Interfaith Funerals

A lot is written about interfaith weddings. But how should an mixed-religion family cope with death?

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I am mystified why a member of one community is upset at being excluded from the rites of another community. Guests to my home may eat at my table, but they do not sleep in my bed. They may watch my television, but they may not make entries in my checkbook. We all reserve the right to control access to parts of our lives, our homes, and our communities.

Religious traditions are sacred to those who practice them. They are the proper arbiters of what may be done and what may not be done. To take offense is to selfishly elevate one's own sentiments above the collective beliefs and holy traditions of generations.

That same principle of respect should govern the conduct of a Jew at a Christian service. He too may deliver a eulogy and be a respectful observer of the traditions of another community. In accordance with a longstanding tradition, a Jew does not kneel during a service or recite hymns that contradict Jewish belief (for example, hymns that deify or supplicate Jesus).

Sometimes, the tone of the service will strike another as odd. There are traditions in which funerals are celebratory; others in which wailing and wild displays of grief are the norm. The great human rule of tolerance here applies: It is hard to feel the purpose and meaning of another tradition unless one is inside that tradition. Contempt or dismissal does not injure the tradition but mars the heart of the despiser.

Against our will, as the Talmud says, we are born, and against our will we die. This is the predestined human condition. The time in between those brackets of inevitability is under our control. Across religions, let us realize that we are dealing with the same inexplicable agenda of the universe. If we huddle together for warmth, perhaps we will find that the human heart need not be quite so cold.


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