded to the appeal and confirmed to the court in writing that they ask women not to eulogize and generally expect the public to maintain a separation between the sexes as is done in
They asserted, however, that the vast majority of women's requests to speak at funerals are approved, despite the fact that the local rabbi views such an action as disrespectful to the deceased.
The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and demanded that the burial society implement their ruling immediately.