|Ask Rabbi Lerner|
We are about to have an unveiling for my mother in about a week. My sister does not want to appear cheap, but has heard that an average fee for the Rabbi for an unveiling service is $300. She was also informed me that not all families use a Rabbi for the unveiling service. We could get the proper prayers to say and do them ourselves. My feelings are that if it is common and acceptable to not use a Rabbi, then I'm ok going Rabbi-less. If it is normally done by a Rabbi and should be done by a Rabbi, then I want to do the right thing by my mother and get a Rabbi. It should be noted that my family is Reform.
I understand the sense of not wanting to spend money, but the first question for me would be, what is the community practice? If it is divided, then clearly you can decide to do either.
Secondly, have you spoken with the Rabbi who officiated at the funeral or with your Rabbi or your sister's Rabbi to see if they are available and whether there is a fee.
As you evaluate the costs involved, don't forget to include how much your family has spent on a funeral, a cemetery plot and now a stone. In funerals as in many other Jewish rituals, very often the Rabbinic fee is the smallest amount, but can provide the greatest meaning.
When I was a pulpit Rabbi, there was never a fee for congregation members. After all, they paid dues and building fund, sent their children to the Religious School and were part of the active synagogue family - and they paid my salary. If and when a check was sent, and they very often were, they ranged in amount reflecting what the family felt they could afford and all knew that I placed it in a charity fund for the needs of others. If a check was not sent but rather a gift, it was equally well received as was a contribution to a charity in my honor and in thanks. I guess I did expect at least a note and I was rarely disappointed - and I've kept some of them in my "nachas" file for years.
If the family chose not to be part of a synagogue, then the funeral home would add a fee to the funeral costs that would be given to the Rabbi, and you should speak with the funeral home regarding available Rabbis and fees.
Yes, families can conduct their own unveiling ceremony, depending upon how comfortable they are with the traditional rituals, Hebrew and/or English. It's not so much a question of what God expects but rather when the family members look back will they feel that they have fulfilled "tradition" as much as possible, that their needs and expectations were fulfilled.
As a pulpit Rabbi, I have given members the materials when they requested them to conduct their own unveiling ceremonies and have encouraged them to do so. At times I even attended, not as an officiant but as someone who participated in the funeral and wanted to share with my congregation members through the unveiling as well.
I hope that you will find comfort with whatever decision you make and I pray that the memories of your mother on occasions of joy and simcha when all were healthy will bring you and all your family a full measure of comfort and consolation.
Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner
Foundation for Family Education (FFFE)