Paris – As the bodies of several passengers who were aboard an Air France plane which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris last week were recovered over the weekend, the Jewish community in the French town of Boulogne-Billancourt began a halachic debate over the fate of one of its member, who is believed to have died in the crash.
The debate was sparked ahead of a memorial ceremony held by the family of Shlomo Anidjar, who was aboard the missing plane, and focused on determining his wife’s personal status.
During the ceremony, held at Paris’ Great Synagogue, Anidjar’s children asked to cite the Kaddish Yatom prayer (“orphan’s Kaddish”) for their father, and undertook mourning customs – together with their mother.
France’s rabbis objected to these signs of mourning expressed soon after the plane went missing, even before the plane’s debris or passengers’ bodies were recovered, and threatened to boycott the ceremony.
The rabbis expressed their fear that taking part in the memorial would be perceived as a rabbinical-halachic approval that the woman is a widow, while she is in fact considered an aguna (abandoned wife).
Following the disagreement, Rabbi Yirmiyahu Menachem Cohen, a senior member of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, decided to convene Paris’ rabbinical court to discuss the matter.
The judges rules that before undertaking the mourning customs the family should have ensured that the chances of finding survivors were down to zero, but that in this case, retroactively, mourning could be allowed.
The court based its ruling on the initial opinion of aviation experts, who ruled that the plane had exploded in the air after measuring the radius where the plane’s debris were found.
The halachic ruling also relied on a response written in the past by Rabbi Ovadia Yosed in regards to a combat pilot whose plane was hit by a missile and fell into the sea. Rabbi Yosed had said at the time that the explosion of a plane and drowning in the sea were two scenarios which a person could scarcely escape from alive, and that joined together, there was a halachic foundation to release the wife from her aguna status.
According to this precedent, the judges ruled that the woman and her children could undertake the mourning customs, as the woman was expected to be recognized as widow in the future.
They stressed, however, that she would not be allowed to remarry before a thorough discussion was held on her personal status.