The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - Al­der­man

WHAT DOES the sad death of Amy Wine­house ( Aleha haShalom) tell us about the ways in which Ju­daism is per­ceived within Bri­tish so­ci­ety? The late Ms Wine­house and I in­hab­ited dif­fer­ent worlds. It’s not sim­ply that we came from dis­tinct gen­er­a­tions. She lived a life­style that I would never have lived and pur­veyed a mu­si­cal genre of which I am ig­no­rant. But she was Jewish and so am I. It is this iden­tity that has com­pelled me to take an in­ter­est in the man­ner in which the me­dia re­ported her death and the ar­range­ments that were be­ing made for her fu­neral.

Let me re­mind you of some of the bizarre me­dia sto­ries to which this high-pro­file Jewish death gave rise. One re­port in­sisted that her fam­ily was ap­par­ently in­tent on ob­serv­ing the shiva as soon as her death was an­nounced. The NME. com web­site ( New Mu­si­cal Ex­press) re­ported on July 25 that Sharon Os­bourne had told an Amer­i­can chat show that her daugh­ter Kelly was at the Wine­house fam­ily home right then “do­ing shiva”. But Mrs Os­bourne was in good com­pany, be­cause no less a news-sheet than the Daily Mir­ror had, that same day, in­structed its read­ers that al­though the fu­neral had not yet taken place “the fam­ily have be­gun the first stage of mourn­ing, ‘sitting shiva’.” Whereas the truth is and al­ways was that the seven (shiva) days of “con­fined mourn­ing” com­mence only af­ter the fu­neral has been con­cluded.

In the frenzy of pub­lic­ity fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of Ms Wine­house’s body, many me­dia out­lets spoke of an “Ortho­dox” fu­neral ser­vice, and my rec­ol­lec­tion is that some of them con­tin­ued to do so even as it be­came clear that what was to take place was a cre­ma­tion. I do not in­tend here to launch into a dis­cus­sion of the Ortho­dox ban on cre­ma­tions — though I must re­veal en passant that, while the ban is un­equiv­o­cal, some rep­utable halachic ex­pos­i­tors have ruled that it is in fact in or­der for ashes to be in­terred in an Ortho­dox ceme­tery. But of course such an in­ter­ment — let alone the ac­tual cre­ma­tion — would not have been in­cor­po­rated within a cus­tom­ary “Ortho­dox” fu­neral ser­vice. So why did The Times (July 27) re­port as an “Ortho­dox” fu­neral ser­vice one that quite clearly wasn’t?

Then we have the re­port that, be­cause Ms Wine­house had adorned her­self with tat­toos, these would have to be re­moved be­fore her fu­neral. Again I turn to the Daily Mir­ror: “Amy will be buried to­day or to­mor­row… Ortho­dox Jewish tra­di­tion dic­tates that tat­toos are cut off first, but it’s un­clear if this will be the case with her ink­ings.”

Granted, the Mir­ror later re­moved this piece of non­sense from its web­site. But from whence had it orig­i­nated? And, even if the fu­neral had been Ortho­dox, as a for­mer mem­ber of a chevra kadisha I can as­sure you that no tat­too (or “ink­ing”) would have been “cut off” first. The idea is outrageous.

Now you might say that I am be­ing outrageous my­self. Can we hon­estly ex­pect non-Jewish so­ci­ety, within which we live as a tiny mi­nor­ity, to un­der­stand the minu­tiae of Jewish fu­neral ar­range­ments? That (save for the brit mi­lah of an un­cir­cum­cised male corpse) the bod­ies of the Jewish dead un­dergo no sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure prior to burial? That Ortho­dox Jews bury but never cre­mate? And that a shiva only com­mences af­ter the in­ter­ment (or cre­ma­tion) has taken place?

As a mat­ter of fact I hap­pen to think that we can, or at the very least that we can ex­pect those who chose to com­ment pub­licly upon Ms Wine­house’s fu­neral to have taken the trou­ble to check their facts first. And I fur­ther be­lieve that the fact that some of them ap­par­ently chose not to do so en­cap­su­lates a trou­bling les­son.

I be­lieve there is a seam­less con­tin­uum link­ing amus­ing and then pro­gres­sively ever more of­fen­sive tit­tle-tat­tle about Jews — from the myth that Charedi couples have sex through a hole in a sheet and the be­lief that “gefilte fish” refers to an ex­otic marine species — to much darker ideas, cul­mi­nat­ing in the li­bel that Jews mur­der and mu­ti­late non-Jews to use their blood for re­li­gious pur­poses.

I also be­lieve that there is an an­ti­dote to this per­ni­cious con­tin­uum — namely, ed­u­ca­tion. And I fur­ther be­lieve that we —you and I — are cur­rently not do­ing enough to ed­u­cate our nonJewish hosts as to what it means to be Jewish and to prac­tise a Jewish faith.

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