FTC spins off Sagel from funeral giant merger

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The Federal Trade Commission last week approved a merger of the country’s two largest funeral home companies but ruled that one Washington-area funeral home in this area – Sagel Funeral Direction – must not be included in the merged company.

The ruling came after almost a year of intensive letter writing, meetings and phone calls with the Federal Trade Commission by members of the Washington Jewish community who worried that the merger would mean the end of competition in the relatively small market for Jewish funerals in Maryland.


FTC’s ruling permits Service Corporation International to acquire Stewart Enterprise but also orders SCI to sell Sagel Funeral Direction, which provides Jewish funerals. That funeral home, as well as Danzansky-Goldberg Memorial Chapels, will now be a separate company, operated by Edward Sagel and partner Albert Bloomfield.

“The bottom line is we have the preservation of Jewish competition,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which had launched an extensive campaign to preserve Jewish funeral services.

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“Now people will be competing for Jewish dollars. What we did in many ways is preserve the Jewish funeral market, and Jews will benefit for many years to come,” Halber said. When one service is owned by one large company, there is no incentive to lower costs or provide special services, he explained.

For many years, the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, a federation of 48 synagogues, has had a contract with Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Silver Spring to provide a Jewish funeral for $1,820. The average funeral in this area costs closer to $6,000.


Originally, the Funeral Practices Committee strove to have Hines-Rinaldi removed from the SCI-Stewart Merger. (Hines-Rinaldi is owned by Stewart.) While that didn’t happen, the FTC did recognize that it would be anticompetitive to the Jewish community if the sale went through. Therefore, it ruled that Sagel, owned by SCI, be removed from the acquisition.

Meanwhile, Hines-Rinaldi has agreed to keep its current contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee, which provides a simple pine box casket with a Jewish star and removes much of the grieving family’s stress as there is neither pressure to purchase extras or a requirement to pay for anything during the 30-day mourning period.

That contract expires in June. However, the committee can unilaterally decide to extend the contract for two more years, with a minor increase in cost to match the federal Consumer Price Index, thereby at least keeping the discounted price for several years to come. After that, it will be up to SCI to continue the contract or not.

Another option for area Jews is Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home, which is located in D.C.

Halber said the fight with FTC mobilized area Jews from all denominations. “It just shows when the Jewish community gets behind something, it shows when we focus on our goal, our ability to affect change is limitless.”

If approved in its original form, SCI would have overseen 1,653 funeral homes and 515 cemeteries, or about 20 percent of this country’s market. Under the ruling announced May 6, 59 funeral services and cemeteries throughout the United States were removed due to lack of competition.

“The FTC’s action was essential to protect competition, service and choice in the Jewish funeral home market. Because of the FTC action, SCI will not have a stranglehold on the market,” said Bob Hausman, president of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee.

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