August 7, 2012
Pittsburgh rabbi files federal lawsuit over Pa. funeral policy
An Orthodox rabbi from Pittsburgh filed a federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Board of Funeral Directors for requiring the oversight of licensed funeral directors in Jewish burials.
Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Synagogue in Squirrel Hill and head of the chevra kadisha, or Jewish burial society, for the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, alleges in his lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Scranton that the policy mandating that licensed funeral directors oversee all burials infringes upon his constitutional rights to religious freedom and equal protection.
In 2009, Wasserman was contacted by an investigator from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Enforcement, who conducted an investigation of the rabbi for “practicing as a funeral director without a license.” According to the lawsuit filed Monday, the state board told Jewish families that their burials would be illegal without a licensed funeral director.
Wasserman’s suit also states that rabbis are not eligible for licensing owing to a religious prohibition against embalming. His complaint expresses that the state board’s implementation of the oversight policy is “for no other justification than personal profit,” noting that Amish burial societies are not subject to similar restrictions.
“The State Board of Funeral Directors selectively enforces Pennsylvania’s Funeral Director Law in a way that violates the religious freedom of the state’s clergy, and all of the religious persons they serve,” said Efrem Grail, an attorney who is representing Wasserman pro bono in the lawsuit.