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Delayed Jewish Burials Are Causing Rage In London

New policies at the St. Pancras coroner’s office make it much more difficult to follow traditional Jewish burial laws

Jesse Bernstein
January 24, 2018
(CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view of St Pancras Coroner's court in London, 13 July 2005.(CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
(CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view of St Pancras Coroner's court in London, 13 July 2005.(CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

The following is a story that has been written in one form or another for the last 1,000 years of Jews living in European cities.

New policies set by the St. Pancras coroner’s office in northern London have run aground of traditional Jewish burial laws, and residents in the office’s jurisdiction are planning to “turn to David Gauke, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, and Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice,” to request that they remove the senior coroner, Mary Hassell, from her post, according to JTA.

In a letter last year to local leaders in the Jewish community, the largest concentrations of Haredim in Europe, Hassell wrote that “no death will be prioritized in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family, either by coroner’s officers or coroners.” This, obviously, makes it difficult for the local Jewish population to bury their dead as quickly as possible, in accordance with Jewish law.

In addition to that, Hassell cited an incident wherein the local chevra kadisha had failed to deliver a recently deceased body to the mortuary at the Whittington Hospital in north London, as they were keeping shemirah at the time (shemirah is the practice of ritually “guarding” the body from death until burial). Rabbi Asher Gratt of the local Adath Yisroel Burial Society disputes that version of events, but, regardless, the practice has been banned as well.

Frustrated, community members often resort to taking the initiative and pressing the authorities in their hour of need. One case recently advertised in the press involves a Jewish woman who made 210 calls to the coroner’s office before being permitted to bury her father on December 24th, four days after he died. Meanwile, a local law firm is taking action againt Hassell, citing Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the right to practice religion with minimal unnecessary limitations. The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office told the Guardian it had “received complaints against Mary Hassell, the north London coroner. These will be considered in accordance with the Judicial Discipline (Prescribed Procedures) Regulations 2014.”

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.

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