Widow’s lawsuit against cemetery for allegedly improper Jewish burial dismissed

By Dawn Geske | Jun 14, 2016

WEST PALM BEACH – A South Florida widow’s lawsuit against a cemetery for allegedly not following Jewish burial traditions with her late husband's remains has been dismissed.

Orna Mammon filed the suit in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District, against SCI Funeral Services of Florida Inc. citing fraudulent, deceptive and misleading sales practices in violation of the Florida Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services Acts, and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices. She also cited intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress.

According to Mammon, SCI misrepresented to her that it would bury her husband in accordance with Jewish burial customs and traditions at the Menorah Gardens & Funeral Chapels in Southwest Ranches, Florida. Mammon claimed she put her trust and confidence with SCI based on advertisements on its website, what representatives told her and the Jewish characteristics she saw on the grounds of the cemetery.

Mammon sought burial preparations for her late husband, who was battling cancer. She was allegedly assured by cemetery representatives that they understood Jewish burial traditions and customs, and would bury her late husband in accordance with these customs. 

About a month after the funeral, Mammon noticed her husband was buried near non-Jews, which she claims is in direct violation of Jewish burial customs. In particular, Mammon claimed a pastor of a different religious faith was buried only a few yards from her husband. Following the incident, Mammon filed suit.

A Broward County judge dismissed the case citing violation of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, agreeing with the defendants’ motion of dismissal on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the parties disputed what constituted Jewish burial customs and traditions.

“We believe the judge made the right decision; and out of respect for our client families, we will not comment about the specifics of this particular case," a representative of SCI told the Florida Record. "Menorah Gardens is a Jewish cemetery and funeral home that is privileged to provide funeral and cemetery services in accordance with Jewish custom for our client families.”

Humanistic Rabbi Steven Cardonick of Orlando told the Florida Record, he didn't see a problem with SCI's handling of the burial. 

“Personally, I find nothing wrong with Jews and non-Jews being buried in the same area," Cardonick said. "I have conducted funerals in which the decease has been cremated. I’ve presided over burials in which Jews and non-Jewish spouses have been laid to rest in graves that are next to each other."

Cardonick did refer to the Chabad, the traditional, ultra-orthodox Jew community that would have its own cemeteries. He said according to Jewish law under this belief, a Jew should be buried among Jews and is forbidden to be buried in a mixed-denomination cemetery, or in a cemetery that allows the burial of questionably converted Jews.

“My experience and expectation in the case...is that in such a situation it would be appropriate to offer to move the deceased to a different section of the cemetery,” Cardonick said.

Mammon, who was presented by attorney Steven Osber and Emily Thomas of Kelley Kronenberg, was seeking $15,000 in damages. SCI was represented by attorney Anastasia Protopapadakis of GrayRobinson.

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Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal Kelley Kronenberg

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