Contemporary American Reform Responsa

88. Widower's Rights

QUESTION: A young woman has died and been buried. Now her parents wish to move her grave to another location. The widower, who was left with young children and is now remarried, has objected to this request and denied it. According to Jewish law, who has the ultimate authority and obligation in connection with the deceased wife? (Rabbi M. Staitman, Pittsburgh, PA)

ANSWER: The ketubah stipulates that the husband must support his wife in every way. This includes normal obligations of food, shelter and clothing (Ket. 47b; 65a ff; Yeb. 66a). Furthermore, if his standard of living rises, he is obligated to provide for his wife an increased level. If it diminishes, he can not, however, decrease her maintenance (Ket. 48a, 61a). He is obligated to take care of her medical expenses (Ket. 51a ff; Yad Hil. Ishut 14.17; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 79), to ransom her (Ket. 52a ff) and to bury her (Gen. 23.19, 48.7, 49.31; Ket. 46b ff; Yad Hil. Ishut 12.2; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 111). If he is poor, he must provide a decent funeral (Ket. 46b), and otherwise make provisions in accordance with local custom (Ket. 28a).

These obligations grant him complete authority to make final determination in each of these matters. The remarriage of the widower has no bearing on this. Such remarriage is encouraged as soon as an adequate mourning period has passed. That is normally considered to be the passage of three pilgrimage festivals, but if there are young children, remarriage may take place sooner (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 392.2).

According to rabbinic tradition, and according to the practice of Reform Judaism, the widower has absolute and complete rights in this matter.

January 1985

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