A close colleague of mine just passed away, and his funeral is this Saturday — this Shabbat — morning at a Catholic church in Minneapolis. I don’t want to violate Shabbat, but I really want to pay my respects at the funeral. Should I go?
– Farklempt Friend
May your colleague’s memory be only for a blessing. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for his family. You know, there may be as many ways to celebrate Shabbat as there are Jews. Strictly speaking, there are specific mitzvot (commandments) and halachot (Jewish laws) that govern the observance of Shabbat. One is the commandment not to kindle a fire on Shabbat, which orthodox (and many Conservative) Jews interpret as not driving or traveling in a car or other vehicle with a combustion engine.
I don’t know if you’re orthodox or what, but it sounds like you at least try hard to observe Shabbat, and generally don’t make everyday plans for this holiest day of the week. If you’re Shomer Shabbat (that is, you don’t drive, work, cook, spend money, etc. on Shabbat), try to find out if there’s a place you can stay within walking distance of the church — a friend’s house or even a hotel. I know many observant Jews who make this kind of Shabbat lodging arrangement in order to attend weddings (Jewish or otherwise!) and other special events that fall on Friday night or Saturday.
If you’re not Shomer Shabbat and would be driving to synagogue anyway (or however you observe the day!), then it’s a clear decision: You should go to the funeral. It’s importance to pay your respects to your colleague, support his family and your co-workers. It’s also a mitzvah to pay proper respect to the dead, and I don’t think that should be limited to our Jewish loved ones! Do you?
I can tell you what I do, at least: In my family, we are generally Shomer Shabbat but live too far from our synagogue to walk. So, we drive to and from synagogue and Shabbat meals when we’re invited out. Over the years, we’ve made the decision to attend some weddings and funerals on Shabbat. If possible, we stay within walking distance of the event. If that’s not possible, we drive. The most important part, I believe, is paying respects and supporting each other!