Rabbi wins right to conduct burials without funeral director

A Pennsylvania rabbi has won an out-of-court settlement allowing him to bury members of his congregation without assistance from a funeral director. 

Rabbi Daniel Wasserman says funeral directors repeatedly filed complaints when he or his assistants buried bodies following Jewish guidelines. That does not include embalming but does call for a ritual washing of the body. 

“We would take the body, bring it to our place, to our facility, and we would do it and have an honor guard until the time of the funeral, have the funeral and then take the body to the cemetery and oversee the burial,” he explained.

Wasserman went to federal court to affirm that religious leaders are able to perform a burial without using a funeral director. He says the memorandum of understanding covers different kinds of religious funerals.

“I wanted to be clear that this wasn’t just an agreement with Rabbi Wasserman. It was a statement of religious freedom of all faiths,” he said. “This has always been the interpretation of Pennsylvania law, the only ones that didn’t know it were the funeral directors.” 

A spokesman for the state board of funeral directors says the group is not concerned about the ruling.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.