Torah for Today

By Rabbi Yisroel Newman

Last month, the mother of the late singer Amy Winehouse publicly berated her ex son-in-law, Blake Fielder-Civil.

Blake visited the grave of his former spouse, three years after she had passed, and had someone film him while he was there while he explained his emotions after visiting her.

Now Jewish mothers-in-law aren’t their child’s spouse’s biggest fans, and of course after a divorce it is only exaggerated.

Yet Janis Winehouse is most definitely correct to be upset. She believes he has shown a lack of respect to the cemetery and to her daughter.

Let’s look at what the Jewish sources say about visiting a cemetery and how one should conduct oneself while there.

Judaism is sensitive to the fact that every person has a different way of dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one. It’s also understood that attending the gravesite of the departed is to communicate and pay your respects to the deceased.

However, much like everything else in Torah, there are certain guidelines to be upheld to ensure our conduct is respectful to our fellow man and to the Almighty.

Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) tells us that a person should not perform or display any fulfillment of mitzvoth (Torah commandments) while at a cemetery. An illustration of that would be a person whose tzitzit are visible, would tuck them in to make sure they’re not noticeable.

The reason for this is so the people buried in the cemetery who are no longer living in a physical world, are not embarrassed by the fact that they can no longer perform said mitzvoth.

This is a prime example of the Torah’s honour for the dead.

The Code continues to say that one must pay the utmost respect and decorum while in the presence of the deceased, and frivolity and laughter is prohibited.

One shouldn’t bring animals to the gravesite, and eating and drinking is frowned upon.

The entire experience of attending the “house of eternity” (as it is referred to in Jewish literature) is to have your moments with your friend and family member, and to continue your connection beyond this physical world.

I wouldn’t want to judge anyone for how they perpetuate their relationship after a person has passed on, but I can totally comprehend and agree with Mrs Winehouse’s uproar.

Blake may have had true and real intentions in visiting his ex-wife, but a little brushing up on the etiquette of the place where one is standing might be a good call.

• Rabbi Newman lives in New York. Email: rabbi@askrabbiteddy.com. Twitter: @askrabbiteddy