In both Judaism and Islam it is customary to bury the dead promptly. Until recently an accommodation was in place which allowed Jewish residents of north London to use a dedicated funeral home in Stamford Hill rather than the public mortuary. However now the arrangement has been cancelled, causing senior coroner Mary Hassell to be targeted for criticism.
Whereas some secularists are applauding Hassell’s stance, arguing that no group should be privileged in this matter, others maintain that it is unlawful to refuse to make any allowance for religious requirements. This post offers some further background:
The decision to cancel the arrangement follows a dispute with Stamford Hill’s Adath Ysroel Synagogue and Burial Society (AYBS) over the burial of Aharon Barzevski, who had died of natural causes on October 21st.
According to Ms Hassell, the society had made one of her officers feel “bullied” and “persecuted” and had caused delays to other important work by making repeated phone calls and e-mails demanding a post mortem be carried out the next working day. Staff shortages meant that that it was not possible to fulfil this request, and the body was released for burial on October 25th.
This behaviour – insisting on a speedy post-mortem when staff simply weren’t available – doesn’t seem reasonable, but perhaps a strictly secular approach, as advocated by the National Secular Society, isn’t the best response either.
“Burials are highly sensitive issues. But in demanding special privileges for their community, Adath Ysroel Synagogue and Burial Society are arguing for people to be sent to the back of the queue if they do not share their religious beliefs,” said Megan Manson, campaigns officer at NSS.
This is quite an emotional framing of the issue. My own guess is that many who aren’t affected by religious requirements would be prepared for the system to accommodate (within reason) the different needs and wishes of Jews and Muslims. As accommodations go – this seems a fairly uncontroversial one.
You can read more about some of the complaints made about Hassell here.